Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ivy League Football 2013

Robin Harris always pushes the parity myth, that's her job


While it’s never easy to predict the order of finish in Ivy League football, this year seems harder than most.

That’s because the traditional powers atop the league, namely Penn and Harvard, have serious question marks that you don’t usually see both of those teams facing in the same season.

Throw in some teams who seem to be on the rise, but haven’t succeeded enough to prove it, marinate with some potentially program-changing transfers, and stir in a few returning players who missed 2012 with injuries and you’ve got a recipe for a very confusing outlook for 2013.

Theme of the Season

It’s been five years now since a team not named Penn or Harvard got even a piece of the Ivy title. That’s too long for a league that desperately needs to increase fan interest at all eight schools.

While I wouldn’t want the league administrators to do anything officious to actually FORCE parity onto the Ivies, the forced mantra of “the Ivies really are a football league with a lot of parity” that we hear year after year is getting sickening.

The truth is, Penn and Harvard are dominating the league too much and fans are getting bored.

The pathetically weak attendance at Franklin Field for the de facto Ivy championship game between the Quakers and the Crimson last season makes that clear.

The Ivies desperately need a new champion this season, and there’s a good chance we could get one.

But the chances still don’t look good enough to me to bet on it.

Predicted Order of Finish

1.       Harvard
2.       Penn
3.       Dartmouth
4.       Brown
5.       Columbia
6.       Princeton
7.       Yale
8.       Cornell

Zach Boden returns at RB for Harvard, and he needs to bring it


For the second year in a row, I’m choosing the Crimson to win the league. But this will be a very different-looking squad than last year’s All Ivy laden crew that somehow found a way not to win the championship.

This year’s Crimson will be hungrier, and mindful of what can happen to them if they get too confident as they did in the Princeton and after trouncing Columbia in historic fashion only to lay an egg vs. Penn the following week.

I expect Head Coach Tim Murphy, the best recruiter in the Ivies, to get his team mentally ready for better results this season.

On the field, I’m high on defensive stars like Zach Hodges and Nnamdi Obukwelu up front. Josh Boyd is a star at linebacker and the starting secondary from most of last season returns.

The big questions for the Crimson come on offense. Harvard will have to find a new starter this season, but that was true last season too and Colton Chapple ended up as the league’s offensive MVP. And this is a program that has been simply reloading at QB for more than a decade now. My guess is that Michael Pruneau will eventually get the job and dazzle at the position.

A slightly less automatic positive is the running back situation. Zach Boden is back after missing last year, but he was spectacular in limited duty as a frosh in 2011. He’s got the tools, but being a team’s premiere RB takes a physical and mental toll, and no one in this league can ever be expected to rush for 1,000 yards.

The wide receivers Ricky Zorn and Andrew Berg are very solid if not spectacular. TE Cameron Brate gets a huge amount of raves from all the pundits, but I think Columbia’s Hamilton Garner may be a better receiving threat. But regardless of all that, I still expect the Crimson passing game to be very good. Same goes for the offensive line.

Does this Harvard team look as good as it did a year ago? No, but this is a program that’s so far ahead of most of the competition it doesn’t really matter.

And the biggest plus for the Crimson this time around is the schedule. The key games against Penn and Brown are at home, and that’s a major plus.

So why should those of us dying to see someone other than Harvard or Penn win the title take heart?

Because the Crimson finished last season on a weak note and just because all the new starters are super-talented, it doesn’t mean they will all work together well. Yes, Harvard gets Brown at home in week two… but that’s awfully early to be testing a new QB, newish RB, and somewhat new O-line.

So while I see a good chance for Harvard to fall down to Earth a little, the odds are still in Coach Murphy’s favor.

Billy Ragone is going for his fourth Ivy title


Just win, baby!

That should have been Penn’s official motto last season as the Quakers strung together a bunch of close wins to somehow grab the Ivy title away from what looked like a much more talented and deep Harvard team.

But with gutty, if not pretty, leader like QB Bill Ragone, Penn played its best football when it counted… something Columbia found out the hard way in the Quakers come from behind 24-20 win over the Lions at Franklin Field.

Ragone returns this year for a 5th year, as does RB Brandon Colavita and two very experienced and solid WR’s in Conner Scott and Ryan Mitchell.

But honestly, this is not a very explosive offense. We’re not talking about the point-scoring machines that Head Coach Al Bagnoli had on his hands in the early 2000’s.  Ragone is too inconsistent for that, even though he’ll get a rest from time to time when pocket passing 5th year senior QB Ryan Becker gets 3-4 series per game.

Ragone’s bad ankle injury that kept him off the field for months this offseason is also a concern, as is the inconsistency of the Penn running game.

The defense loses Brandon Copeland, a defensive lineman who looks like he’s going to make the Baltimore Ravens roster this week. But this is Penn, even with the lack of great experience up front, you just can’t expect the Quaker D-line to be weak.

The linebackers and defensive backs look a lot more like what we expect from the Quakers. LB Daniel Davis may be the best in the league and DB Sebastian Jaskowski anchors that secondary.

The challenges Penn really face this season have to do with the schedule, Ragone’s durability, and strength of the running game without the suddenly lost RB Lyle Marsh for academic concerns.

Marsh was the best back on this team, not only for his sheer talent, but because he perfectly complimented Ragone. It was Marsh that Ragone would look to as a receiver in key situations, (again, a lesson Columbia sorely learned last year), and it was Marsh’s style of play that made him most dangerous in this offense. He will be sorely missed.

Having to play a revenge-minded Harvard team in Harvard Stadium in November along with Brown on the road too makes the schedule a major concern.

