Friday, September 11, 2015

Ivy League Football 2015




Overview

The state of Ivy League football is generally healthier than it has been over the past decade thanks to a couple of factors.

First, the league’s televised presence is growing and will finally get a nationally featured game with NBC Sports Network’s Friday Night slot. Not having to compete with the full slate of Top 25 games every Saturday afternoon will help the league get more attention and maybe create a few new traditions.

Second, there’s evidence that at least one long-beaten-down program can turn its fortunes around. That program is Dartmouth, which has its best shot to win the title in 19 years. The Big Green have been on a relatively steady rise since going 0-10 in 2008 and worked very hard to systematically fix the program. They did well enough to attract a marquee quarterback who is now the best player in the Ivies.

Finally, there’s the buzz generated by a historic coaching move inside the league. Al Bagnoli’s abrupt departure from retirement at Penn to take over at Columbia has all the makings of a historic event and the kind of story the general sports and mainstream news media will eat up… if Bagnoli eventually succeeds.

So there’s reason to smile for just about all of us as the 2015 begins.


2015 Predicted Order of Finish

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


Harvard

The Crimson have two very good QB’s in Scott Hosch and Joseph Viviano. The starting job is apparently up in the air but the smart money seems to be on Viviano who is a very big kid with more explosive potential. The rest of the Harvard offense is a sure thing. Paul Stanton is another one of a long line of smaller-but-faster tailbacks who have thrived in the Crimson system under Tim Murphy for more than 10 years. WR’s Seitu Smith and Andrew Fischer are a very dangerous pair.

There are a lot of graduation losses on defense to deal with, especially in the defensive line. But the linebackers have two returning 2nd Team All Ivy players and the secondary returns most of its starters.

Frankly, we would need to see a lot more attrition at Harvard not to pick the Crimson to win the title, but the clincher is this: Harvard gets to play its most crucial game of the season at home. Dartmouth has enough talent to finally beat Harvard this year, but I don’t think they can do it at Harvard Stadium. It’s that simple.


Dartmouth

It’s generally fair to start and end every conversation about the Big Green by focusing on QB Dalyn Williams. He’s an extremely good passer, slightly better runner, and most importantly he’s really smart with the ball. The better news is his best target, WR Ryan McManus is back for a fifth season. It’s not often that a QB-WR combo returns for an encore season after both of them make 1st Team All Ivy the year before. And the returning RB is none other than 2014 2nd Team All Ivy Kyle Bramble. That’s a very potent triumvirate indeed.

The questions come when you talk about the O-line, that lost a couple of All Ivy 1st Teamers and replacing top quality offensive linemen is never easy. But I believe Dartmouth is in a great position to mask those graduation losses because Williams is the kind of QB who can make an offensive line look a lot better than it is.

On defense, Dartmouth returns a 1st Team All Ivy player on all three lines. DT A.J. Zuttah, LB Will McNamara, and DB Vernon Harris.

On special teams, McManus was the 1st Team Punt Returner, and kicker Alex Gakenheimer and Punter Ben Kepley are both back from 2nd Team All Ivy seasons in 2014.  

But can this talented group be good enough to win the championship? The scheduling gods seem to be saying “no” with that near impossible game at Harvard in front of them in week 7. At Dartmouth or on neutral territory, I think the Big Green could win… but not in the Crimson’s house.


Yale

Head Coach Tony Reno’s determination to win at Yale is real and relentless. Now, he faces the test of the lifetime as the Bulldogs need to replace a once-in-a-generation player in RB Tyler Varga. Bottom line, I think they can do it and play competitively enough to make a run for the title. But that run will fall short sometime before week 10 and The Game.

The offense, even without Varga, will be strong. QB Morgan Roberts had a breakout season in 2014 and now he gets NC State transfer WR Bo Hines to work with. RB Candler Rich won’t make anyone forget Varga, but he’s one of the better tailbacks in the league right now. Again, that’s about as good a triumvirate that you can hope to have in the Ivies.

The defense is the biggest reason why it’s hard to see the Elis grabbing their first title since 2006. Reno’s recruiting efforts on defense just haven’t matched what he’s done at the offensive skill positions. Two 2nd Team All Ivy players last year return on D and that’s it. That doesn’t mean a lot of experienced defenders aren’t back for the Bulldogs, because almost everyone is back. But the numbers this group put up last year just weren’t very impressive.

Special teams loses a great kicker in Kyle Cazzetta, and is a question mark.

Reno will need to wait at least another year.


Brown

This just in: Phil Estes is a great coach who works miracles. And the 5-5, (3-4 Ivy), season the very inexperienced Bears team put in last year really was pretty miraculous. Now it’s time to build on that success and make a run for the top of the Ivies again.

Brown’s offense is always very entertaining, and this year we could see a strong combo of fifth-year QB Marcus Fuller and QB-turned-very-big-fullback Seth Rosenbauer. Big and strong running backs like Tyler Varga and Brown’s decade-ago hero Nick Hartigan are pretty unstoppable in this league. So converting Rosenbauer to a running slot full-time is a smart move after doing emergency duty there last year. There are two other running backs, Andrew Coke and Jake Hall, who could turn the usually pass-happy Bears into a “run early and run often offense” this season. But that would ignore the hefty talent Brown has at wide receiver. 2nd Team All Ivy Brian Strachan is back along with the dangerous Alex Jette, (who has probably the best last name for a WR that you can possibly have). In short, if you’re down on the Bears championship chances because of their offense, don’t be.

Defense is the problem, where too many key linebackers and defensive backs need to be replaced to truly consider Brown as a contender. But D-lineman Zach Sparber is back and he could have a big year.

