Monday, November 30, 2015

Breaking: Houston commits

6-3 245 pound DE/TE Tyler Houston has committed to Columbia. We had heard Houston's name a few times this fall, but never got confirmation of a committment. 


Mac Gets the Title

Former Columbia Head Coach Larry McElreavy led his Newport High School football team to a perfect 11-0 season and won the state championship with a 48-14.

The entire season was nicely documented by the local papers in a five part video series you can see here.

I'm really happy for Coach Mac and all his players.

Hunter in the Hunt

Speaking of high school, the one incoming Columbia freshmen that we know is still playing football right now is QB Hunter Petlansky. And Petlansky is about to play in a championship game of his own after his Central Catholic team gutted Placer 48-14 in the Division III semifinal. 

Holiday Wish List

One of the most unique things about Ivy football is that the season ends at the same time for all eight teams no matter what. First place, last place, it doesn't matter. The 42 week off season is in effect for us all and we have 41 weeks to go.

But the high season for recruiting is going on right now as lots of schools schedules on campus visits in December in hopes of getting commitments before Christmas time.

Even though Columbia already has 23 reported commits already at this early date, there's a lot of work to do considering the Lions can bring in a much larger than average class this year. I wouldn't be surprised if the official list of incoming freshmen gets very close to 40 or above when the athletic department makes the official announcement in April. And I also would not be surprised if another transfer or two joins the squad. 

No one should expect any incoming freshman to fill the team's needs on the field right away. So I want to make it clear that the following list of Columbia's biggest holes to fill shouldn't be construed as some kind of marching orders for our recruiters spreading out across the country at this moment. But here's a look at the four main areas of the team where the concern is highest right now:

1) Defensive Line

 The strength of the Lions in 2015 could quickly become a weakness with the graduations of so many key seniors. Niko Padilla, Toba Akinleye, Chad Washington, Hunter Little, and JD Hurt are all leaving and it's going to take more than one year to replace their talent and numbers.

The best two returning D-linemen are rising juniors Lord Hyeamang and Dominc Perkovic. With an off season filled with hard work and just a bit more size, I think Hyeamang can become the Ivy League's biggest rarity: a dominating defensive tackle. Perkovic showed a lot of signs of being an extremely savvy outside pass rusher and is in a great position after amassing 30 tackles and three sacks this season.

The rest of the returnees are a little light on solid data. Rising senior Charles Melka could get into the serious mix after a slow start to his return to the team this season. I'm anxious to see what rising junior Alexander Holme can contribute after getting another off season to adjust to his move from linebacker. And David Donovan is another rising junior who got on the field this season and could be a bigger contributor. 

Rising sophomores Mike Hinton and Cole McDonough peak my interest. Hinton has a lot of talent and probably was just too small this year to contribute on the D-line. Maybe if he can get up to closer to 245 lbs. from his current 227 lb. frame he'll get a chance. McDonough is huge already at 307 lbs., and it would be something if he could become an impact player.

Six of the reported 23 incoming freshmen so far have played D-line positions. Some look like promising early prospects. But, again, I find it hard to put any kind of expectations on freshmen especially at D-line and O-line positions.

But transfers are a different story and I get the feeling that if Columbia does get a transfer this off season, he very well might be a d-lineman.

2) Wide Receiver

Columbia's utter lack of an effective vertical passing game this year was obvious to all. But the need grows more dire for improvement in this area with the graduation of leading WR Scotter Hollis. 

But this group is not without hope. Rising junior Cameron Dunne certainly had his moments last year and often got open. Rising senior Ben Kaplan made some key catches this fall. Rising junior Dylan Weldon came out of nowhere to make an impact in the second half of the season. And rising sophomore Brandon Krcilek got a lot of playing time and experience for a freshman.

There's also rising junior Marcus Briscoe who missed all of 2015 with an injury and could certainly help this unit out if he comes back healthy in 2016.

Four incoming freshmen have WR experience, and I'm sure they will all get a good look in training camp.

Bottom line, Columbia desperately needs to improve its passing numbers this coming season.

3) Running Back

We knew graduating senior Cameron Molina was a good player coming into his final season, but we really didn't learn how good he truly was until the end of this season. It's a pity he leaves us now, but at least he got to finish his career truly at a high point.

Next to impact defensive tackles, the next biggest rarity in the Ivies these days is a 800-1,000 yard rusher. In other words, no one can expect the Lions to replace Molina with a player who can put up the same stats in 2016.

Columbia is not coming into the new season with the cupboard completely bare. Rising senior Allen Watson has shown enough flashes to give fans some hope and rising junior Chris Schroer is a great tough runner who could get much more into the mix next year. And with rising junior FB Leander Cutler returning after missing all of this season with an injury, it's likely the lions will have an effective combination of blocking and running at that position to go along with rising senior Jackson Conway's excellent blocking-only role.

But this is a position where indeed the big hopes seem centered around an incoming freshman or two. A lot of hope centers around Tanner Thomas who put up eye-popping stats seemingly every week in his final high school season this fall. Another reported incoming frosh, Alex Gibson, comes from a hard-nosed conference in Pennsylvania football country and he might help quickly too.