And just how much will Ragone have in the tank physically? He’s been banged up so many times since 2009, it’s hard to believe he can maintain his best level of play.

And yet… this is still a talented team and since you can’t assume Ragone will sustain a major injury, I still like Penn’s chances in most games.


Dalyn Williams seems like MVP material


The Big Green had an extremely promising 2012 season, both because they increased their win total and because they found a major new star at QB.

Count me in among the believers when it comes to Ivy Rookie of the Year Dalyn Williams and his chances to be a Bushnell Cup level player as soon as this season.

You also have to like Dartmouth’s big RB Dominic Pierre, who should have a better shot of staying healthy this season with Williams taking more of the running load.

I like the WR’s, especially the great Ryan McManus and the O-line is good enough.

The linebackers and defensive backs are stellar. LB’s Michael Runger and Bronson Green make for a strong tandem while Garrett Waggoner is a major force at safety and was the leading tackler for Dartmouth against Columbia last year. Stephen Dazzo and Vernon Harris are also All Ivy caliber DB’s.

That leaves the defensive line, which figures to be the Achilles heel for the Green this fall. You’d be hard-pressed to find an Ivy champ from the last 20 years that didn’t have a very strong D-line.

When the chips are down, I don’t know if Dartmouth will have what it takes to stop opponents on 3rd and 1, or rush the passer well enough on 3rd and 10.

But the emergence of a surprise star or two on that line would change everything.

The other factor that worries me is the schedule. The week three game at Penn will again be a must-win, and the Green also has to travel to Harvard and Brown.

That’s a triple whammy for a team that has to travel longer than any squad in the league in the first place.

With Williams entering his sophomore campaign, perhaps it is safer to say that Dartmouth is just a year away.

Michael Yules will get double-teamed all year


Brown had another solid season in 2012, going 7-3 and 4-3 in the Ivies. And while I may be picking them for fourth, I would not be shocked to see the Bears hoisting the Ivy championship trophy after the season finale at Columbia on November 23rd.

That’s because the Bears have probably the most underrated QB in the Ivies in Patrick Donnelly who happens to be getting his top two receivers from 2012 back for this fall. They would be Tellef Lundevall and Jordan Evans. The running attack, as usual for Brown, is a question mark.

Speedy John Spooney returns to the team after a year concentrating on running track is the top back. But I’m not handing him any All Ivy votes yet.

The offensive line is almost completely new and that’s a concern. Head Coach Phil Estes has been very good at reloading the O-line in recent years, but this is not something that you can take for granted.

You CAN take for granted that Michael Yules will be a factor up front for the Bear defense. I thought he was good enough to be an All Ivy 1st Teamer last year, even though he had to settle for 2nd team honors.

Losing AJ Cruz in the secondary will hurt and the linebacking corps is solid if not particularly deep.

If the Brown season were solely a question of how well Donnelly and his receivers produce, I’d pick this team for 2nd or even 1st. But there are too many questions to rank this team that high despite my strong admiration for Estes.

Caraun Reid has the eye, and the strength, of the Tiger


Princeton looked like a serious title contender for much of the season, until a late game collapse against Penn and a bad final week against Dartmouth seemed to expose the Cinderella aspects of this team’s 2012 campaign.

Yes, I am a doubter when it comes to the Tigers and that’s even though my doubts about them last season were proven very wrong.

What I don’t deny is that Princeton had a super defense last year, and that returning DT Caraun Reid is probably the best player in the Ivies this year.

But without 2013 grads like NFL-signee Andrew Starks and NFL draftee Mike Catapano, the Princeton defense is not likely to be as strong. I don’t love the returning D-linemen and linebackers as a whole, but I do think the secondary is going to be solid with the all-world sophomore corner Anthony Gaffney and Phil Bhaya.

The offense is the real mystery here. Head Coach Bob Surace will apparently use a ton of QB’s and RB’s in a group effort. Conner Michelsen and Quinn Epperly shared the duties last year and did pretty well… until the Penn game and things unraveled.  I think there’s a good chance former Vanderbilt commit Chad Kanoff will be the starter before long and kill off the QB by committee system.

Meanwhile, Surace seems to have talent in droves at running back. I like Will Power and Di Andre Atwater working together to share the load, (although there’s something hinky going on with Atwater as Coach Surace seems to need to be reminded that he’s still on the team from time to time. Surace NEVER mentions Atwater unless someone asks him about his status).

Princeton has a very good WR in Roman Wilson, but I’m not getting excited about the Tiger receivers until I see who plays QB. Michelsen and Epperly had flashes last season, but neither impressed me as a passer all that much.

The offensive line, however, is very strong and experienced. Clearly the O-line last year made everyone else look better.

Can Princeton surprise me and most everyone else and make a serious run for the titie? If the defense really shines and they get a real weapon at QB, I’d say yes. But that’s a little too much to expect.

Tyler Varga is still 90% of this team


Tyler Varga was the best and most exciting running back in the Ivies last year, and there's little doubt the Elis would have gone 0-10 in 2012 without him.

As it is, Yale was still a dismal 2-8 with a lot of holes in key positions that leave the program with too much to fix for 2013 to be a contending year.

Clearly, the Elis will get better at QB unless the injury bug blows the corps like it did last year. Clemson transfer Morgan Roberts may improve Yale's fortunes in a hurry at this position.

The wide receiver corps is deep with very talented players like the returning Chris Smith, (if he recovers from a nagging hamstring injury), and Cameron Sandquist leading the way. But it's hard to get too excited about all the talent at receiver before we know what the QB's can do.

The offensive line did a good enough job blocking for Varga, and the Elis gave up very few sacks last season. So this is a real strength on this team.