Expect Brown to play a lot of “shoot out” games this year, especially against teams like Yale. And if one or two of the newer players on defense emerges, then the Bears could make a real run.


Penn

If there ever was a coach in Ivy football history who really had a motivation to prove himself in year one, it’s Penn’s Ray Priore. Not only is he finally stepping out from behind Al Bagnoli’s shadow after two decades, but Bagnoli is still in the league at another school just to remind Priore of whose legacy he’s chasing. I think this scenario will bring out special determination from Priore, and that, along with his documented record of success at Penn, leads me to believe the Quakers will overperform this season.

Two transfers to the Penn program bolster this optimism. First is linebacker Colton Moskal, a very strong LB who transferred to Penn from Syracuse and could really jumpstart a defense that was lackluster last season. The second transfer was QB Will Fischer-Colbrie, who I don’t think will start over returning QB Andrew Torgersen, but he will push him to play better.

After that, the news is not as good. The starting RB is Tre Solomon who missed just about all of last year to injury. The starting WR’s graduated. It looks like Penn’s offense could be heavily reliant on Cameron Countryman, a very talented speedster who was kicked off the team last year for an off-field incident.

The Penn defense had a horrible 2014 season and really will get better by default. Moskal’s presence should help make that happen. The rest of the D is still a bit questionable.

The Quakers still have a lot going for them, but the schedule is tough. Having to play the Ivy opener against Dartmouth is serious early test. Penn’s next run for the top of the league is another year or two away. 


Princeton

I’ve been wrong about Princeton so many times in my preseason predictions over the past five years that you might want to stop reading now. But at least I think I know why I was wrong yet again last year when I predicted the Tigers would win the Ivy title. What I got wrong was not questioning whether Princeton could win the title without DT Caraun Reid, now with the Detroit Lions for his second season in the NFL, on the field. It turns out they couldn’t, and the season kept getting worse as it groaned on. NFL-quality defensive tackles are major game-changers in the Ivies, and they simply cannot be replaced.

The Tigers offense should be good this year, but without Quinn Epperly at QB, it’s hard to say how good. Chad Kanoff looks like a good bet to be the #1 QB this year after coming to Princeton last year instead of taking a scholarship offer at Vanderbilt. RB DiAndre Atwater, (son of NFL’er Steve Atwater), is just as lethal as I thought he was last year, but he’ll have to stay healthier this season after missing about a third of 2014 to injury. WR’s Seth DeValve and James Frusciante are very solid. The O-line will be bolstered by a familiar name, the stellar Spencer Huston who missed last year to injury. Some think Huston’s absence hurt more than Reid’s. This year will test that theory.

The defense doesn’t have an NFL-bound DT, but Tyler Desire is close. He’s big, strong, and agile. DE Kurt Holuba is a rising star and worthy of that “highly touted” label he got out of high school. And DB Anthony Gaffney might still be the best athlete in the Ivies. Columbia fans saw his breakout game as a freshman at Wien Stadium in 2012 and would be foolish to forget the damage he can do in the secondary and as a kick returner.

Princeton’s special teams are very good, led by kicker Nolan Bieck.

But there’s just too many holes on this team, and too many injury prone stars to be surprised if the Tigers don’t crack the top half of the league standings.


I’ve picked Columbia for seventh in the league this year. My full preview of the team will be out this coming week


Cornell

Now in his third year as Cornell’s head coach, David Archer still seems to be too young for the job. But youth may not be the problem for a program that really hasn’t fielded a serious contender in 15 years. The big push when Archer arrived was to create more balance on the team after the graduation of once-in-a-generation QB Jeff Mathews. But the last two years have proven that a talent imbalance can be a very good thing compared to hard-to-find talent and harder to come by wins.

The most talented key player on the Big Red is still on offense and it’s RB Luke Hagy. He’s gotten better as he’s gotten older and should have a strong senior year. Cornell doesn’t really have much flash at QB, but junior Robert Somborn could be better than expected if he builds off his later season performances. No one in the returning receiving corps caught more than 16 passes in 2014. The O-line loses a lot of starters and wasn’t very good last year anyway. It’s a bad situation up front.

The defense was weak last year and has no really notable players on the D-line. Nick Gesualdi is a safety who won Ivy Rookie of the Year honors last season, but you can’t really stuff an opponent with a safety for 60 minutes.

Cornell’s schedule isn’t easy, with out of conference games against Colgate and up-and-comers Bucknell and Sacred Heart. The bright spot is they get Columbia at home.

I just don’t see how the Big Red makes a big move this year out of the virtual cellar. 

4 comments:

alswingman said...

Some very good analysis. I am sorry to hear Harvard has a better QB than Hosch. I did not like what i saw from Hosch last season and felt he was a liability to the team. Of course he could improve but that won't matter since they have a better player.

Dartmouth does better when they are a spoiler. They still have a great shot at being the team to beat but they are not there yet.

I think Columbia has a chance to finish ahead of Penn and Brown this season, possibly Yale as well. That Yale D has everything to prove so until otherwise, they are not #3 in the conference.

Chen1982 said...

Let's get through the Fordham game before predicting coming ahead of Brown, Yale, Penn and (presumably) Cornell. Maybe you are placed particularly close to the team and can see things that I cannot hope to know from my light blue outpost here in HK.....but history weighs heavily on my mind to allow my self to believe in such a stunning one year turn around.

If it occurs, I will bow in awe publicly on this blog! And write a big check to CU as well!

Chen1982 said...

Not sure it matters, but read that Viviano of Harvard is out for the year

Boom Boom said...

The most interesting post-script to the upcoming 2015 Ivy season will be how much BETTER Dartmouth was than backward-looking ink-stained wretches and blognosticators were willing to give them credit for in the pre-season.