Monday, June 29, 2015

Some Preseason Honors

Niko Padilla

A relatively new outfit called the American Football Networks has named returning Lion seniors Niko Padilla, Cameron Molina, and Toba Akinleye to its preseason All America list.

It's a nice recognition for them and hopefully it will go a long way towards educating casual Columbia fans about the real talent the Lions have coming back to the defensive line.

Remember that in addition to Padilla and Akinleye, Chad Washington and Charles Melka are coming back to the team after not being on the roster last season. I'm also pretty high on sophomore Lord Hyeamang who could have a more noticeable breakout season after a solid freshman effort.

New Head Coach Al Bagnoli seems to have real respect for this D-line, as it was the first thing he mentioned when he was asked about what he saw as the "positives" on this team at his introductory news conference.

Molina is an interesting case. There's no doubt he was a major workhorse for the team last season as he ended up leading the Lions in rushing and receiving. I'm just not sure the new coaching regime will lean on him as much this coming season. On the other hand, he might even be MORE utilized if Columbia moves to an option offense with QB's Skyler Mornhinweg and Anders Hill.

I mention both QB's because Bagnoli had been using two QB's per game at Penn for many seasons before he got to us this year. He like to shuttle the QB's or at least give his primary guy a breather or two every game. If everyone stays healthy, I still fully expect to see one QB take about 80% of the snaps next season and another one get the other 20%.

Now to the key point: I'd say Mornhinweg is going to be the primary QB this season no matter what. More and more people who have either seen him play or have heard Bagnoli talking about him believe Mornhinweg can indeed make a difference for Columbia right now.

For those of you skeptics who legitimately bring up the Brett Nottingham comparison, I would just say that in retrospect we know that Nottingham was adept at a certain style of QB play that the existing Columbia team could not support. Mornhinweg may be much better suited to the strengths the Lions have now. But with Bagnoli and his assistants now at the helm, any player with any talent is likely to have a lot more success here than they would if they showed up a couple of years ago.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Rant, a Recruit, and a Rough Runner

Is Penn the new Columbia? I ask because this column in the Daily Pennsylvanian published today sure sounds like the kind of thing we're used to hearing Columbia fans say. I think the column does prove how much pressure there is on Ray Priore and his staff to produce a winner in the first year post-Bagnoli.

This column makes it as good a time as any to let Columbia fans know about the very real split that exists among big-time Penn fans and donors about Al Bagnoli and some of this assistants who have now landed in Morningside Heights.

I've spoken to a number of people close to the program who believe Bagnoli was way past his prime a couple of years ago and are generally glad he's gone. And I've spoken to an equal number of people close to the program who don't like the way Bagnoli was treated in general and they believe he's going to be an enormous positive for Columbia in a way that will make a lot of Penn folks very disappointed. This rift extends to the Penn people who had positive impressions of Mark Fabish and Jon McLauglin. 

I'm hearing lots of Penn people say great things about Fabish and McLaughlin and just as many saying the opposite, or at least expressing some level of disappointment in them. I'm not saying this is a full blown or angry rift. But this kind of split is not uncommon when someone who's had so much success over a long tenure at one entity switches over to a competitor. The only reason there isn't more outrage right now is because Columbia is not seen as a threat to Penn football. But no program can lose a legend like Bagnoli and two longtime assistants to boot with some kind of debate over the turn of events. And a lot of the relative friendliness over the Bagnoli move between Columbia and Penn fans will change as soon as Columbia starts winning some games.

My take is that Bagnoli seems emotionally and physically energized by this move in a big way. If anyone is saying that he's not going to be effective anymore because of fatigue or age is just plain wrong and tasting the sour grapes. The debate over whether Bagnoli still has the strategic smarts and can stay current enough to really help Columbia contend is another matter. I'm in the camp that says he can, as are many of his supporters back in Philadelphia. But not everyone is in this group.

If Columbia has a win or two under its belt when the Lions and Quakers meet at Columbia's Homecoming Day game on October 17th, the tension not just between the Penn fans and the Columbia fans but also between the Penn fans themselves may be palpable.