4) Secondary

I'm actually not overly concerned about this unit, despite the graduations of quality safeties like Matt Cahal and Travis Reim. That's because the Lions have a pair of outstanding returning starting corners in rising junior Cameron Roane and rising senior Jared Katz. Katz was a revelation as he really picked up his game and got a lot more physical and tough as the year went on.

At safety, rising senior Brock Kenyon gives me some good confidence, and I think there's a chance the talented Brandon Blackshear could return after missing two seasons between his freshman and senior seasons. But this group definitely needs some more depth.

I liked a lot of what I saw of rising junior Tyler Holmes on special teams and I wonder if that will translate into more effective playing time on defense. The rest of the underclassmen are really an unknown quantity for us.

Four of the reported incoming freshmen so far have at least some playing time at DB. It's possible one will get into the mix, especially if they can hit hard at the safety position.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Catching Up

Josh Martin makes a tackle

First, a quick NFL update as Josh Martin '13 is back in New York after the Jets signed him to their active roster yesterday. Look for Josh to make an impact on special teams and maybe more.

Second, the All Ivy list is out and it's nice that eight Lions have been honored compared to the much smaller numbers we saw in 2013 and 2014. 

RB Cameron Molina's inclusion on the 1st Team is especially gratifying considering all he had to endure the last four years. And considering his non-eye popping stats, it was also nice to see Toba Akinleye make the 1st Team too.

Two of Columbia's All Ivy honorees will return for 2016, DB Jared Katz and P/K Cameron Nizialek. They'll both be seniors next season. 

But expect big changes in positional assignments in the coming months as Al Bagnoli and his staff now have a full off season to do their work.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

With Praise Comes Information!

Taylor Weldon

A new piece lauding Columbia's recruiting efforts has just been published Hero Sports and it includes a brand new name to add to our unofficial list of incoming football commits.

That name is Taylor Weldon, a DE/TE who makes more sense for Columbia at the DE position.

Weldon comes from Southland Academy in Americus, Georgia maybe about 130 miles south of Atlanta. It looks like Weldon missed his senior season due to an ACL tear, but we'll see if he's healed in time for next year.

Based on my Lionfeeders recruiting database, Weldon would be the first Southland grad to come to Columbia football.

But the article in Hero Sports is really worth reading for more than the one added name. Our suspicions that getting 23 commits this early in the process was a good sign seem to have been confirmed. And the outspoken praise for Head Coach Al Bagnoli and the experience of playing Ivy Football are like cashing in dividends on a rising stock.

Here's our new list:

1) Kyle Baskin WR/DB 6-4 210 lbs. Quakertown HS Quakertown, PA

2) Parker Coogan OL/DT 6-2 270 lbs. Kingwood HS Houston, TX

3) Matt Dame QB 6-2 185 lbs. Suncoast HS Riviera Beach, FL

4) Chris Everett WR 6-2 200 lbs. Whitney Young HS Chicago, IL

5) Danny De Lorenzi LB 6-3 230 lbs. Bergen Catholic HS, Oradell, NJ 

6) John Fischer OL 6-3 290 lbs. Sacred Heart-Griffin HS Springfield, IL

7) Alex Gibson RB 5-10 195 lbs. Central Bucks High School East Doylestown, PA

8) LinDon Harris DE 6-2 215 lbs. Sidwell Friends Washington, DC

9) Ben Hill TE/DE 6-3 230 lbs. Christian Brothers HS Memphis, TN

10) Hogan Irwin RB 5-10 180 lbs. Central Cathedral HS San Diego, CA

11) Ben McKeighan WR/DB 6-0 187 lbs. Scottsdale Prep/Cheshire Academy (PG year) Scottsdale, AZ

12) Max Mullaney LB 6-2 225 lbs. Colts Neck HS Colts Neck, NJ

13) Michael Murphy LB 5-11 194 lbs. Plant HS Tampa, FL

14) Lamine Nouck-A-Nwal DE/OL  6-4 250 lbs. Central Bucks High School East Doylestown, PA

15) Will Ontiveros WR/DB 6-2 175 lbs. Assumption HS Davenport, IA

16) Hunter Petlansky QB 6-2 225 lbs. Modesto Central Catholic HS Modesto, CA 

17) Alex Robin DT 6-0 260 lbs. Vestavia Hills HS Vestavia Hills, AL 

18) Arman Samouk DT 6-2 270 lbs. Copley HS Copley, OH

19) Joseph Scowden OL 6-4 290 lbs. Montgomery Bell HS Nashville, TN

20) Tanner Thomas RB 5-10 183 lbs. Farragut HS Knoxville, TN 

21) Jonathon Webster DB  6-0 180 lbs. Eastside Catholic HS Sammamish, WA

22) Taylor Weldon DE/TE 6-2 240 lbs. Soutland Academy Americus, GA

23) Jalen Williams LB 6-0 215 lbs. Hewitt-Trussville HS, Trussville, AL

Monday, November 23, 2015

Rough Ending

Brown 28 Columbia 23

Why Brown Won

The Bears showed up. That's about it. I'd like to be more diplomatic about this and give more praise than is due to the decent blitzing package Brown used and some decent Bear defense in the red zone, but those were only minor factors compared to the three gift TD's Columbia handed their opponents on Friday night. Considering how accommodating the Lions were at crucial moments in this game, Brown should be embarrassed it didn't win by a lot more.

