Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ivy Power Rankings


1)      Harvard

The sheer depth of the Crimson bench was an awesome sight in week 1. Harvard’s 41-18 win over Holy Cross is good enough to move them from #3 in my preseason rankings to #1 now.

2)      Dartmouth

The Big Green offense came out ready to play and healthy. Expect a loss this Saturday against UNH, but if Dartmouth comes out without any major injuries, it will be full steam ahead to the big Ivy opener with Penn.

3)      Princeton

A big drop for the Tigers from #1 to #3, but week one is all about surprises. This Saturday’s game against Davidson will be very ugly and Princeton should run all over the Wildcats.

4)      Yale

We knew the Elis had great offensive weapons in Deon Randall, Tyler Varga, and Varga’s backups at RB. But if QB Morgan Roberts plays close to as well as he did against Lehigh the rest of the season, then Yale is a contender.

5)      Penn

The Quakers didn’t look great against Jacksonville in the opener, but it wasn’t a catastrophic loss. And if Lyle Marsh is able to come back in a week or two, the lasting effects of the game will be minimal.

6)      Cornell

Cornell gets to move up a notch from my preseason ranking thanks to not getting blown out at Colgate. The Big Red still has a lot of work to do, but a win over Bucknell is possible this coming Saturday.

7)      Brown

Losing to Georgetown is a real shocker. And even more shocking is watching a Bears team that can’t get it into the end zone. I just don’t see how Brown puts up a good showing against Harvard Saturday night.

8)      Columbia

Fordham is a very good team, but Columbia didn’t look like it was improved enough to make a move up the Ivy ladder. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Wild Weekend in Review

Phil Estes has rarely been in this position

This was really a wild opening weekend for the Ivies with some very surprising results.

Here are my quick takes on all the games played by CU’s upcoming opponents:

Georgetown 17 Brown 3

Of all the shockers of the weekend, this was the biggest one for me. Brown was dominated by the team everyone agrees is the weakest in the Patriot League. This does not look like a team that’s ready to host Harvard in five days.

San Diego 39 Princeton 29

Shocker #2: Just one of the high-scoring, dramatic surprises of the weekend. I thought USD would play it close, but never imagined they could beat the Tigers. My prediction that Princeton will win the Ivies is looking shaky right now. If the Princeton defense is this weak without Caraun Reid, this could be a really rough year.

Jacksonville 34 Penn 31

Shocker #3: This was a surprise, but not as big a surprise as the Princeton and Brown losses. Penn has been suffering with slow starts for a few years now. But it’s very rare to see the Quakers lose a two-score lead in the second half. One thing I did get right: Penn RB Lyle Marsh went out with an injury early in the game, just as I predicted in my Ivy League preview.   

Yale 54 Lehigh 43

I thought Yale would win, but no one could have expected the Elis and Mountain Hawks to play a crazy game like this. One caution is that Yale often plays better very early in the season compared to the rest of the year, but the expected offensive weapons RB Tyler Varga and WR Deon Randall were outstanding. The surprise was QB Morgan Roberts had a monster game too.

Dartmouth 35 CCSU 25

Two of the big three questions about the Big Green were answered. RB Kyle Bramble had a solid game and looks healthy. And QB Dalyn Williams is in midseason form. But whether Dartmouth’s defense can step it up for 2014 is still an open question. No sacks, no INT’s and no forced turnovers will do that to a defense.  

Colgate 27 Cornell 12

The Big Red couldn’t stop the Raider running game and the offense just couldn’t get the job done. Cornell kept its promise to emphasize the running game in the post-Jeff Mathews era, but the results were mixed.

Harvard 41 Holy Cross 18

I keep talking about how Harvard has the deepest bench in the Ivies every year. The Crimson proved it with a monster game from their THIRD STRING RB! Andrew Casten had 153 yards on 17 carries and three TD’s! This game was actually close until the second half.

Duquesne 30 Monmouth 21

The Hawks fell behind 27-7 in the 3rd quarter and had to abandon their usually potent running game. But QB Brandon Hill stepped things up and brought Monmouth to within 27-21 in the 4th quarter.  The Hawks allowed four costly sacks.

