Friday, November 17, 2017

A Date with History

Brown Bears (2-7) at Columbia Lions (7-2)

November 18, 2017

Kickoff Time: 1:00pm

Robert K. Kraft Field at Wien Stadium, Baker Athletics Complex

Game time weather forecast: 49 degrees and cloudy, with rising chances of showers beginning at 2pm

The Line: Columbia is favored by 17 points

TV/Radio: The game will broadcast live on SNY with Eamon McAnaney and Sal Licata getting the call. If you don't have SNY, you can follow the game for free on Columbia's audio feed with Jay Alter, Shawn Fitzgerald '80, and Ted Gregory calling the game.

Leading Storylines:

1) For the first time in 46 years, and only the third time in Ivy history, the Lions come into the season finale with a shot to win a share of the league championship. A win over Brown and a Harvard win at Yale would seal Columbia's first Ivy title since 1961. The words "once in a lifetime" have merit here.

2) Barring the title implications, Columbia comes into the game with a shot to go 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the Ivies, the best the Lions have done in both columns since 1996 when they finished 8-2 and 5-2. In what's already been a remarkably positive season, a win over a weak Brown team feels essential to finish the year off right. 

Individually, sophomore WR Josh Wainwright has a good chance to break the 1,000 yard receiving mark for the season. That would be an all-time Columbia record. Senior QB Anders Hill just needs to maintain his 62% completion rate to clinch the all-time single season Columbia record in that category.

3) Brown is trying to avoid an embarrassing 0-7 Ivy record and hoping to find some shred to build on for 2018. Head Coach Phil Estes, long someone I've seen as a miracle worker at a program that got perhaps the weakest support in the league, may be coaching his final game for the Bears if they lose convincingly.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Week 10 Picks

I had a good week 9 with a 5-1 record straight up and also 5-1 against the spread. For the season, I'm now 39-17 straight up (.696) and 33-23 ATS (.589) 

Harvard +16 at Yale

I see Yale winning, but Harvard giving the Elis a big fight.

Penn -13 1/2 over Cornell

The Quakers are finishing strong.

Dartmouth +3 1/2 vs. Princeton

This may be the toughest game of the week to call, so I'm going to go for the split decision. I say Princeton wins, but Dartmouth covers.

Sacred Heart -6 vs.Wagner

It's been a rough year for the Seahawks. They will lose by a TD or more.

Georgetown +26 1/2 vs. Colgate

I can see the Hoyas just barely covering the spread here.

San Diego -33 vs. Marist

Marist is bad enough without the jet lag.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Super Seniors

The final game of the Columbia season and the special and deserved attention the program gives to the graduating seniors usually makes me sad.

That sadness is made up of a combination of the fact that we'll all have to wait 300 days for another Ivy football game and the fact that Columbia is losing another group of talented players who deserved to taste victory a lot more than they did during their careers. 

But this group of seniors is different. They've experience more highs than almost any group of players in Columbia history this season alone. And because they also really endured the depths of the program, their relative perspective is extremely positive. Plus, they get to leave Columbia with the knowledge that turnarounds are always possible for anything provided you have the right leadership.

Here are a few words about the seniors, whom I wish I could heap more praise on if I had the time and the information. If the Columbia program continues in this direction, too many of the following names may be forgotten by fans who will come to know the Lions from 2017 onward. 

But we will not forget.

 Not only did he become the best corner in the Ivies, he's probably the best corner in Columbia Football history. The stats don't show it because opponents just don't throw his way, but that's the point. A great talent and team leader. 

An absolute spark plug who made a huge impact this season as a tackler and pass defender. His story is interesting because he has a personal family connection to the previous coaching regime, but he was still all in when Head Coach Al Bagnoli took over. His love of the game and Columbia is undeniable.

Talented receiver who proved his commitment to the program by switching to TE this past off season. Injuries abbreviated his time on the field.

Saving his best for last, Thome has a strong case to be the 1st Team All Ivy punter this season. On an already patient group of Columbia seniors, he may have been the most patient of all. 