Why Columbia Lost

The Lions gift wrapped three TD's to the Bears, two of them before the first minute in the game had elapsed. The Columbia offense also struggled in the red zone when it counted most. Failure to pick up Brown's outside blitzers on play after play also hurt.

Key Turning Points

-After falling into a stunning 14-0 deficit less than a minute into the game, the Lions fought their way back into it and trailed just 14-7 with just over 10 minutes left in the half. But Columbia's promising drive to possibly tie the game ended when QB Skyler Mornhinweg bobbled a snap and Brown recovered at its 33 yard line.

-Early in the 3rd quarter and trailing 21-14, the Lions got burned by a brilliant Brown decision to line up WR Troy Doles as a running back. The play forced DE Hunter Little into deep sideline coverage of a speedy receiver and resulted in a TD with about nine minutes left in the quarter.

Columbia Positives

-RB Cameron Molina had an absolutely brilliant night, carrying the ball an unheard of in this day and age 40 times for 174 yards and a TD. He also caught five passes for 40 yards and another TD. Some of his runs were brilliant. His stellar performances that last two weeks of the season and his career gave him 805 total rushing yards for 2015, making his year one of the best ever for a RB in Columbia history.

-Despite all the mistakes, the Lions did fight back and never gave up on the game. The defense was mostly dominant, allowing just eight 1st downs the entire game. It also allowed just 97 yards passing in what was probably the first time any team kept the Bears under 100 yards passing in years.

Columbia Negatives

-It just seemed like the Lions thought the game started at 8pm and not 730pm. The opening minute lapses in run tackling, kickoff fielding, and snapping the ball left them down 14-0 before a lot of people even got to their seats.

-The tightness the offense goes into when it gets into the red zone is excruciating. Columbia needs to work on developing a killer instinct during the off season just as much as it needs to recruit new young talent to replace the seniors.

Columbia MVP

Cameron Molina was a true credit to Columbia and all of Ivy League football for playing the way he did on national TV. We will miss him.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Final Exam

Brown Bears at Columbia Lions

November 20, 2015

Kickoff: 7:30pm

Robert K. Kraft Field at Wien Stadium

Game Time Weather: 47 degrees, clear

The Spread: Brown is favored by three points

TV/Radio: The game is on national TV on the NBC Sports Network. But special recognition goes to Jerry Recco, who tonight will be calling his 100th game as the Columbia Football play-by-play man. I was Jerry's color guy for 30 of those games, and he is absolutely a master at his craft and a great person too. 

Leading Story Lines

1) Last Impressions

Everyone agrees the Lions are much improved, but after last week's very bitter loss at Cornell it definitely feels like the team needs a big boost going into that 300-day off season. A win here would provide a tremendous boost for the program going forward.

2) Last Impressions II

The 20 seniors playing their last games, especially impact players like RB Cameron Molina, DL's Niko Padilla, Chad Washington, Toba Akinleye, Hunter Little, JD Hurt, DB Travis Reim, OL Billy Lawrence and TE Nick Durham have one last chance to add a flourish to their time at Columbia. These guys have endured more rough times than most Lion football players over the decades, and that's saying a lot.

3) Look to the Future?

The last game of the season is often a time for some younger players to get some experience under their belts. I'm not expecting too much of a youth movement tonight, but you never know.

5 Columbia Players to Watch

-Junior LB Chris Conway #37. I expect Brown to try to open up the passing game with several QB runs to the outside by Kyle Moreno. Conway will be one of the guys most responsible for cutting him off.

-Senior RB Cameron Molina #31. Molina's career day last week could be just a warmup for the Bears and their questionable run defense.

-Senior DL Chad Washington #4. He, Padilla, Little, and Akinleye all have a lot to play for tonight, but I think Washington is the guy Brown will least be able to handle.

-Sophomore QB Anders Hill #12. With senior QB Skyler Mornhinweg battling some injuries, Hill might get a lot more time and more chances to burn the Bear defense with his feet.

-Senior DB Matt Cahal #20. Brown is going to go after him in the air, period. He better be ready.

5 Brown Players to Watch

-Junior QB Kyle Moreno #13. Moreno is a solid runner and he should get more time tonight as the passing of starter Marcus Fuller is sometimes shaky.

-Senior WR Troy Doles #82. He's a dangerous receiver in his final game for the Bears and it's on national TV. Look out!

-Senior DB Zachary Gillen #21. No matter what the CU offense tries, Gillen will be a key man to stop the pass and a running QB attack.

-Freshman DT Zach Genaway #90. A rarity in this league: a big freshman defensive tackle who is a rising star. If Columbia can get him out of the way, the running game will work. If not, oy.