Albany 30 Rhode Island 17

The Great Danes still don’t have much of a passing game, but RB Omar Osbourne had 153 yards on 27 carries. The Albany defense didn’t look sharp off the top, but then started to dominate from the 2nd quarter on. URI had just 79 total yards rushing. 


Ajala and Jones had a highlight reel afternoon

Fordham 49 Columbia 7

Why Fordham Won

The Rams offensive numbers were impressive, but the defense won this game by totally neutralizing any real threat that Columbia would score. The meaningless TD at the end of the game notwithstanding, the Fordham D held CU to just 2.3 yards per rush and just 165 total yards.

Why Columbia Lost

In addition to the offensive offense, the Lion defense was big play prone through the air. WR's Sam Ajala and Tebucky Jones torched the Columbia secondary, even on plays where QB Michael Nebrich was pressured and/or did not deliver a crisp pass.

Key Turning Points

-On Fordham's second possession of the game and the score still 0-0, the Rams faced a 3rd and goal at the CU 3. On that play, Nebrich tossed an ill advised pass right to CB Malcom Thaxton in the end zone. Somehow Thaxton didn't catch it, and he had a lot of clear sailing in front of him. The pass fell harmlessly incomplete. The Rams dodged the bullet, and got a short FG on the next play.

-With time running out in the 1st half and Columbia still within striking distance down 14-0, Fordham WR Tebucky Jones made a spectacular one-handed grab of a slightly overthrown pass for a 51-yard TD. The game was over pretty much right there.

Columbia Positives

-When was the last time you saw a team lose by six touchdowns and still not commit a turnover? You just did.

-There was good pressure on Nebrich most of the day. While DT Niko Padilla is being double-teamed, players like Toba Akinleye, (two sacks and 11 total tackles), and Max Keefe, (seven total tackles, two for a loss), are showing ability to take advantage.

-The offensive line was marginally better. No sacks were allowed, but the super-quick passing scheme was mostly responsible for that. Still, any improvement up front is appreciated.

-Freshman Chris Schroer lived up to his advance billing as a playmaker. He could become a great weapon as a receiver coming out of the backfield.

-The blocked FG by Brock Kenyon, was a nice highlight that became even more fun when Fordham PK Michael Morando did his best Garo Yepremian impression and threw an embarrassing "pass" that Trevor Bell intercepted.  

Columbia Negatives

-Fordham's receiving corps is spectacular, but Columbia's secondary play was a big disappointment. Even when regularly pressured, QB Michael Nebrich had many wide open receivers to choose from all day. There are still way too many DB's losing site of the ball in the air.

-Columbia's WR's still have a case of the dropsies. It's hard to take Head Coach Pete Mangurian's words about better discipline and preparation seriously when our receivers still drop 5-6 catchable balls every Saturday.

-The run defense did not give up the big play to super RB Chase Edmonds, but it didn't matter. He still ran for 175+ yards and there was never any doubt who controlled the line of scrimmage on short yardage plays.

-The quick-passing offensive scheme is not a bad choice, but it shouldn't be confused with a really potent attack. We're passing the ball quick to avoid testing our pass protection abilities. There's also never a chance in Hell that QB Brett Nottingham will ever run the ball, giving opposing defenses a big gift of being able to concentrate their efforts elsewhere. This offensive scheme is a "not to lose" as opposed to a "win" strategy.

Columbia MVP

Toba Akinleye's two sacks and generally good play provided some rare excitement for CU fans during the game. The junior from Brooklyn has the makings of a hometown hero.


-The Columbia losing streak now stands at 12 games and is close to becoming the longest since the infamous 44-game losing streak of 1983-88. (The longest since "The Streak" is 13 in a row from 2007 to the middle of 2008).

-There is still no running game.

-Fordham is possibly the best team Columbia will face all season, but the improvements we saw Saturday are just not enough to create any optimism.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Game Day Open Thread

This is the post to send your comments on the game, before, during and after.

A couple of quick updates/thoughts:

1) The just-released preview of the 2014 season, something a decent organization would have released weeks ago, basically has this message from Head Coach Pete Mangurian: "Wait 'till next year."

Columbia is officially the only sports team in the world that says, "wait 'till next year," before the first game of the season is played.

You can't make this stuff up.

