Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Offers Ahoy!

It looks like the Columbia coaches were busy yesterday sending out at least nine offers by my count.

Here are the offeree names I found:

RB Brandin Bradford from O'Connor HS in Helotes, TX. 

DB Chris Bergin from Detroit Country Day School, same HS as current Lion rising senior Gianmarco Rea.

OL Russell Stripling from Chino Hills HS in Chino Hills, CA.

MLB Jordan Carey from Hazlewood Central HS in Florissant, MO.

WR Denzel Fondungallah from Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, MN, the same school where Columbia got WR deep threat Brandon Bowser  '06.

WR Trevor Russell from Casa Grande HS in Casa Grande, AZ, where Columbia found one of its all-time great TE's, Matt Less '90. 

WR Owen Piche from Nequa Valley HS in Napervill, IL.

OL Patrick Arnold  from Gretna HS in Gretna, NE 

WR Thomas Hennigan from Northwest Guilford HS in Greensboro, NC. 

Lots of Questions Persist 

Harvard is still the only Ivy team to officially announce its incoming football class of 2020. So the head scratching about some of its new freshmen still has a lot of people scratching their heads. Some people believe the low number of 26 announced athletes is the result of several offerees not coming through with the minimum grades to cash in on their provisional offers. 

Oh, and the excellent DT I really liked, Carter Hartmann? He won't even report to Cambridge for another two years as he is about to leave on a two-year LDS mission. 

Okay, reality check time. I think we all know Harvard will still be a strong program no matter what anyone thinks of this class. But count me among the people a little baffled by what he read out of Crimsonland yesterday. 

Making His Own Case

A DC-area Lion fan alerted me to the fact that one of the new players on the Harvard list wasn't on the Crimson radar, or anyone's radar about a year ago.

But LB Jordan Hill started Tweeting the Harvard coaches and persisted until they checked him out. 

Screen Gems

One more thing about Harvard: The Crimson athletics website is now featuring a large and accessible video archive filled with sports game film. It includes:

-41 minutes of the very first game at the new Wien Stadium in 1984. Note the lack of visitor stands, (they were added in 1986).

-Film from a 3-3 Columbia-Harvard tie football game at Harvard in 1963.

-A 34-7 Lion loss to the Crimson at Baker Field in 1966, (which features probably the best color footage you’ll see of the old stadium).

-Back to black and white with film of the 1971 21-19 thriller Crimson win at Harvard.

-The complete 1994 Columbia-Harvard game at Wien Stadium featuring lots of running by Marcellus Wiley '97.  (Columbia lost in a heartbreaker 39-32 in what was Harvard Head Coach Tim Murphy’s first game with the Crimson).

-Levien Gym looking almost exactly as it does today in a 1979 basketball game that Columbia won 90-74.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Harvard is First

Tim Murphy

Harvard has just announced its official incoming football class of 2020.

Considering the fact that the Crimson have been the best overall and certainly the most consistently strong football program in the Ivies for 20 years now, I'd like to be able to find some pattern in its recruiting classes that spelled success or at least hinted at some kind of winning strategy.

Sadly, the only thing that jumps out at you are the number of 1st team all state players, and there's no secret to trying to grab those kinds of players.

Longtime readers of this blog know I also judge recruiting classes by how many big and talented defensive tackles and talented running backs they can grab. This Harvard class has just one DT in Carter Hartmann, and he seems like a winner. But I don't see even one pure RB on this list. Surely, someone from this class, probably one of the players listed simply as "athletes," will step up at RB but if any other school but Harvard turned in a recruiting class without a clearly labeled RB, the fans would be calling for blood.

For the last couple of years, Harvard has had a few walk-ons not listed in these official announcements. I suspect that's happening again, which says a lot about the allure of the Harvard name because so many of even the top recruited athletes never see regular varsity playing time.

If any of you see something I'm missing about this class, feel free to tell me. But it just seems like Head Coach Tim Murphy and his staff are happy to receive a bunch of all state players and forego pursuing any other strategy or specific player profile.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Our Pitch, Our Story

We sell New York. New York sells us

The Columbia football coaching staff is preparing to head across the country next week to seek out new 2017 recruits and solidify relationships with the many players we’ve already offered.