Defense was a disaster for Yale last year, especially against the pass. Now the Bulldogs have to deal with massive inexperience up and down the D after almost all the starters graduated. I do like Beau Palin a lot at DE and LB Cole Champion was a revelation at DB.

Of course, most of the chatter around the Yale program this winter and summer was about incoming freshmen Vincent Egu. Egu was committed to Cal, but switched to the Elis and then decided to forego a PG year to play this fall. Egu is slated to play at DE or OLB and should play early.

But with a huge question mark at QB and so many new faces on defense, this looks like another rough year in New Haven.

Coach Archer only smiles when he isn't looking at his defense


The Big Red return the super-exciting and talented Jeff Mathews at QB, and that should be worth the price of season tickets all by itself.

But what else does super-young new Head Coach David Archer have in the cupboard for the fall?

Sadly for Cornell fans, I don't see much.

I DO like RB Luke Hagy as a generally menacing offensive weapon, (think Roger Craig in Ivy shoes). He may run the ball a lot more early in the season as Archer tries to find more balance in the offense, but when that doesn't work out, I expect he'll get big yards running and receiving this season.

I'm also joining the chorus of experts who rightfully aren't too worried about the big number of graduating WR starters in Ithaca, simply because I think Mathews made all of them better and he'll do the same with their replacements.

But this Cornell defense still seems like a mess. The best thing it has going for it is the general change in coaching staff which should lead to some improvement, but not much. Linebacker Taylor Betros and Brett Bueler are decent.

Last year, I thought Cornell could make a run at the title based on offense alone. Boy was I wrong. By the time Columbia played the Big Red in week nine it was painfully obvious that a good pass rush on Mathews was more than enough to get by.

And I'm just not convinced about Archer's abilities to be a great head coach right out of the gate.

Cornell really looks like a last place team with a first place QB.

Ask longtime Columbia fans how that feels, because they've experienced that a couple of times over the years.

Moment #21: Cashing In

Sean Brackett

After Mike Waller’s amazing strip of Tyler Varga in the week seven game against Yale, Columbia had just 2:05 left in the 4th quarter to cash in on the turnover.

Trailing 22-19 and with the ball at their own 41, the Lions had their work cut out for them.

But QB Sean Brackett was about to put together his finest series of the season.

His first three passes were completed, the first to Chris Connors and the next two to Connor Nelligan for a total gain of 46 yards.

After on incomplete pass, Brackett found Nelligan again who made a great dash to the end zone that made it to the Yale three.

Then, the CU crowd buzzed with nervous tension as the fans all remembered the goal line stand that ended with no points at the end of the first half.

The crowd’s anxiety was only increased when two straight Marcorus Garrett runs only netted one yard.

After a Columbia timeout with 51 seconds left, the Lions faced a 3rd and goal at the two.

On this play, the Light Blue opted for a play action pass that Garrett caught as he stepped untouched into the south end zone.

The extra point gave Columbia a 26-22 lead with 45 seconds to play.

Friday, August 30, 2013

JMart Makes a HUGE play!

Josh Martin gets the ball 

So how was YOUR night?

Probably not as good as KC Chiefs rookie Josh Martin '13, who made a very strong case for making the roster with a sack, strip, and fumble recovery all on one play against QB Vince Young and Green Bay Packers.

You can see the video of the play right here!

Get Ready...

-My complete preview and predictions for the 2013 Ivy League football season will be published later today for a full Labor Day weekend review.

My full Columbia preview and analysis will be out next weekend.

-Check out this new weightlifting video the team released yesterday. 

In the video, I especially love the fact that the weightlifting room is in full view of the Twin Donut across 218th Street. 

That would actually motivate me. 

-You may have figured this out already, but there will be no Yale on YES this season. YES got a deal to cover ACC football, and I figure that reduced the available real estate for Yale games. Remember, the YES deal was always paid for by Yale, and it's possible YES raised the prices this season. 

I'm a little bummed by the news, since the Columbia-Yale game was always included in the Yale on Yes package. 

-Dartmouth is adding a video board to its scoreboard structure this year. Columbia will get a chance to see it up close when the Lions travel to Hanover on 10/26.

Now You See 'Em

The weight stats have not yet been updated, but there are now new pictures for every player on the Columbia football roster. That includes the freshmen.

So check it out and start putting names to the new faces.

Opponent Reports

Michael Nebrich

-Fordham's offense was very impressive in the Rams' 51-26 win  over Rhode Island last night in the Bronx. New starting QB Michael Nebrich was a true dual threat, going 17-25 for 247 yards, four TD passes and not INT's. He also run for a 32 yard TD.

Rhode Island's offense had some decent success against a Fordham defense that many expected would be the weaker unit on the team. Fordham captain Ian Williams left the game very early with a head injury.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Nebrich stayed in the entire game and was still running the ball quite frequently very late in the game. For a QB who missed almost all of last season with an ACL, that seemed like an iffy policy.

Fordham's next game will be a lot tougher; they host Villanova on 9/7 at 6pm.

-A record crowd of more than 21,000 packed Bobcat Stadium as Montana State beat Monmouth 42-24.

Montana State led 39-3 at the half and then slowly started to pull its starters.

New Monmouth QB Brandon Hill was 18-31 for 240 yards with two TD passes and two INT's.

Monmouth RB Julian Hayes had a strong game with 22 carries for 135 yards and a TD.

The Hawks' schedule gets a little easier next week, but not much. They travel to Virginia to face Liberty on 9/7 at 7pm.

Moment #22: Waller’s Miracle Strip

Mike Waller gets a hero's welcome after the game 

With 5:37 left in their week seven game vs. Yale, the Lions faced a very tough challenge.