2) Former Lion QB Kelly Hilinski, playing this year at JUCO Riverside City College, has been given a scholarship offer to Maryland.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

Let's Try this Again

Actual Size

Fordham Rams  at Columbia Lions

Location: Robert K. Kraft Field at Wien Stadium

Kickoff Time: 12:30pm

Gametime Weather Forecast:  74 degrees, partly cloudy. 

The Spread: Fordham is now favored by 31 points. 


The game will be broadcast live on the Ivy League Digital Network and will feature superior commentary from Jerry Recco and Sal Licata.

The Columbia student station broadcast is on WKCR at 89.9 on your FM dial.

Fordham commentators can be heard on WFUV and WFUV.org

Lead Stories/Questions

-All signs point to a slaughter at the hands of the Rams. So, any competitive result for Columbia would be a big surprise. The Lions come in riding an 11-game losing streak. 

-Can the Lions survive this game just without any major injuries? Two of Columbia's best players were lost for the season in the Fordham game last year, and they didn't even make it out of the 3rd quarter. 

-One of those injured players was prized Stanford transfer QB Brett Nottingham. Will he prove the waiting was worth it? 

-Will Head Coach Pete Mangurian be booed, jeered, or worse from the Columbia side? Will any decent number of CU fans or students even show up?

-Will Fordham freshman RB Chase Edmonds rush for 200+ yards yet again? Or will QB Michael Nebrich erase doubts about his health and have a monster game through the air and on the ground? 

Players to Watch (*New feature!)

COLUMBIA: QB Brett Nottingham, LT Kendall Pace, LG Bewley Wales and whoever else plays the left side of the CU O-line. DT Niko Padilla, S Travis Reim, WR Connor Nelligan 

FORDHAM: RB Chase Edmonds, (407 yards rushing and 6 TD's in 3 games) , QB Michael Nebrich, (battling injury, but still effective against everyone not named "Villanova," WR Tebucky Jones, CB Ian Williams, (1 INT, 3 pass breakups, forced fumble). And now the men who will be looking to take Nottingham's head off: DE Marlon Crook, (emerging sophomore already with 4 sacks on the season), DT  DeAndre Slate, (19 tackles)  

Columbia 3 Keys to the Game

1) Stayin' Alive

Columbia's entire season was ruined in the opener at Fordham last year because of injuries. The coaches must protect the key players better this time or suffer the same fate. Winning this game is not that important. Keeping the team healthy enough to beat more beatable opponents is. 

2) Run the Ball

Columbia may not have an established rushing star, but Fordham's only real weakness seems to be run defense. 

3) Get to Nebrich Early and Stay on Him

Fordham world is still very nervous about Nebrich's health. Knocking him down early will make the whole team and coaches nervous and more likely to react poorly. 

The Series (*New Feature!)

This year I will have an added feature nodding to the history of Columbia football by talking about three key games in the series against every team.

Worst Game

Last year's 52-7 loss at Jack Coffey Field was not just the worst loss Columbia has suffered to Fordham, it was one of the worst losses in CU history. In addition to the rout, CU lost QB Brett Nottingham to injury for the rest of the season. They also lost DE Seyi Adebayo for the year, and he is now filling out his NCAA eligibility at Boston College where he had a key sack in the big upset win over USC last week! 

Most infuriating was the Columbia was playing decently in the 1st half, but the coaches abandoned the run despite a demonstrated lack of pass protection. Nottingham's injury wasn't a surprise, it was just a surprise that it took as late as the 3rd quarter for it to happen. 

Best Game

Columbia's thrilling 40-28 win over the Rams in the 2009 opener was one of the best Columbia wins against any team in the last 20 years. There was a lot of talent on the field that day, including three future NFL players. 

The only downside was that DT Owen Fraser was injured by a dirty chop block in that game and he never was the same. 

Typical Game

Most of the games in this series have been close games won by Fordham. The last two CU-Fordham games at Wien Stadium ended with Columbia's promising potential game-tying or winning drives failing in the final seconds. 

The 2012 game that ended with a gut-wrenching over the line of scrimmage pass call negating a thrilling TD pass from Sean Brackett to Marcorus Garrett was par for the course. 

Two years earlier, the Fordham-Columbia game ended at Wien with a snap that surprised Brackett inside the Fordham 5 yard line. The Rams grabbed the fumble and it was over.

These games have always been close, last year's matchup was the outlier... for now.