-Junior WR Alex Jette #7. Jette can kille you as a receiver and as a returner.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Final Week Picks

Well, it was a bad week all around for me last week as I went 2-3 straight up and 2-3 against the spread. I am now 44-19 straight up and 29-34 ATS.

Onward, one last time in 2015:

Princeton +14 at Dartmouth

The Big Green win, but huge blowouts are a thing of the past for a banged up Dalyn Williams and company.

Penn -25 vs. Cornell

Cornell may have won last week, but they're weaker than I thought they were. A team with a potent offense like Penn will massacre the Big Red.

Yale +13 vs. Harvard

Yale has enough players back to make this close, but that's all. Harvard is fading at a bad time.

Georgetown +9 at Holy Cross

The Hoyas will suffer another close loss.

Sacred Heart -14 vs. Wagner

Wagner isn't going to make it two in a row.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Scouting Brown: 10 things

Welcome to the post I've been dreading all season long.

I've been dreading posting my thoughts about Brown because they're a very hard team to figure out over the past two years. And since unconfirmed injuries play a huge role in their fate, it's even harder to get a handle of the Bears right now.

Throw in one more wrench: Brown Head Coach Phil Estes likes to start many non-first team seniors for a series or two in the final game of the season even at some crucial positions.

Okay, enough whining. Here's what you need to know about Brown to watch this game in an informed way:

1) They lose the ball... a lot

Brown's turnover ratio is a galling minus-16. That includes 16 lost fumbles and 16 interceptions. This is a big reason why the Bears are giving up the most points per game in the Ivies. It's also why the potent offense with lots of good individual stats doesn't score as many points as it should and doesn't lead in overall time of possession.

2) The QB situation is unsettled

No one denies senior QB Marcus Fuller is talented, but he's not protecting the ball very well as evidenced by his 13 interceptions. He's been pulled from some games, and not just to protect him from injury. Junior Kyle Moreno has not been the answer in relief. Fuller can burn you, but he's never that much of a net positive.

3) The RB situation is all over the place

Lots of guys run the ball for the Bears. Junior Johnny Pena and senior Seth Rosenbauer, (who came to Brown as one of those "highly touted" QB's), do most of the job. Neither have been super effective. Senior Andrew Coke, who probably is the most talented back on the team, appears to be injured and out for this game.

4) These wide receivers are awesome

Now for the bad news for Brown's opponents: the wide receiver trio of senior Troy Doles, junior Alex Jette, and senior Brian Strachan are all big time players with heady stats. Doles is the deep threat who also has the most TD's in the group at six.

5) The O-line is protecting the QB's pretty well

The Bear front five is light and has trouble run blocking, but they've only allowed nine sacks all season.

6) The defense gives up a lot of yards on the ground

Brown gives up more than 150 yards on the ground per game and 4.4 yards per carry. The Bears have also allowed 17 rushing TD's. In Brown's current three-game losing streak, the Bears have given up an average of about 200 yards rushing per game.

7) Jordan Ferguson is a very good DB who can hurt you

Brown has been giving up a lot of passing yards too, but junior Jordan Ferguson is having a strong season with three interceptions, five pass breakups, and even a pair of tackles for a loss and fumble recovery.

8) Kicker Grant Senne seems to get better as the kicks get harder

Senne has missed four PAT's and five chip shot FG's, but he's perfect from 30 yards out and more. Huh?

9) Jette is an extremely dangerous returner

On punts and kickoffs, it's best to kick it away from Alex Jette. He can take it to the house at any time and has.

10) They're winning the battle of the flags

Brown has committed a decent six penalties per game, but opponents are getting flagged nine time per game and for a lot of yards.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Logjams ahead

For the first time since 1982, it seems likely that we will see a three-way tie for the Ivy League football title.

All that needs to happen is a Penn win at home over Cornell, a Dartmouth win at home over Princeton, and a Harvard win over Yale at the Bowl.

All three of those outcomes are rather strongly favored to come to pass. So what's more remarkable are the things that had to happen to get to this point in the first place.

First, Dartmouth had to overcome an 0-10 season just seven years ago and rebuild the program. Even with the improvements overall, it took the recruitment of a once-in-a-generation QB like Dalyn Williams to finally make the Big Green a championship caliber team. And it also took keeping him free of major injuries even though he's played a mobile QB position for four years. The chances of all of those things happening are slim, but Dartmouth pulled it off.

Penn had to shake off the ill effects of two bad seasons in a row and the loss of the great Al Bagnoli as head coach. It also had to shake off a generally poor start to the season, especially the defense. It had to mount an amazing comeback to hold off Princeton two weeks ago. And finally, it had to beat a Harvard team on the road to leap into a tie for the top spot in the league.

Harvard's road to the top again this year is less impressive, but still not easy. The expected starting QB got injured before the season started, a top WR got injured down the stretch, and the early season schedule filled with cupcakes surely did the Crimson no favors.