Weldon is another player who proved his commitment to the program by switching positions from WR to DB. But his best moment came in 2015 when he caught a TD pass from Skyler Mornhinweg in 13-9 very close Lion loss to Dartmouth that would have been the upset of the century if Columbia could have pulled it off. 

Hill is a really special case since he is a 5th year senior who also changed positions to help the program. He turned out to be an outstanding DB who made an impact even though he was lost for the season after the Penn game. But this is a guy who endured not one, but TWO 0-10 seasons and has persevered to see his team go to 7-2 so far this year. What a story he has to tell for the rest of his life. 

Anders was the man this program desperately needed to step up and deliver this season in order to have a shot at a winning season. He came through with more than flying colors. He's taken a tremendous pounding since taking over as the starter in week 3 last year, but he keeps getting back up. A win over Brown will give him an incredible 11-7 record as a starter and a .611 winning percentage. No other CU QB in the Ivy era comes close. 

Another guy who saved his best for last. Schroer's last two games, where he's run for 100+ yards in each, have been fantastic to watch. Going out this strong must feel like a dream to him right now. 

Became a good contributor on special teams, which always seems to me to be amazing proof of commitment in a player who sticks with the program for four years. 

Became an important piece of the puzzle in the midst of all the linebacker injuries this season. The simple fact is that it's a good thing he stuck around.

Another guy who was willing to bounce around at different positions to help the team. His brother Garrett DeMuth '15 played through the tough times and did see the turnaround Turner has as a player.

A very talented player who just never got a chance to show what he could do because of injuries. 

Had the hard luck of playing during an era of very talented defensive linemen for Columbia. But he stayed on the team and contributed. 

Gutty LB who got into some games and made a nice impact over the years. 

Another guy who had to squeeze through a very talented corps of D-linemen during his playing era. But he and his brother Nick '15 were great contributors to the program.

Worked his way up to become a stater on the O-line at the end of the 2016 and started throughout this magical season for the Lions. 

Stuck with the program through the losses and the lack of playing time. But what wouldn't most of us give to at least be in uniform and on the sidelines during this season? 

There's a lot to say about a four-year starter on the O-line. It's such a rare achievement at any level of college sports, but especially in the Ivy League where we don't see such game-ready blue chip recruits at that position. Wales has seen and done it all.

The biggest player on this team for years helped on the O-line on several occasions. 

Another player who stuck it out despite not getting playing time. Football programs can't exist without people willing to play this role. 

Made a big impact on the O-line and lots of playing time. 

Charlie is expected to come back for a 5th year, but just in case it's important to mention how much he has meant to the program already. He too started often as a freshman and fought through the tough years.

Stuck with the program and did get a little playing time. His family has been a loyal positive to CU as his brother Ben '12 also played for the program. 

A good TE that I thought would get more playing time in the end. 

Perkovic has been a stalwart of the defensive line since his breakthrough game as a sophomore in the 2015 season opener against Fordham. He will be missed. 

Probably the most intimidating looking player on the CU defense for years, he made an immediate impact as a freshman and really blossomed over the last two seasons. 

Broke out with a strong performance in the 2016 spring game and has been a starter ever since. It was especially gratifying to see him score a safety in the Cornell game this past Saturday. 

Tough player who stuck it out among his very talented fellow D-linemen.

Developed into one of the most feared D-linemen in the Ivies and a team captain. Made key plays in several wins, especially the 2016 victory at Wagner. NFL scouts have shown a real interest as well. 

Did a solid job as the kickoff specialist and persevered as a freshman starting placekicker during a rough 2014 season. 

Big DT who stuck it out in that crowded group of talented D-linemen.  

Another survivor who stuck with the program. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ivy Power Rankings

1) Yale

It's Yale's championship to lose right now. Coming back against Princeton was impressive. And Harvard looks weaker than at any time in years.

2) Columbia

The Lions defense is playing its best football of the season while the offense finds a running game.

3) Dartmouth

Hard to learn much after beating Brown.

4) Princeton 

This is still the best offense in the Ivies, proving that defense really does win championships.