Let the Competition Begin

Trey Neville

A Williamsburg, VA area tight end is getting Ivy offers, including one that was just discussed in a published story in a local paper. Trey Neville also has offers from Princeton and Harvard.

Diabetes Lesson

I'm preparing to move this summer, (just 2.5 miles away from my current home), and so I'm going through a lot of the things in my attic.

One great item I came across is the 1996 Dartmouth media guide and after I read it, I thought a lot about incoming Freshman QB Kyle Castner. 

I'll explain.

Catner has a lot going for him, but he also has diabetes.

That doesn't mean he can't be a real impact player.

A impact transfer from Missouri who helped Dartmouth go 10-0 and obviously win the Ivy title in 1996 suffered from severe diabetes. His name was Greg Smith, son of NFL Hall of Famer Jackie Smith, who came to Hanover in 1995 from Columbia... Columbia, Missouri that is.

Smith rushed for 839 yards on just 183 carries in '95, including a 94 yard performance on 17 carries against the Lions that season. In 1996, he rushed for 885 yards and 10 TD's and he had 92 yards and a TD in the game against Columbia that basically clinched the championship.

Smith did this all while needing three daily injections of insulin. And the management of his diabetes was discussed in that '96 media guide and was the subject of documentary filmed while he was in Hanover.

I don't believe Castner's case is as severe, but the Lions would certainly be happy if Castner boosts Columbia as much as Smith did the Big Green,

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

FAMU Hires Overton

Former Columbia Athletic Director Dianne Murphy was a finalist for the same job at FAMU, but the school has just announced it's hiring Milton Overton from Alabama.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Hidden Gems? UPDATED

Nick Durham

Yes, Al Bagnoli and his new staff have brought in a big name transfer in QB Skyler Mornhinweg.

Yes, there are a number of promising incoming players in this year's freshmen class.

But a great deal of Columbia's chances to finally win some games this season will rely on the staff getting more out of the existing veteran roster. And that will include using some players more and in better ways than the previous regime.

Of course there are a lot of returning seniors who are already established leaders on the field. This post is not about the guys like Niko Padilla, Cameron Molina, and Toba Akinleye.

With that it mind, I want to point out a few returning under the radar seniors who I think have the potential to be impact players this coming season:

Chad Washington

This is kind of no-brainer because this very talented player was off the team last year because of a myriad of personal issues, (not all his fault). He's not exactly under the radar, but you have to mention him because he didn't play last year and I don't think he was able to make as big of an impact that he could have in 2013 either. Chad needs to come back this year with something to prove and be a demon on the outside pass rush.

Nick Durham

I first met Nick when he was working out with the team during the summer before he enrolled. I was impressed with him then and also impressed with his performance in a couple of games in 2012. Since then, he has fallen off the radar for whatever reason. The new staff seems to think he has very good potential left in him and so do I. If he emerges as a traditional TE or H-Back option, Columbia's offense would really have a nice new weapon.

Max Keefe

It's admittedly a bit of a stretch to call the player who had the second most tackles for a loss on the team last year an "under the radar" or a "previously underutilized" returning senior. But the CU linebacking crew really needs an upgrade and if it gets one, Keefe is going to have to be a part of it.

Brandon Blackshear

Blackshear is back on the team after a long absence. He was a pretty highly-regarded recruit and if he can contribute at all in the secondary it will be a huge plus.

Scooter Hollis

Hollis showed some flashes as a freshman and a sophomore, but was injured for most of 2014. He started in the spring game and has the speed to make a splash. He could be a dangerous weapons going in motion before the snap and bubbling back into the backfield.

Isaiah Gross

I'm taking a total flyer here, but we all know he has the talent to be an impact player. He might have to fight for playing time, but if he can stay healthy this coaching staff could get a pleasant surprise out of him.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Big Red Question Mark

Reis Seggebruch

The Cornell incoming class of 2018 is the only set of new freshmen I haven’t analyzed yet on the blog.

That’s because this is a very difficult crew to analyze and pick out 3-4 four standout players.

Thankfully, the official Cornell athletics website has decided to highlight some of their recruits using the assistant coaches to do the talking.