At the other end of the Ivy spectrum, we could see another three-way tie. That would be for 5th place. If Columbia beats Brown, Penn beats Cornell, and Princeton loses to Dartmouth, CU, Brown and the Tigers will all be 2-5 in the league and in 5th place between Yale in fourth and Cornell in last.

For Columbia, that would be a nice jump from two straight winless years and the 7th place predicted finish for this season.

It's truly shaping up to be one of the most unusual seasons in Ivy football history. For a team that's been on the wrong side of history for so long, Columbia has to be happy with the beginning of a possible trend.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Big Red Faces

Cornell 3 Columbia 0

Why Cornell Won

The Big Red defense did something to discourage Columbia from passing from the get go. And when the Lions did pass, Cornell saw to it that disastrous things often happened. 

Why Columbia Lost

The Lion offense was mistake prone, committing turnovers abs penalties at the most inopportune times. While the running game was strong, the passing game was mysteriously non-existent in a relatively decent weather game. 

Key Turning points 

-After a good 73 yard drive fueled mostly by good Cornell rollout runs, the Big Red hit a 35 yard FG to take a 3-0 lead on their first possession of the game. It was the longest FG of the season for Cornell. No one could have guessed that it would be the only score of the game. 

-With about nine minutes left in the game, the Lions finally mounted their best drive of the game using only running plays. With about four minutes left, it appeared Columbia took the lead with an Anders Hill scamper for a TD. But it was called back on a holding penalty and Columbia missed the subsequent FG attempt that would have tied it. Cornell was then able to run out the clock. 

Colimbia Positives

-RB Cameron Molina put up career numbers with 151 rushing yards. 

-The defense was outstanding, especially after each of Columbia's three turnovers. The Big Red never scored off those turnovers that each gave their offense great field position. Star RB Luke Hagy was held to just 60 yards on 24 carries. 

Columbia Negatives

-5 for 17 passing for 42 yards and two interceptions are not grown up statistics. 

-The mistake disease is getting out of control with the most untimely penalties and turnovers. 

Columbia MVP

Cameron Molina did all he could do to get the Lions a win. He just needed a little more help. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Game Day Open Thread

Comment here on today's Columbia game at Cornell. 

Also check out this Jack Ford interview of Head Coach Al Bagnoli from New York public TV.

Down on the Farm

-RB Tanner Thomas ran for 182 yards on 26 carries and three TDs, but his Farragut HS team lost a playoff thriller to Rhea County, 40-34.

-WR Will Ontiveros had five receptions for 64 yards and a TD in Assumption's 49-28 playoff loss to Pella HS.

-QB Hunter Petlansky threw a TD pass in Central Catholic's 42-0 playoff victory over El Camino.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Expect Victory

Columbia Lions at Cornell Big Red

November 14, 2015
Kickoff time: 12:30pm

: Schoelkopf Field
Game Time Weather: 40 degrees and cloudy (but note that games at Schoelkopf this time of year often start comfortably mild and then become bitterly cold and even snowy by the late 3rd quarter. I've been burned by those sudden weather changes many times).

The Spread: Columbia is favored by 8 points

TV/Radio: Jerry Recco and Sal Licata provide superior play-by-play and audio commentary on the Ivy League Digital Network

Columbia Game Notes

Cornell Game Notes

Leading Story Lines

1) Last chance for Cornell

The Columbia-Cornell game last year in New York City featured two winless teams desperate for what everyone believed was their last chance to get a win in 2014. That turned out to be true as the Big Red outlasted the Lions in a thriller game.

One year later only one team is winless coming into this game, and while Columbia has enjoyed the most dramatic improvement and two victories, even Cornell is much improved over last year's woeful team.

So this is still a game to stay out of the Ivy cellar, but the quality of the teams is truly improved. However, it's not clear if that will produce as exciting a game as last year.

2) Hagy's day?

Over the last three seasons, RB Luke Hagy has been the only real bright spot for the Big Red. This is his final home game and it stands to reason he will be more heavily featured in the Cornell offense than usual.

3) A Great Rivalry

Cornell hasn't won an Ivy football title since 1990. Columbia's drought goes all the way back to 1961. But this rivalry has produced the most balanced match up in the Ivies over the past 25 years. From 1990-2014, Cornell has won 13 games and Columbia 12. Awareness of the exciting back-and-forth nature of this rivalry is one factor in the reasoning that led the league to reschedule this game as the season finale for both teams beginning in 2018.

4) Columbia expecting to win

It's not just that Cornell is 0-8, it's because Columbia matches up so well to the Big Red's weaknesses. The Lions have been so good against the run, and so strong rushing the passer that they have an excellent chance to control the game,

5 Columbia Players to Watch

-It's another important game for junior LB Keith Brady #52. He'll likely be the first on the spot to try to stop Hagy on the run and on the swing pass. Brady needs to have at least a decent day.

-Senior RB Cameron Molina #31. Molina had a career day against Cornell last year and the Big Red run defense is still quite weak. This is Molina's chance to change the game's focus and steal the spotlight from Hagy. 

-Senior WR Scooter Hollis #19. The Big Red's pass defense isn't all that great either. Hollis could be the man who benefits the most from that.