The Elis led 22-19 and had the ball at their own 24. They also had super RB Tyler Varga, who had already torched CU for 196 yards on 21 carries and three TD’s.

All Yale needed to do was let Varga carry the ball for a few first downs and the game would be over.

And that’s exactly what the Elis did… except they forgot not to turn the ball over.

Five plays and two first downs later, Varga was now over the 200 yard mark and facing a 1st and 10 from his own 46 with about 2:15 left to go.

Varga took the ball again on that play and moved ahead for nine more yards before Columbia LB Mike Waller managed to strip the ball from him just before his knee hit the turf.

Fellow LB Ryan Murphy pounced on the ball at the CU 41 and, after the refs talked it over for a while, the Lions had the ball back after a stunner of a turnaround play.

Columbia now had two minutes and five seconds to cash in on what was CU’s biggest defensive play of 2012. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Headless Body in Topless...

The New York Post previews tonight's season opener for Fordham, and has a pretty glowing assessment of Fordham’s chances this season. I have to say I concur.

The piece points out Fordham’s triple threat offensive attack featuring RB Carlton Koonce, WR Brian Wetzel and TE Dan Light.

The other key point in the article is how the Rams need to work hard not to overlook what seems like an overmatched URI team.

You know what’s great about all this?

After tonight, we’ll be out of the realm of total speculation and we’ll have REAL games to analyze and discuss.

BREAKING: Alec Fisher off the Roster

Junior Alec Fisher, who got most of his playing time as a reliable punt returner the last two seasons, is off the roster.

Fisher had sort of been eclipsed as Columbia's main punt returner by Travis Reim in the latter part of last season.

For those of you who are new at this, you should know that these roster deletions are never a mistake and never temporary.

In other words, Fisher is no longer on the team.

*UPDATE: Apparently Fisher transferred out of Columbia altogether a few months ago. So I'm surprised the roster was not updated until now.

We wish him the best. 

Jake vs. the Odds

Every year, I pick the games of the week both straight up and against the spread.

After a super record in 2011, I had my worst year last season. I went 19-21-2 against the spread and a super shabby 22-20 straight up.

This season, I’ve decided to pick every game played by every CU opponent. Perhaps more volume will help me restore my usual 60% level of excellence.

That means I need to get started today as week one opponent Fordham goes up against Rhode Island at home tonight and Monmouth heads all the way out to Montana to play Montana State.


If you’re new to this blog and for those of you who may have forgotten, I don’t personally bet on sporting events. In fact, I strongly discourage it. I do not pick Columbia games at all. But I do like to look at our opponents and give my assessments of them while providing readers with info on how the odds makers are sizing up each game.

Let’s get started:

Fordham -9 ½ over Rhode Island

Fordham continues to improve while URI is coming off an 0-11 season with a long way to go to get back into the mix. Rhode Island has had a recent history of playing Fordham very well, but I think a 10-point win is very doable for the Bronx Rams. Take Fordham and lay the points.

Monmouth +28 vs. Montana State

Montana State is ranked in some polls as the #2 team in all of FCS. That means there are probably a number of FBS teams they could beat on any given Saturday. Monmouth is a solid program, but the Hawks don’t stand a chance tonight. They will, however, play well enough to cover the spread. Montana State to win, Monmouth to cover. 

Moment #23: No Return on Reim’s Big Return

Now trailing 22-19 in their week seven game against Yale, the Lions looked ready to get right back in control when Travis Reim returned the Eli kickoff 49 yards to the Yale 44.

On the first play from scrimmage after the return, QB Sean Brackett found WR Connor Nelligan for a 15 yard pass play and Columbia looked like it was in serious business.

But the drive fizzled at the Eli 24 and then Luke Eddy’s potential game-tying FG from 41 yards out was wide left.

With 5:37 left in the game, the burden was now squarely on the defense’s shoulders to make something happen.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Looking at the Linebackers

Today's video release from the football team  is out. It features linebackers coach Mike Cooke working with his troops.

New Choices

Dichter Pharmacy

Forget about what goes on the field, we all know the BEST thing about football is the food!

Okay, maybe that's a stretch. But I think we can all agree that the food and drink situation around Baker Field has always been mixed at best.

I'll post an updated version of my complete guide to getting to and enjoying game day at Wien Stadium in the days before our home opener, but I wanted to share some good news now about some new choices.

First, let's review:

For a quick sweet treat and a coffee, we've always had Twin Donut, (with the exception of one season when it was either out of business, being renovated or both), right on the corner of 218th and Broadway.

The Park Terrace Deli is even closer to Wien Stadium on 218th and it's a good place to grab a fast sandwich and a drink.

Just past the Broadway Bridge, a strip mall opened a few years ago that includes a Starbucks and an Applebee's restaurant.

But now, I am learning of some new choices that seem a little more game day friendly.

First we have an actual sports bar in District 12, located not too far away from Baker Field on 204th and Broadway. This could be a great place to walk after a CU win to celebrate a win and then catch the late day college games on TV.

And second, I recently learned that Dichter Pharmacy on Broadway between West 207th and Isham Streets, includes a classic soda fountain counter with ice cream, etc.

That's a GREAT place to go before or after a game with the kids.

Again, I'll have a more complete guide to food and everything else a little closer to the home opener.

But I don't like to keep good news under wraps.

Moment #24: Varga… AGAIN

Columbia just couldn't come up with an answer for Varga

After Columbia retook the lead 19-14 with 11:38 left in the 4th quarter of the week seven game against Yale, it looked like the Lions had finally wrested control of the game.