Based on some of that enhanced info, here are the Big Red newcomers that most caught my eye:

QB Dalton Banks has good size and comes from a decent football conference in San Antonio. He probably needs another year of development.

OL Zach Strong is a big load at 6-9 and 290 pounds coming in. He was a Georgia all state player, and looks ready to play.

RB J.D. PicKell, (not sure why the “k” is capitalized, but I’ll go with it), is smaller than his listed 6-0/200 pound numbers, but I like his speed.

And finally, I like LB Reis Seggebruch who is a converted nose tackle with a good knack for containing the run.

I know it’s not a long list, but Cornell is a program in trouble that would be under much more scrutiny if Columbia hadn’t been grabbing all the negative attention in the league the last two years.

I don’t know if Head Coach David Archer is in trouble as he enters his crucial third season in Ithaca. I don’t know for sure if Archer’s job is in jeopardy, but I would be surprised if it were. And with Columbia making a bold move to improve its program, Cornell’s big supporters will likely be asking when their administration will do the same. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Monday, June 15, 2015

10 Essential Bagnoli Wins

Al Bagnoli won a lot of games at Penn, 148 of them to be exact. And with nine Ivy championships to his name, it would be hard to pick ten or even 20 of the most important wins of Bagnoli’s career with the Quakers.

But strictly as Columbia fans, there are ten Bagnoli wins that I think should mean the most to us as we think a little more specifically about what we want from our new head coach.

Here’s my list in chronological order:

Penn 13 Yale 10 (1992)

This win told us something very important about Bagnoli and what he would go on to do at Penn. It was not a dramatic win, as the winning field goal from Andy Glockner came just a few seconds into the 4th quarter. It was not a pretty win, as both offenses simply appeared to grind it out for 60 minutes, (although Penn RB Sundiata Rush did have 132 yards on 25 carries and a 41-yard TD run). It was simply a game where the Penn defense picked up a one-dimensional offense and just didn’t let up. The Quakers had eight sacks in the game, including two on Yale’s last possession. After three straight losses to the Elis under their previous head coach Gary Steele, Bagnoli guided Penn to a win in his first try against Yale.

It was the first of what seems like too many Bagnoli wins to count that followed a very similar M.O. It was a gutty win that mostly relied on a punishing defense. It was a win that used what strengths Penn did have to their fullest. And it was in no way a blowout.

Penn 30 Princeton 14 (1993)

This was Bagnoli’s first truly great victory at Penn, as the Quakers thrashed the defending Ivy champs at Franklin Field. The ’93 Penn team was a lot more talented than the ’92 team to be sure, but the master stroke that won the game came from the coaching staff. Bagnoli and his assistants relied on a steady diet of draw plays to fool the Tiger defense and it worked to perfection as RB Terrance Stokes ran for a Quaker record 272 yards on an incredible 42 carries. In his early days at Penn, Bagnoli was blessed with a steady diet of very talented running backs. It may be hard for Columbia to emulate that early on, but at least we can have confidence that if the Lions do score a great back, Bagnoli will know how to use him.

Penn 12 Columbia 3 (1994)

1994 was the year that Columbia finally broke out of its multi-decade funk and actually posted a winning season. The Lion defense made a big splash in this game by strangling a Quaker team that had put 59 points on the board the week before against Holy Cross. Penn was held without a TD, but eked out the win with four FG’s from Glockner.

For many years to come, Penn would win a lot of games against Columbia at Franklin Field similar to this one. With everyone expecting a blowout, sometimes a team can really lose focus when it turns out your opponent isn’t such a pushover after all. But time after time, Bagnoli found a way to keep his team from becoming too shocked to salvage the game. Columbia would suffer similar losses despite better-than-expected showings at Franklin Field in 1998, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2012. And there would be a handful of games like this at Wien Stadium as well. Why is this important? Because great coaches can’t stop their teams from underachieving from time to time, but they do stop them from losing most of those games anyway.