I’ve seen a number of totally questionable assessments of our 2016 class ranking it very high compared to all other FCS schools. I say questionable because it’s such a stretch to rank classes before any of the players even hit the field.

What I like best about our staff is that they have really chosen to be at Columbia and are true believers in the program and New York City. I wrote about that last year and I think whatever successes we will see from the 2016 class are a result of the staff’s unique experiences.

I think this year, the basic pitch has to be a little different. I would emphasize that Columbia was probably one of the worst college football teams of all time in 2013 and 2014 and it immediately became at least competitive in almost every game last season. I think Head Coach Al Bagnoli and the new staff have proven they can squeeze out a lot more from the existing personnel, but they’re just now building the talent to become a winning program.

Also, if I were on the staff I’d include a lot of positive personal stories about what it’s been like for them living in New York City during this first year on the job. This is a VERY important mutual experience they will share with all the recruits who decide to commit to Columbia. New York City and the area around Columbia overall has improved so massively since I was a student from 1988-92, that it really has to be seen to be believed. It’s a great place to be a young person right now. The question should be asked about why Columbia’s Ivy rivals, especially the rivals in urban areas like Harvard, Penn, and Yale, never seem to tout their home cities very much. It’s not that those cities are bad, (although New Haven is one of my least favorite places), it’s that those schools don’t look at their cities as essential educational tools for their respective college experiences. “Columbia is where you’ll learn to be a student, New York City is where you’ll learn to be a man.” Just try inserting the words “Boston,” “Philadelphia,” or “New Haven” at the end of that sentence and listen to how flat and out of place it sounds.

That said, there has to be a realization that for some recruits and their families New York will be a negative factor and nothing will change their minds about that. It’s important that our recruiters recognize that quickly and move on.

I like our chances of grabbing some very good players in the coming weeks and months. But there’s a lot of work ahead. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Who’s the Dark Horse?

Troy Jones Scoring a TD against Columbia in the 1997 season opener. This was the breakout game for the Harvard football program

Thanks to great recruiting and the brilliant parking of many committed players in prep schools for PG years, a lot of people believe Yale is poised for a breakthrough year this season or perhaps in 2017.

But Based on this report, there really isn’t much to suggest Yale is poised for greatness this fall. Of course, a lot of those super freshmen won’t join the team until August so stay tuned. 

But if 2016 turns out to be a dud for the Bulldogs, I feel like Tony Reno will have only one more year to make Yale a winner before he’s out. The pressure is on.

I’m not sure that pressure will produce good results in New Haven.

So if the favorite dark horse team doesn’t make that move this fall, which team will?

Every year, an unexpected team shoots into the top three of the Ivies. Last year it was Penn, which by season’s end was playing the best football in the Ivies and ended up tied for the title. In 2014, it was Yale. And 2013 was all about Princeton’s surprise rise to a shared Ivy championship.

Penn’s four win improvement in league games from 2014 to 2015 is an extremely rare occurrence in Ivy history. A four win improvement has only happened nine total times in the 60 seasons of official Ivy football. And only two other times did that improvement result in a title of any kind.

But the greatest one season improvement in total Ivy wins over the course of just one season was achieved by the 1997 Harvard Crimson who went from 2-5 in league play in ’96 to a 7-0 undisputed title season a year later. Since that jump in what was the fourth season under Tim Murphy, Harvard has been the most dominant Ivy team overall.

Here’s a look at the 10 total four and four game Ivy win improvements, year-over-year

Five Game Improvements (1)

1997 Harvard (2-5 in 1996 to 7-0 in 1997 and an Ivy title)

Four Win Improvements  (9)

1959 Yale (0-7 in 1958 to 4-3 in 1959)

1971 Columbia (1-6 in 1970 to 5-2 in 1971)

1979 Princeton (1-4-1 in 1978 to 5-2 in 1979)

1982 Penn (1-6 in 1981 to 5-2 in 1982 and a shared Ivy title)

1986 Cornell (2-5 in 1985 to 6-1 in 1986)

1990 Cornell (2-5 in 1989 to 6-1 in 1990 and a shared Ivy title)

1999 Cornell (1-6 in 1998 to 5-2 in 1999)

2004 Cornell (0-7 in 2003 to 4-3 in 2004)

2015 Penn (2-5 in 2014 to 6-1 in 2015 and a shared Ivy title)

It’s probably just a quirk that Cornell has pulled off the four-win improvement feat more times than any other program. But it’s statistically significant that when Penn did it last season it was the first time in 11 years anyone had achieved it.