-Senior DE Chad Washington #4. Cornell's pass protection has been the worst in the league. Washington, just portrayed very nicely in this week's episode of WNYC's "The Season," has to be licking his chops in preparation for this game. 

-Senior DT Niko Padilla #93. While Washington pursues the Big Red QB's from the outside, Padilla will come right up the middle to cut off Hagy's running lanes and rattle the passer. Most teams have effectively double-teamed Padilla and he's all about giving the linebackers a clear path to the ball carrier. Cornell may not be able to contain Padilla all by himself.

5 Cornell Players to Watch 

-Senior RB Luke Hagy #25. It's not only about how well Hagy runs and catches the ball, but also how hard he gets hit and is able to get back up. 

-Junior QB Robert Somborn #5. Somborn has been known to panic quickly under the rush and his sketchy accuracy suffers in even normal defensive pressure. If Columbia stacks the box with eight defenders as I expect they will to stop Hagy, it will all be up to Somborn to win the game for Cornell. 

-Senior WR/KR Ben Rogers #18. If anyone not named "Luke Hagy" is going to have a stellar game, it's the quick Rogers who can hurt you as a receiver if Somborn has time and as a kick returner against Columbia's suddenly somewhat questionable return coverage.

-Senior LB JJ Fives #10. Fives will be the one to cut off Molina's outside running and receiving lanes, and also may be part of the defense against short passes to Hollis.

-Sophomore DB Nick Gesualdi #41. A rising star in the Ivies. Look to see how much he's able to help against the Columbia running game or if he'll have the freedom to hinder receivers and pick off passes.

Sad News

Sophomore Linebacker Parker Tobia's father Adam passed away last week.

In lieu of flowers, please send a donation to Asbury Park Where Music Lives.

More info here.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Week 10 Picks

I'm having a good year for straight up picks, but I am really faltering against the spread. Last week, I went 4-1 straight up to bring my record to 42-16 (.724). But I also went just 1-4 against the spread to put my ATS record at 27-31 (.465).

Harvard -17 1/2 vs. Penn

I've seen this game before. I think maybe 5-6 times over the last 15 years, we've had Penn-Harvard games where the Ivy title or a shared title were on the line. We've also seen games like this where a win for the underdog could mean a 3-way shared Ivy title. But, unless you go way back 30+ years, it never happens. The home team usually blows the other team away unless they both come into the game undefeated in the league. Harvard has been a bit slow the last two weeks and I think it will take out some delayed frustration on the Quakers.

Princeton -4 vs. Yale

This could end up being the best game of the weekend. The Tiger offense at home will do a lot better than Brown did against these guys last week at the Bowl.

Brown +18 vs. Dartmouth

The Big Green will win, but their days of really blowing the doors off opponents, especially on the road, are over.

Georgetown +10 1/2 vs. Fordham

I'm really starting to lose faith in the Rams and their ability to just blow teams away. Basically the Fordham defense has been exposed too many times. The Rams will win, but the game will be closer than anyone could have dreamed two months ago.

Central Connecticut -10 at Wagner

I'm just not going to pick Wagner to win anything again.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Scouting Cornell

Luke Hagy

Looking at Cornell so far this season, some of the 0-8 Big Red's results make sense and some don't.

When you see Cornell is winless with a starting QB who has an anemic 52% completion rate, that makes sense.

When you see Cornell is winless with a defense that has intercepted a grand total of ONE PASS all season, that makes sense.

When you see Cornell is winless with an offensive line that's giving up three sacks per game, that makes sense.

When you see Cornell is winless with a turnover differential of -10, that makes sense.

When you see Cornell is winless with a defense allowing 440 yards per game, that makes sense.

But here's what doesn't make sense:

Cornell's Luke Hagy is probably the best running back in the Ivies, averaging 5.4 yards a carry and really averaging 95 yards per game, (he had a short appearance in one game and missed another entirely. Thus, his stats should be averaged over six games not seven, and certainly not eight).

The Big Red scored 26 points at Yale when the Elis had a lot more healthy starters on defense than they did when they only allowed 17 points to Columbia a few weeks later. Cornell also put up a decent 21 points on Colgate.

Cornell's Jackson Weber and JJ Fives are two of the best linebackers in the league, but still the Big Red defense can be generally porous.

And it doesn't make sense that while Cornell is pretty clearly a better team than it was last year, it's going into the last two weekends of the season picked to go 0-10.

QB Robet Somborn is still a junior, but he's just not progressing the way his coaches hoped. His best target, WR Ben Rogers, is a great target with great size for his position. But Somborn simply isn't getting him the ball enough. His offensive line isn't protecting him well enough either.

I've written earlier that Cornell really only has one weapon in Hagy, but Rogers is another at times as a wide receiver and also as a kickoff and punt return specialist. He can be dangerous, especially considering Columbia has now allowed punt returns for TD's two weeks in a row.