Penn 34 Yale 21 (1998)

In 1998, Penn had a bevy of offensive talent. But the defense could sometimes be a bit spotty. That was obvious a week before this game as the Quakers lost one of the greatest games in Ivy history, 58-51 at Brown. But the Bears couldn’t keep the momentum going for the full season, while Penn bounced back with this win over Yale and didn’t lose again that season.  It was a big back again who helped make the difference. This time it was future NFL’er Jim Finn. But this time, Penn also had a super QB in Matt Rader, a transfer from Duke.  

The big reason why this was one of Bagnoli’s best wins is that exemplified the way he really mastered the mental aspect of the game. The way he got his team to bounce back so effectively after the Brown loss was masterful, and it too would be a feat he would repeat many times over the years after tough losses.

Yale and Brown would go on to share the Ivy title the following year. But thanks to this win especially, the Quakers won the 1998 title outright.

Penn 41 Brown 38 (2000)

Big comebacks aren’t really a part of Bagnoli’s resume at Penn. There were games when the Quakers came from behind to be sure, but not games where they were behind by three scores or more.

That’s what happened in this game, the third of three in a row between Penn and Brown that were all totally fantastic contests.

Brown won the 1998 and 1999 games, (the ’99 game was a 44-37 final score), but could not hold on after leading 38-20 with just five minutes left to play.

Again, this was the era of big-time offensive powerhouse teams under Bagnoli. The QB was Northwestern transfer Gavin Hoffman who might have been the best Bagnoli QB ever coached.    

A lot of people will point to the 36-35 win over Harvard two weeks later as the key win for the eventual champion Penn that season. But without this crazy comeback win over Brown, I really don’t know if the Quakers would have been able to win that game against the Crimson.

Penn 44 Harvard 9 (2002)

The hype surrounding this game was huge as ESPN’s “College Game Day” show set up shop at Franklin Field in what was essentially the Ivy championship game for that season. The way that Penn didn’t get distracted by that hype and just totally eviscerated the Crimson was a real tribute to Bagnoli. I always thought the 2002 Quaker team was the best one Bagnoli fielded at Penn and this game is really the best argument for that.

Penn 22 Harvard 13 (2006)

This was another example of the mental mastery Bagnoli wielded at Penn for 23 years. The Quakers came into this game after losing a gut-wrenching three straight games in overtime. Harvard came in at the #17 ranked team in D-IAA and had a great shot at winning the Ivy title. Even though the Crimson put up generally better stats, Penn still came away with the win.

2004-2007 was the darkest period of Bagnoli’s tenure with the Quakers, but this win was the highlight of that time.

Penn 17 Harvard 7 (2009)

Very few of Bagnoli’s great wins at Penn came on the road, so this defensive gem at Harvard to essentially clinch the Ivy title was probably the best of them. The 2009 Penn defense was the best defense I’ve ever seen in the Ivies, (I’m too young to have seen the 1970 Dartmouth team that basically shut out everybody that season). The seven points allowed in this game were part of the just 21 total points the Quakers allowed throughout the entire second half of the season. Harvard came into the game with the best offensive stats in the Ivies, but they couldn’t get more than 250 total yards in this game.

The win ended a long, (by Bagnoli’s standards), six-year Ivy championship drought for Penn.

Penn 27 Columbia 13 (2010)

Columbia came into this game riding high after two straight routs over Princeton and Lafayette, and Penn had just barely beaten Lafayette in week one of the season. But the Quakers of the final decade of Bagnoli’s tenure in Philadelphia were most characterized by a strong focus on the line of scrimmage. Penn’s teams in this era weren’t as chock full of great skill players like the Quaker teams of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but they could really dominate the line of scrimmage when it mattered. The eventual 2010 champs took a lot of air out of Columbia’s sails right on the opening possession as the offensive line started to simply push the Lions all over the field. On defense, the front seven pounded Columbia and QB Sean Brackett all day in almost a brutal display.

For the rest of the season, only Yale would give Penn much of a run for their money. No one could beat those front lines.

Penn 28 Princeton 21 (2012)

This was another rarity of the Bagnoli era, as it was a big comeback win on the road. Princeton was on the rise in a big way, (the Tigers would share the title the following year), and had every reason to believe it would win after taking a late 21-7 lead.