The bad news for Columbia and Cornell is that an improvement of four games or better has never happened in consecutive seasons.

Transformations from Ivy bottom dwellers to champions are usually much more gradual. And that’s something that seems likely to continue in a league where no one graduates early. Dartmouth’s path from 0-10 in 2008 to champs in 2015 is a bit longer than the usual waiting period, but the Big Green were serious contenders about two years earlier than that. So perhaps that sets the bar at a more realistic 5 years or so before fans should start to question a team or coaching staff that’s made no visible movement out of the cellar.

If Columbia improves by three Ivy wins from 1-6 to 4-3 this fall, no one would deny that would be a historic jump. A four-win improvement is almost beyond imagination. But it is something Head Coach Al Bagnoli has never done, even with the turnaround jobs he accomplished at Penn over the years.

It’s good to know Bagnoli won’t be just trying for an even 10 Ivy titles during his tenure at Columbia.

Any Others?

A few other pundits believe Princeton will be the surprise team this year after a disappointing 2014 and a generally weak 2015. I like the Tigers running attack, but I’m not sold on the rest of the team.

I’m usually a big believer in Coach Phil Estes and Brown, but there’s still a lot of holes to fill on a Bears team that is going through one of its longer droughts lately.

Cornell just doesn’t seem like much of a threat at all.

You could argue that if Dartmouth wins four Ivy games or more that the Big Green would be a dark horse surprise because everyone is expecting a big drop-off in Hanover this year.

But it seems more likely that if there’s going to be a breakout team this season, it’s going to be Columbia. Even though I’d argue going from being totally uncompetitive for two years to being competitive in nine games out of ten last year was almost a breakout situation for the Lions in 2015. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Spring Game Notes

It still seems a bit wrong to get back to day-to-day matters so soon after Bill Campbell’s passing.

But the team lives on, and the program will live on thanks mostly to the efforts and generosity Campbell exhibited over the last 30 years.

 Now to the “Spring Game…”

I put that in quotes because as we were told a few days before, the “game” was really just a practice with some scrimmaging.

The best part of it all was the very large attendance. This was definitely the best-attended spring practice wrap up I’ve ever seen. About 25 incoming freshmen and their families were there. Also, some 2017 and even some 2018 potential recruits attended.

The big BBQ afterwards was fantastic. There was very good food and plenty of chances to mingle from picnic table to picnic table to talk to the coaches, players, etc.

But as for on the field results, here’s a quick summary of how I and some of my fellow fans saw the action:

-QB Anders Hill is a lot more accurate with his throws. He was spotty at that last year, especially in the Cornell game.

-We saw a lot more deep throws than we saw maybe all of last year. This needs to be at least a part of our offensive attack.

-The receivers look better, but still have some trouble getting catchable balls.

-Three players we didn’t see too much of last year who stood out were DE Connor Heeb, DB Ryan Gilbert, and WR Tre Gabriel.  Heeb is a rising junior while Gilbert and Gabriel are rising sophs.

Heeb did a great job rushing the passer time after time. It’s not clear how he does against the run.

Gilbert was showing the most enthusiasm on the field and was in on a lot of stops and good plays.

Gabriel bulked up but kept his speed and it sure looks like he will play a role in the offense this year. He scampered in with a reception for a TD.

-PK Cameron Nizialek looked a lot better. Incoming kicker Oren Millstein, who had a big offer from Georgia, may already be pushing him.  

-Alan Watson played well and had one good long run for a TD. He got shaken up on one play, but walked off the field and came back a little later.

-Lord Hyeamang looked generally good at DT.