The special teams are a mixed bag overall. Placekicking has been terrible, with the kickers going 3-9 on FG's and Cornell not even attempting any kick in the 40-yard range. But Punter Chris Fraser is one of the best in the Ivies. The coverage teams are not the best at really anything. On kickoffs alone, the Big Red are allowing an average of more than 31 yards a pop. One of those returns went for 100 yards and a TD, but even if you strip that big one away Cornell is still allowing a hefty 27 yards per return.

Head Coach David Archer is in his third year in the job and with Hagy graduating after this season it's hard to see where this team is going from here.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Another "Must Win?"

Columbia has already exceeded many experts' expectations with two wins this season. But as the team continues to show signs of overall improvement each week, the expectations are getting a little higher. Many fans have told me they now expect the Lions to win their last two games of the season, finish with four victories, and basically start construction on that statue for new Head Coach Al Bagnoli.

Well, now those fans have proof they're not alone. Massey Ratings is predicting a 21-7 Columbia win over Cornell this Saturday, saying a Lion win is an 86% certainty. Massey is also predicting a 24-21 win for Columbia over Brown the following week, albeit with just 58% certainty on that one.

Massey's now ranks Columbia as the #53 overall FCS team out of 125, putting the Lions in the top half. Just as interestingly, the rankings have Harvard at #1 and Dartmouth at #5 which means the Lions gave real scares to two top 10 teams in a span of three weeks.

It's all exciting stuff, but the flip side is now the bar is set higher and that was something many of us didn't think would happen to this team until next year at the soonest. It also means the team has to prove it can live up to higher expectations and beat Cornell in five days.

I'll have a more in-depth look at the Big Red on Wednesday, but on first glance this looks like a game where Columbia will have to prove its continuing success against the run is no fluke. Cornell's RB Luke Hagy is not only the top weapon on the team, but this will be his last game at home at Schoelkopf Field. And if his 0-8 team can't get motivated to play its best game to send him out of Ithaca a winner, nothing will.

But at the same time, the spread offense everyone uses in college football these days makes the idea of just giving the ball to your best back 30-40 times in a game virtually impossible. Yale did it in 2013 and 2014 with Tyler Varga, but that was the exception to the rule and Varga was really built to take the pounding. It was telling to see Hagy's participation tamped down in the 2nd half against Dartmouth Friday night. It wasn't because the coaches didn't want to use him a lot, they just couldn't based on the strain to the offensive line and Hagy himself.

My guess is that the coaches will turn Hagy as loose as they possibly can this coming Saturday, but that means the Big Red will have to adjust to a radically different game plan than they've used all year. And Hagy is a bit banged up as it is after suffering a concussion earlier this season.

Getting back to the Columbia expectations, the Lions have mostly lived up to the higher bar set at times during this season. There were early disappointments against Georgetown and Penn, but also a good meeting or exceeding of expectations against Wagner, Dartmouth, Yale, and Harvard. And Columbia is 6-2 against the spread this season, which is also telling.

When Gary Barnett took over the daunting job of head coach at Northwestern almost 25 years ago, he had three rough seasons before he delivered a winning team in Evanston. But he immediately brought in a new slogan, "Expect Victory." He also instructed stadium workers to reinforce the goal posts so fans would stop thinking it made some sort of comic sense to try to tear them down after every win they expected to be the last.

Bagnoli hasn't needed to institute any slogans to get the fans to change their minds. We've already expected victory a few times this season and are doing so for the rest of this 2015 campaign.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Crimson Tried

Harvard 24 Columbia 16

Why Harvard Won

The Crimson defense bent but didn't break; tightening up numerous times when the Lions threatened to score. Meanwhile, the offense was frequently bailed out by the offensive line's pass protection and the spectacular play of freshman WR Justin Shelton-Mosely who finished with 131 yards receiving and an 86 yard punt return for a TD.

Why Columbia Lost

The Lions defense had some coverage lapses and the offense waited too long to finally get touchdowns on the board. Special teams failures also sealed their fate.

Key Turning Points

-After both teams went three-and-out on their first possessions of the game, Columbia started its second possession at its own 20 with 12:24 left in the 1st quarter. The Lions then marched all the way to a 1st and goal at the Harvard five before a holding penalty and two incomplete passes stalled the drive. The subsequent 23 yard FG attempt was blocked and Columbia came away with no points.

-With just over nine minutes left in the half, a Matthew Panton punt pinned the Crimson down at their own six. But QB Scott Hosch immediately connected on a 22 yard pass with H-back Ben Braunecker and then three plays later he hit him for a 53 yard TD pass after Braunecker's cover men slipped and fell.

-With time running out in the half, the Lions mounted another drive after a Travis Reim interception set them up at the Harvard 43. But the drive stalled at the Crimson two and Columbia settled for a 20 yard FG to make it 14-3 instead of 14-7 at the half.

-On the first play of the 4th quarter, Shelton-Mosely engineered a brilliant 86 yard punt return for a TD where he twice made it look like he was passively going out of bounds, That made it 24-3 and Harvard was able to hold off the furious Columbia rally that followed.