Looks can be deceiving.

Because after a Luke Eddy touchback, Eli Mr. Everything Tyler Varga marched right through the CU defense yet again.

The 10 play, 75 yard drive was led by six rushed from Varga for a total of 71 yards and a 25 yard TD run to give Yale the lead back. Then Mordecai Cargill easily barreled into the end zone for a two-point conversion to stretch it to 22-19, Elis.

After battling Varga all game with limited success, the Lions seemed more confused than ever after that four minute Yale drive.

Columbia had seven and a half minutes left to figure it out.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

BREAKING: Adams Makes the Cut

Jeff Adams

Jeff Adams '12 is still alive in his quest to make the Miami Dolphins roster.

The Dolphins cut their roster down to 75 players today, and Adams is still on it,

Good luck to Jeff and Josh Martin '13 as they keep fighting to stay in the pros.

BREAKING: Former Penn, Columbia assistant Found Dead

Bill Schmitz

Former Columbia assistant coach and Penn offensive coordinator Bill Schmitz has been found dead after an apparent suicide.

Schmitz coached as a graduate assistant at CU in 1979 and 1980, before getting bigger jobs at several different programs.

His last foray into the Ivy League ended after Penn fired him after the 2008 season.

Last year I wrote about how Schmitz sent one of his Land O'Lakes HS players Columbia's way. That player, Darin Patmon, has since left the team.

Our condolences to coach Schmitz's family and friends.

New Video Focuses on DB's

Chris Rippon

Today's video release from the football team looks at the defensive backs working in training camp with new defensive coordinator Chris Rippon.


Monmouth Starters Named

I knew this was going to be a busy week...

Now, week two opponent Monmouth has named its starters for its season opener at FCS power Montana State Thursday night.

The Hawks sport a very veteran lineup, with 11 senior starters, seven of them 5th years.

But there are are three sophomore starters, all on defense.

The average weight of the Monmouth starting O-line is 303 lbs. and the starting TE is 255 lbs.

Monmouth uses the 4-3 defense and their D-line is relatively lighter with an average weight of 255 lbs.

The Hawks went 5-5 last year, playing Cornell tough on the road in a 41-38 loss and playing better than Columbia did at Lehigh last season in a 27-17 loss. Monmouth highlights last year were wins over Sacred Heart and Rhode Island.

Sports Network Stays the Course

Last year I really protested Craig Haley's preview of the Ivy football season for The Sports Network website.

I even blasted Haley as a Princeton "homer," because he was a real outlier with his prediction that the Tigers would begin to be contenders in the league in 2012.

Shows how much I know.

It turns out Haley was dead right about Princeton, but I can take some solace in the fact that he was wrong about Columbia and Dartmouth finishing 7th and 8th.

This year, the Sports Network has handed the Ivy preview duties over to Brandon Lawrence.

And Mr. Lawrence stays true to tradition by predicting Columbia last.

Lawrence picks Penn first, even though he seems unaware that Lyle Marsh is not on the team anymore.

He also follows Haley's lead with a heady 3rd place pick for the Tigers.

As we Columbia fans know, our team won't get any respect until it starts to post some winning seasons.

BREAKING: Fordham Names its Starters

Week one opponent Fordham has just released its game notes for its game Thursday night at home vs. Rhode Island.

-QB Mike Nebrich has been named the starter. Nebrich is a transfer from UConn who played solidly for the Rams last year before going down with an injury.

-Two seniors, two juniors, and a sophomore get the starting five OL slots. They're average weight is 293 lbs.

-The defense will go with a 3-4. The average weight of the front three is 263 lbs., (CU's OL may not have even one starter that heavy).

-Columbia LB Ray Pesanello's older brother Anthony is one of Fordham's starting LB's.

-The sophomore starting Left Guard is the only non-upperclassman on the starting Fordham team. (with the exception of the placekicker, freshman Joe Pavlik). But four of the five starting O-linemen are backed up by freshmen, as is superstar RB Carlton Koonce.

Moment #25: Brackett Stays on a Roll

With the Lions now trailing Yale by just 14-12 late in the 3rd quarter, the Columbia defense kept the momentum going with a three-and-out.

On the ensuing punt, Alec Fisher had a brilliant 30-yard return to set the Lions up with a 1st down at the Eli 48.

Six plays, including two converted 3rd downs, later the Lions were in basically the same situation they were in at the end of the first half: 1st and goal at the two and trailing by just two points.

On the 1st down play RB Marcorus Garrett was stopped at the one, and  Columbia fans were clearly getting nervous.

But after a CU timeout, QB Sean Brackett came back with a nice little delayed run and dive into the end zone to give the Lions the lead back at 19-14.

On the drive, Brackett had gone 4-5 for 54 yards, plus the one run for the one-yard TD.

In many ways, this game against Yale was the finest of Brackett’s final year for CU.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Some Quick Opponent News

Brandon Hill

Week two opponent Monmouth has named UMASS transfer Brandon Hill as its starting QB.

That's no surprise considering his background.

I am just a bit surprised that with just three days to go until both Monmouth and week one opponent Fordham kick off their seasons, neither team has released a two-deep by now.

However, I do expect to see them for both teams sometime tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the offshore betting houses have a decidedly strong opinion about the odds for the Rams and Hawks Thursday night.

Fordham is now favored by 9 1/2 points over Rhode Island in the Bronx, while Monmouth is a prohibitive 26 1/2 point underdog at Montana State.

Three days and counting for them... 26 days for us.

New Video Features the QB's

The latest video released by the football team shows the QB's working with offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo.

Again, I'm really grateful for all the video content coming out of training camp this year and I'm sure all the readers here are too.