But Bagnoli knew how to let the gutsy QB Billy Ragone bounce back from mistakes and lead his team to victories. That’s exactly what happened in this game, where Ragone completed just 10 of 23 passes and threw a costly interception earlier in the contest. A lot of other coaches would have pulled Ragone, but not Bagnoli even though he often shuttled QB’s during his Penn years.

This was really the last great win of Bagnoli’s time at Penn and it ended up being one of the most improbable in retrospect. But improbably victories are what great coaches bring you.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Kyle Smith-Cavaliers Connection

A number of newspaper articles are featuring Lions hoops Head Coach Kyle Smith because he coached Matthew Dellavedova when he played at St. Mary's.

Smith got to see Dellavedova's super performance in person Tuesday night in game 3. 

You can read some of the best pieces about Smith and Dellavedova by clicking here, and also here.

100 Days

Every year, the reality of the upcoming Ivy football season doesn't seem to start to sink in until we reach this point of just 100 days until kickoff.

The paradox is that while 100 days really isn't long enough for a rebuilding team like Columbia to prepare as much as it would like, it can also seem like an eternity during those slow and hot summer days.

I don't have the date yet, but I do know the wait to actually start hitting another team won't be quite that long this year. Columbia has scheduled a preseason scrimmage for the first time in about four years. The Lions will take on New Jersey's Kean College, a D-III school, probably in early September.

This is a good sign, as the Lion program seemed to be too afraid to play scrimmages in recent years.

Of course, the big game people all over the league are starting to circle on their calendars is the Homecoming contest against Penn on October 17th. If I have to explain to you why that's going to be such a big game, then you haven't been paying attention. But The Daily Pennsylvanian explains it nicely for you newcomers.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Big Green Haul

Through 12 rounds of the MLB Draft, not one Ivy player has been chosen. I am already seeing a lot of players picked who could not start for the 2015 Lions. My only guess is that Ivy players don't get drafted high because they have a lot of very good employment options and may not be worth the risk. 

Stay tuned to see if some the stellar Columbia players do get drafted later today. 

UPDATE: Penn's Austin Bossart has become the first Ivy Leaguer chosen. The Phillies took him in the 14th round. Harvard's Tanner Anderson has been picked by the Pirates in the 20th round.

SECOND UPDATE: Jordan Serena, Gus Craig, and George Thanopoulos, were all drafted in the final rounds late yesterday. I don't expect the junior Thanopoulos to leave school, so he may be drafted again in a year.  

Jackson Perry

Recruiting Looks Resume

I'm resuming my overall assessment at the other Ivy schools' football recruiting classes today with a look at Dartmouth's class of 2019.

I had some help on this list from some Big Green fans, but I didn't need any help singling out DT Jackson Perry for the top of it. Perry is one of those rare 270+-pound defenders in the Ivies. He also comes from a high school power, Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas. Perry had been committed to Vanderbilt before he switched to Dartmouth.

 I like what I see from QB Vito Penza, who had some decent mid-major offers and has good size. 

Linebackers Jack Traynor and Jake Moen look the real deal at their positions. Traynor comes from a very strong football program in the Chicago area. 

WR Dylan Mellor from the DC area had offers from just about every other Ivy and a strong look from Duke. 

I also really like DE Jimmy McHugh from Moorestown, NJ. He's big and fast for an Ivy defensive end.

I'd keep an eye on RB Miles Smith both because Dartmouth has recruited this position extremely well over the past decade and because he comes from the same HS as Lion RB great Marcorus Garrett '14.

Also an Air Force transfer WR named Emanuel Soto is coming to Hanover this year, but he won't be eligible to play until NEXT year. 

You might also have noticed a familiar name in the Dartmouth mix. It's Harry Kraft, grandson of Columbia football alum, New England Patriot owner, and Kraft Field namesake Robert Kraft. I don't know exactly why he chose Dartmouth, but I am fairly certain that the previous coaching regime did not recruit him at all. Of course, I don't think the younger Kraft will be a factor in this league, but you never know. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

For Love of the Game... Again

Sean Brackett '13 is now the starting QB for the Las Vegas Outlaws in the Arena Football League.