5) Penn

The Quakers are quietly making a nice bit of lemonade of the lemon that was their early season.

6) Harvard

The Crimson just can't move the ball effectively.

7) Cornell

They have three league wins, but the Big Red are battered now.

8) Brown

The Bears are last in run offense, run defense, pass offense, pass defense, scoring offense, and scoring defense. But other than that Mrs. Lincoln...

This is Really Happening

Remember at the beginning of the season when I predicted Columbia would go 6-4 and come in 4th in the Ivies?

Those who weren't laughing at me were spitting with anger at how stupid I was for being so optimistic about the Lions.

It turns out I wasn't optimistic enough.

Now Columbia awaits its final game of the season with an actual chance to end the season as an Ivy co-champion.

No one who's been a Lions fan for more than a few years can possibly by blase about this, but let's set the historical stage:

-The last time Columbia entered the final game of the season with a chance to win even a share of the Ivy title was 1971 when the Lions traveled to Brown trailing Cornell and Dartmouth by a game in the standings. Columbia needed to win and the Big Red and Big Green needed to lose for the Lions to force a three-way tie. But all three teams won on the road, Columbia beat the Bears 24-6, Cornell beat Penn 41-13, and Dartmouth beat Princeton 33-7. So it's been 46 years since the Lions have even had a long shot to do what they could do this Saturday.

-But Brown has entered the traditional final game of the season against Columbia several times with a chance to win all or a share of the Ivy title on the line. The last time was 2008 when the Bears needed a win over CU at home to tie Harvard for the championship. On a very cold day in Providence, (it was cold even in the press box), Brown thrashed the Lions 41-10.

-In 2005, the Bears and their all-time great RB Nick Hartigan came into Wien Stadium with a shot to win the title outright. They responded with a 52-7 rout over Columbia.

-In 1999, Brown needed to beat the Lions at Brown Stadium to tie Yale for the Ivy title. And they got that win, 23-6.

-In 1998, the Bears needed to beat the Lions at Wien Stadium and hope that Cornell could upset Penn at Schoelkopf Field to tie the Quakers for the title. Brown squeezed past Columbia with a 10-3 win and a last minute goal line stand, but Penn beat the Big Red 35-21.

-In 1987, Brown needed to beat Columbia at home and hope that Yale would beat Harvard to force a three-way tie for the title with the Elis and Crimson. Brown eked out a referee-aided 19-16 win, but Harvard beat Yale to take the title outright.

-In 1983, the Bears needed to beat Columbia and pray for Harvard to lose to Yale and Penn to lose to Dartmouth to earn a share of the title. Brown beat the Lions in a wild 42-36 shootout that was the last game of QB John Witkowski's career. But Harvard and Penn both won their games, keeping the Bears out of the money.

-In 1978, the Bears needed a win at Columbia and a Dartmouth loss at Princeton to tie the Big Green for the championship. Brown did it's job with a 24-12 win over the Lions at Baker Field, but Dartmouth held on for a 28-21 win at Palmer Stadium.

-In 1976, the Bears needed to beat Columbia to again tie Yale for the championship. They beat the Lions at Baker Field, 28-17.

-In 1975, Brown needed to beat Columbia in Providence and Harvard and Yale to tie, (they had ties back then), to earn a three-way tie for the title. Brown beat the Lions 48-13, but the Crimson beat the Elis 10-7.

So this will be the 11th time that Columbia and Brown have met with at least some chance of one of them walking off the field as Ivy champs or co-champs. But only the second time in the 62 seasons of Ivy football that it's been Columbia with that championship chance.

Other than the title implications, there's another weird quirk to the Columbia-Brown series. While the Lions have had limited success against every Ivy opponent, they've had the least success over the last few decades against the Bears when it comes to winning back-to-back games.

Columbia last won consecutive games against Cornell in 2009-10, Dartmouth in 2016-17, Harvard in 1995-96, Penn also in 1995-96, Princeton in 2009-10, and Yale actually four times in a row from 1994-97.

But the last time the Lions beat Brown two seasons in a row was way back in 1971-72. This will be their seventh chance to do it since then.