Football Orientation: 2013 Edition

Welcome First Years!

Are You Ready for Some Football???

I know probably NONE of the incoming non-athlete freshmen and freshwomen just arriving on campus today came here because of our sports teams, and that’s okay.

But those of you who are sports fans should at least know that Columbia has a football team that is filled with your hard-working fellow students. And the games are exciting and fun to go to.

Here’s my Columbia Football FAQ for incoming frosh, 2013 edition!

Who are You and Why are you such a crazy Columbia fan? 

I’m a Columbia grad from the class of 1992. That makes me an ancient 42-year-old to you. And that’s okay, I’m not looking to be cool, young, our your personal buddy. The idea is to make you aware of football and how much fun it is to watch your classmates play.

Now, let's define "crazy fan." Do I go to just about all the games? Do I get happy and depressed based on the team's performance, and then write about it online?... I answer "yes" to all of the above. Do I wear a rainbow wig, paint my bare chest light blue, and beat up opposing team mascots... no, (well there was that incident with the Dartmouth kid who dresses up like a keg back in '79, but the charges were dropped).

Actually I never really realized it until after the fact, but I was pretty much destined to be a Columbia football fan even before I set foot on campus as a freshman in 1988. My grandfather was a close friend and pinochle buddy of Columbia and Chicago Bears great Sid Luckman. Wien Stadium is named after a distant relative of my grandmother's, Lawrence A. Wien. And I'm pretty sure, my mom, who isn't much a sports fan, was dragged to the Ivy League championship-clinching win over Penn at Baker Field in November, 1961 by her then-boyfriend when she was a first-year at Barnard College.

You Columbia fans make me sick. Why do you talk so much even though you haven't won a title in 49 years? You should just be quiet and leave us alone.

Yes, die-hard loyal CU fans tend to dominate Ivy Internet chat boards and the like. But we're usually not boasting; we're just talking about our team and the sport we obviously love. Also, thanks to Logic and Rhetoric classes, (you'll find out about these), we're pretty good at writing. 

Fans of super-successful Ivy football teams like Harvard and Penn just aren't battle-tested enough to take things to obsessive levels. We are. 

I follow just about all the pro sports and "big-time" college football and basketball too, but those sports have lost a lot in my eyes over the years. The average pro team has more turnover than a second-term White House administration, and many of the BCS football teams are filled with young men who work hard, but can't really be called "college students." Every Ivy football player is a true student-athlete. It's damn nice as a father to take my kids to a game where they can see players who have their priorities straight. 

I am sick of sports anchors on ESPN and sports radio getting all high and mighty about college athletes and leagues that are corrupt and then they don't spend even a minute focusing on the players and leagues who do it right. It's hypocritical and cynical and I won't have it. 

Anyone who says that the Ivy League "isn't real college football," should be reminded that BCS college football, for the most part, isn't really college. 

Okay we get it, you love the team. But why spend so much time writing about it on the Internet, and what are trying to accomplish here?

Writing is what I do anyway. It's the way I make my living and I actually enjoy it. The Internet gives you a built-in audience, however small sometimes, so if you don't hate your writing, why wouldn't you post it on the 'net? 

And the point of all this is to create a virtual meeting place for CU fans, players, etc. I wanted to prove that there is a large and vibrant Columbia fan base, it just needed a sounding board. As President Reagan once told his speechwriters in 1981: "The choir needs music."

Okay, so what do I get to see here?

On this blog you will get a definitely pro-Columbia slant. We are fans after all.

But this is not mindless cheerleading. There will be fair criticism here without making it personal against the players. Coaches and the administration will be scrutinized at times and praised at others, however.

You'll get weekly predictions, (not including Columbia's games), including the betting lines. 

You'll get in-depth pre and postgame analyses.

When do you sleep?

I'm a dad of two young girls, so I still don't exactly bank on eight hours of sleep each night. But since I don't kill myself with as much meticulous editing as I should for this site, it doesn't take me too long to get these posts online. Seriously don't worry about me, this is not as time-intensive as it looks.

How will the Lions do this season?

I'll have my complete predictions for the Lions and the rest of the Ivies on this blog next week.

But here's a short preview:

Columbia has a great running back in Marcorus Garrett, (he was 1st Team All Ivy last season, which is like making the all-star team), and a transfer QB from Stanford, (yeah, the team that won the Rose Bowl last season), who was the #4-rated high school QB in all the nation just four years ago. His name is Brett Nottingham.

That should be enough to get excited about.

All my orientation leaders and upperclassmen make snide comments about athletics. What's with that?

If I learned one thing after spending four years with a bunch of kids at Columbia who were obviously smarter and more motivated than I, it was humility. I put on my cap and gown STILL not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, and that made me feel pretty pathetic next to my friends who did know and were also ready to work very hard for it. 

I don't idolize athletes, even the student-athletes at Columbia who work much harder than the guys at big football factories.

But I do really admire the fact that a lot of these guys on the football team represent TRUE diversity and the ability to overcome adversity. They are kids coming from parts of the country where most people don't even know about Columbia. Many of them even have... GASP!!!... a different point of view about politics, religion and life in general than most Ivy students, (I kinda thought diversity was supposed to be about more than race, but that fact is lost on a lot of people, and Presidents of the United States). 

Okay, I know I'm ranting, but this is just one token shot against against the avalanche of anti-athletics sentiment you're likely to hear from your peers in the coming days. Do me a favor and find out for yourself.

Okay, but it's not like any of these guys are going to the NFL or anything. 