So now, a local newspaper is asking: why is an Ivy grad playing AFL football?

The answer from Brackett is a good one: life is short.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Pump it Up!

We've heard rumors, we've heard requests, but people close to the new turf installation at Kraft Field say that special anchors for a winter/bad weather practice bubble are now in place!

This is a big deal. To my knowledge, the only other Ivy teams with a practice bubble at the home field site are Harvard and Penn, (Penn's bubble does not cover Franklin Field, but another field). Even if another Ivy does have one, Columbia is finally among the early adopters of a definite facilities advantage.

I'm not sure if the installation of these anchors means the practice bubble will be ready this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is and I also wouldn't be surprised if Head Coach Al Bagnoli is insisting on it.

The practice bubble will be most helpful in recruiting, especially kids from colder weather areas who have endured rough outdoor practices in high school.

This 2010, post-win over Cornell shot will always be my favorite picture of Alex Gross

BGA's Bruce Wood spotted this story about how former Lion great Alex Gross '11 is on the roster for Team USA in the upcoming IFAF World Championship. Gross, a Dayton-area native, must be very happy the tournament is being held in his home state town of Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Those of you who are relatively new to this blog can read about some of Alex's great success as a player, student, and leader here.

What was interesting about the Wall Street Journal article about Alex that I linked to above is that it hit the newsstands on the same day that he had a pick 6 in Columbia's 42-28 win over Lafayette at home.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

No Shame

Rob Paller returns next year

Well, Columbia never had a chance in the Regional Final game rubber game against Miami last night. Kudos to the Hurricanes and especially their powerful hitters who woke up big time from the get go.

But this Columbia Baseball team has nothing to be ashamed of and even has a lot to look forward to right now. A lot of the best hitters are graduating, but enough remain along with a great pitching staff to give the Lions a great chance to win an incredible fourth straight Ivy title.

And now the real countdown to football begins. 109 days until the kickoff of the 2015 season at Fordham. This is going to be a tough season in many ways, but it should also be uplifting and fun in a way we haven't seen for Columbia football in a long time.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Brilliance on the Diamond

Freshman pitcher Bryce Barr was a hero last night

I'm sure many of you joined me this weekend in watching every pitch of Columbia Baseball's stunning performance in the NCAA Regionals.

History has always been more forte when it comes to Columbia sports, so let me just rank this achievement for those who haven't been following Lion athletics for very long:

-This is the best Columbia team of any kind since the  1983 Men's Soccer Team that went all the way to the national championship game before falling to Indiana in double overtime. Yes, Columbia Fencing has won national titles, including this year. But the field is just not as crowded and while fencing has many recruiting advantages against even the scholarship schools, Columbia Baseball is at a distinct disadvantage against a much more crowded and competitive field.

-This is the best Columbia Baseball team of all time, including the teams that boasted Lou Gehrig. (Remember that Gehrig's teams did not have winning seasons).

-This is the most enduring elite sports program within the Columbia athletics family, and that includes the roughly 10-15 year run Dieter Ficken's soccer teams enjoyed from the late 1970's until the early 1990's. This baseball team has reloaded three separate times under Head Coach Brett Boretti, and has now won a total of four NCAA Regional games.

Tonight's Regional Final game is a major challenge under any circumstances as Columbia is forced to win a second straight game on the #5 team in the nation's home field. But I don't think anyone is expecting the Lions to look scared out there tonight.  Dating back to the last regular season game of the year at Penn, this team has now won six straight do-or-die games. Columbia is used to the pressure, while Miami is really feeling it for the first time this year.

And again, this baseball run is further proof that the proper management/coaching matters. Boretti has recruited well, managed and developed players well, and made enough correct decisions on game days to win consistently. Programs are not "cursed" by some kind of non-existent hex. When programs fail consistently, it's because they're being managed poorly with the same consistency. The opposite is also true.

Of course Columbia Football can learn a lot from what the baseball team is accomplishing. Hopefully, this will rub off.