Wrong. Every Ivy team typically has at least one player in the NFL. Right now Josh Martin, who graduated in May, is still on the KC Chiefs roster. Jeff Adams ’12 is battling for a spot with the Miami Dolphins.
Former All-Pro, Marcellus Wiley '97, is now doing NFL coverage on ESPN. Think he gets that job without an Ivy degree?  

What about the fact that the stadium is so far from campus? I heard about the free shuttle bus, but I might have to take the subway... 

Let me give you a little glimpse of your future. Within a year or two of graduation, you're either going to be working at a job that'll keep you cooped up inside for 10-12 hours or day, going to a job that requires you to sit in traffic for two hours each way, or both. So think a bit before you whine about a 15-minute subway ride or a 25-minute free bus trip. When I was an undergrad, I wanted to join the crew team but I balked because of those 6AM practices. Then I graduated and ended up working a graveyard shift in TV that required me to come into work at 2AM every day for seven years. What a dope I was in college!

But I'm here to help. Stay tuned for my guide to Wien Stadium coming up later this month.

For now, just remember that tickets for students are FREE! And for you adult students over the age of 21... there is FREE BEER for God sakes! Get up there!

I'm too busy texting my friends to go to football games.

Stop texting and start living.

BREAKING: Martin Survives First Cut

Josh Martin '13, has survived the first round of roster cuts by the KC Chiefs.

Both Martin's and recent Princeton grad Mike Catapano's names were not on the list of 14 players released.

So far, so good.

But there are 23 more cuts to come before the preseason is over.

Running Legends

Alan Watson

The latest video out of training camp shows running backs coach Chad Nice working with his troops and sharing some of his wisdom.

Depth and variety in the running game has been a particular rarity for Columbia over the years, but it looks like the Lions will at least have a chance to attain that this year with a major star in Marcorus Garrett and talented understudies Cameron Molina and Alan Watson.

The most lethal running back tandem Columbia has enjoyed over the last 25 years was the team of Solomon Johnson and Greg Abbruzzese in 1988.

Both were injured in 1989, however, and the dominance they achieved the season before was never really reattained.

Moment #26: Brackett Brings ‘em Back

Sean Brackett 

Now trailing 14-5 late in the 3rd quarter of their week seven game against Yale, Sean Brackett came back in at QB for the Lions and gave them the shot in the arm they so desperately needed.

Brackett went to the air right away, connecting with FB Steven Silvio and WR Connor Nelligan for a pair of short gains and the initial 1st down of the drive.

Two plays later he converted another 3rd down when he found Nelligan for 17 yards to the Eli 40.

In all, the 75-yard drive went for 14 plays and just under seven minutes and CU converted all four 3rd down plays including the 3rd down and goal four-yard pass to WR Jake Wanamaker that made the score 14-12.

Brackett had not only given the Lions the momentum back, he had re-established himself as the leader of the team.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Brackett's New Quest

Sean Brackett

Sean Brackett '13 is looking to continue his football career, and he's made a deal with the Utah Blaze in the Arena Football League.

Brackett's brash style of play might be a perfect fit in the fast-paced AFL.

We will be watching and we already wish Sean the best.

Moment #27: Varga Tears it Up Again

Varga turns the corner

Yale started its second possession of the half at their own 26, and this time the Elis were ready to take advantage of Columbia’s offensive problems.

What followed was a 12-play, 74-yard, 5:03-long drive that featured seven runs by Varga, four runs by Cargill and one incomplete pass by Varga just to mix things up.

53 of the yards on the way to the TD were gained by Varga, who finished it off with a three yard TD run giving the Elis a 14-5 lead and tons of momentum.

The Lions looked like they had solved the Varga challenge after he score his first TD, but this drive proved that false. And it also made all the points the offense had left on the table that much harder to face.

Columbia needed to answer with a strong offensive scoring drive to get back into the game. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Core Four

Well, that's a different kind of captain

The football team announced today in another cool new video that seniors Marcorus Garrett, Hamilton Garner, Zach Olinger, and Seyi Adebayo have been named captains for the 2013 season.  

This comes as a relief as I was worried the team was going to stick with some kind of 16-man list of co-captains for the whole season.

I like this traditional route a lot better... but what I REALLY like is the news about Adebayo.

The fact that he's back and is healthy for a 5th season is one thing, but for him to be so recognized and respected as a leader by his teammates is definite plus.

Adebayo is a major "X Factor" for the Lions this season as none of our opponents seems to be all that aware of him and his amazing talents.

Even our own coaches seem to want to keep him under wraps a bit as Seyi is the only player on the entire CU roster without a little scouting report from Head Coach Pete Mangurian on his roster page.

 I'm expecting a breakout year for #91, and this captaincy solidifies my confidence. 

Other tidbits I noticed from the video release:

-It looks like QB Brett Nottingham is already practicing with the "ones," at least some of the time.

-Freshman Anthony Bonadies looks like he's made the switch from OL to DL as Mangurian had said was a possibility back in April.

-Looks like they will be adding a light blue stripe with dark blue borders down the front of the helmets this year.

Big Night for JMart!

Josh Martin makes a hit

Tonight's third preseason game for the KC Chiefs could be a make or break moment for Josh Martin '13, who has so far impressed the coaches this preseason.

The Chiefs official website did a mini interview with Martin yesterday and it included a question about what his greatest moment at Columbia was.

Good luck tonight Josh!

Moment #28: Another Blown Opportunity

With Columbia trailing 7-5 at the half, the 3rd quarter began on a good note as Tyler Varga and Mordecai Cargill miscommunicated on a handoff and LB Zach Olinger pounced on the fumble at the Yale 32.

With Trevor McDonagh back in QB for this series, the young freshman got into his first pressure situation as the Lions elected to throw on 3rd and four from the 26.

But McDonagh’s pass to Jake Wanamaker fell incomplete and when Columbia decided to go for it on 4th down, that pass intended for Connor Nelligan also fell incomplete.

The offensive futility despite the great field position was adding up. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Take Two


The latest video from training camp is now available. It features the incoming freshmen in the weight room.


Heavy Work Load

Maybe you’ve noticed that Columbia’s roster lists an incredible 16 players at the wide receiver position.

Yes, that’s a lot.

Last season, there were almost as many.

And that big load is yet another reason why Columbia fans should be very grateful for WR coach Wendell Davis. It’s also why I’m sorry I haven’t singled him out for special praise before.

Davis was a start receiver at LSU and a top draft choice by the Chicago Bears. He played well for Mike Ditka before injuries ended his career early.

Last season, Davis was a miracle worker as the Lions kept producer new receivers who played extremely well every time the guy in front of them went down with an injury.

First, Davis developed then-sophomore Connor Nelligan from a seldom-used target in 2011 to one of the top receivers in the Ivies and Columbia’s #1 go-to air target.

Then, Davis cultivated then-freshman Isaiah Gross and turned the raw recruit into a spectacular deep threat.

When Gross tweaked his hamstring Davis got another then-freshman, Chris Connors, ready to play and he ended up leading the receiving corps in TD receptions.

Transfer Jake Wanamaker was not really healthy enough to start the season, but Davis got him in playing shape and good enough to make an impact by the Yale game.

And there was even the improvement he helped Ryan Flannery make the leap to being a real contributor with the varsity.

Davis has his hands full again this offseason as he has a ton of receivers to get into shape for the season.

But this is really an embarrassment of riches for a team that was without any depth at all at WR and a little thin on talent after Austin Knowlin graduated.

Remember that after Mike Stephens was injured in week one of 2010, Columbia had to convert players from other positions to play receiver.

Now I count four very talented WR’s who could start on a lot of other Ivy teams: Nelligan, Gross, Connors, and Wanamaker. Plus, we have probably the best pass-catching TE in the league in Hamilton Garner and some very good looking reserve WR’s include Louis DiNovo and Flannery.

Just on paper, there are also 2-3 very promising freshmen WR’s that Coach Davis will have to evaluate quickly to see if they deserve to jump the line and get on the field early.

Based on size alone, I like the chances for Toure Douglas, Denzel Hill, and 6-6 TE Connor Spears may get into the receiving mix very early too. 

But when I look at the receivers, I see quality, depth and good coaching. And that's a real recipe for success.

Moment #29: Goal Line Stood Up

Beau Palin is back as the Elis captain for 2013

After the Ryan Murphy safety brought the Lions to within 7-5 in the week six home game against Yale, the Lions were unable to score on their possession following the Eli free kick.

But LB Mike Waller got Columbia right back in business on Yale’s ensuing possession when he forced Mordecai Cargill to fumble the ball away and DB Jeremy Mingo recovered at the CU 46.

The Lions took this second chance with gusto, rattling off a new gain of 53 yards in seven quick plays to set up a 1st and goal at the Eli one.

But then things took a bad turn.

RB Marcorus Garrett was stopped for a two yard loss on 1st down by Yale’s Beau Palin and Will McHale.  One the next play, Garrett could only get back to the one as he was stopped again by Palin and Kurt Stottlemeyer.

On 3rd down the Lions went to the air, but the pass intended for TE Hamilton Garner fell incomplete.

With 4:15 left in the half, the Lions then made the very gutsy move to go for the TD.

But on 4th and goal from the one, it was once again Palin and Stottlemeyer who stopped Garrett short of the goal and Columbia came up with nothing.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

On the Field and on Camera!

In what is a really nice upgrade for the fans, the athletic department website has posted a video of some parts of Thursday's first practice complete with some general comments from Head Coach Pete Mangurian.

For those of you who have not memorized the roster and the player numbers, here's a shot-by-shot ID of the players who appeared in the video, (at least all of them who were not obscured in some way):

-At 18 seconds into the video, you see, (from left to right), Kendall Pace, Marshall Markham, and Joe Ghergurovich blocking against Dylan Leonard, Justin Aimonetti and Nathan Gibbs.

-45 seconds into the tape, Hunter Little begins the obstacle course with Niko Padilla and Nick Melka waiting behind him.

-55 seconds in, you get your first look at Brett Nottingham running a QB drill.

-1:03 into the video, Isaiah Gross makes a catch and moves along the sideline.

-1:06 in you see Malcom Thaxton in white racing with what looks like Chris Connors to his right as the meet Connor Nelligan in a coverage drill.

-1:14 in Nottingham talks with the coaches with RB Cameron Molina nearby and Connor Spears running into the quasi-huddle.

1:19 in Nottingham hands off to Alan Watson.

1:25 in Kelly Hilinski takes the snap and holds it for a keeper.

1:39 in Nottingham throws to Scooter Hollis and after the catch Keith Brady and Thaxton pursue.

Hopefully, we'll see more videos in the coming days!

BREAKING: DP Updates Marsh Story

Well, the Daily Pennsylvanian has now published this statement clearing up the Lyle Marsh situation:

"A previous request for info regarding Marsh's status to Athletic Communications went unanswered, but after following up again this morning, we have confirmed that Marsh will miss the 2013 season due to academic issues. He is not academically ineligible but is choosing to focus his efforts solely on academics in what is his final year of eligibility. 
We will continue to chronicle and weigh in on Penn's RB situation and other roster developments in-depth as the semester progresses."

I thank the DP for following up.