Columbia Positives

-When was the last time Columbia had almost three times the rushing yards as Harvard in a game? When was the last time the Lions had more 1st downs? When was the last time they had more total yards? And all of this from a team that had been outscored by the Crimson 148-0 over the last three years. All of those things happened yesterday in a testament to the overall defensive effort and the varied running game that featured several good runs by both QB's and a solid performance by RB Cameron Molina against a defense that had been allowing just 2.9 yards per carry before yesterday.

-The Columbia receivers also had one of their better days in years. Scooter Hollis had eight catches for 89 yards, TE John Hunton had a few key grabs including a fantastic self-tipped ball for a TD, and Cameron Dunn got wide open for a 51-yard TD that is the longest play of the year so far for the Lions.

-The defense held the Ivy League's leading rusher Paul Stanton to just 53 yards on 14 carries.

Columbia Negatives

-The breakdowns in pass coverage were few but costly. And the Lions dropped two gift interceptions late in the game.

-The Columbia offense is still stalling too much inside the ten yard line.

-Special teams continues to be an overall problem. The punt return for a TD was back breaker, the missed PAT also hurt, and the too many men on the field penalty on the late Harvard punt robbing Columbia of a last-ditch desperation shot to tie it was a final insult. 

Columbia MVP

This is another tough call because so many of the better performances by the Lions were somewhat stained by a momentary lapse or two. But considering the fact that Columbia was unable to get much pressure on Crimson QB Scott Hosch, I think the secondary's overall numbers are still impressive. Junior Jared Katz made some key tackles after short passes or while helping out on running plays. Junior Matt Cahal led the team in tackles and recovered a fumble. Junior Brock Kenyon knocked away passes including a likely TD. But the leader of the secondary is senior Travis Reim and his interception helped set up the Lions first score against Harvard in four years and stave off what could have become a Harvard rout. Let's give the MVP nod to him.


Those of us at the game were sobered by the severe injury to the Harvard special teams player after a clean block by the Lion kickoff return team. 

There is good news. The player, Crimson sophomore Tanner Lee, suffered no spinal or neck damage. It was a severe concussion, however. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Down on the Farm

-Two incoming Columbia frosh faced off against each other in a barn burner of a game last night as RB Alex Gibson's Central Bucks East team held off WR/DB Kyle Baskin's Quakertown 24-23. Gibson ran for 63 yards on 16 carries.

-RB Tanner Thomas ran for 130 yards and three TDs on 17 carries in Farragut's 50-20 win over Cleveland in the first round of the 5A playoffs. 

-QB Hunter Petlansky ran for the game-icing 1st down and threw for a TD in Central Catholic's 42-37 win over Oakdale and clinch a perfect 10-0 regular season. 

-TE Ben Hill has been named a finalist for the Tennesse Titans Mr. Football Award. 

-QB Matt Dame has been named one of five nominees for the Lou Groza award. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Challenging the Champs

A 1776 map of the Baker Field area

Harvard Crimson vs. Columbia Lions

November 7, 2015
Kickoff time: 1:00pm

: Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium, Baker Athletics Complex

Game Time Weather Forecast:
 62 degrees and cloudy

The Spread: Harvard is favored by 25 points

Jerry Recco and Sal Licata provide superior play-by-play and audio commentary on the Ivy League Digital Network
The Columbia Spectator will again be running a live blog during the game 

Leading Story Lines
1) Dominant Harvard
Columbia has played some very highly advertised teams this season, and for the most part the Lions have proven they can play them extremely well. But Harvard comes in with a 21 game winning streak and controls its own destiny to win a third straight and second straight untied Ivy title. Plus, the Crimson have made a point of humiliating Columbia regularly. The Lions haven't scored a point against Harvard since the 2011 game, and have been outscored 148-0 by the Crimson over their last three meetings. Since Columbia's last win over Harvard in 2003, none of the games between these two teams has been close.
2) Harvard Looking Ahead?
Sandwiched between a huge showdown against Dartmouth and a suddenly exciting match up against rising Penn, this game against Columbia has the classic ingredients of a trap game for Harvard. If the Crimson aren't really focused on this game, things could get interesting.
3) Redemption Saturday
Since laying an egg against Penn at Homecoming, the Lions have looked like a totally different team in the two games since. The team, and especially the defense, have to want to show the home fans their real faces even if it has to be against the best team in the league. 
And Now a Little History...
Every other year when Harvard comes to Wien Stadium, I look up at the hills across the water and think about what was most likely the first ever meeting of a Harvard and a Columbia man on this spot. 
According to David McCullough's excellent biography of Harvard grad John Adams, when Adams rode to New York City for George Washington's first inauguration he was met by Columbia grad John Jay just before he entered Manhattan at the north side of what is now called the Broadway Bridge. In other words, they rode together right by the future home of Columbia football. So in my opinion, every Harvard at Columbia football game serves to honor that friendly ride way back in 1789.

5 Columbia Players to Watch
-Junior LB Keith Brady #52. Brady could have easily been my MVP for the Yale game and he's making a great case to be Columbia's MVP for the entire season. If the Lions are going to keep the powerful Harvard offense in check, Brady will have to have a great game.
-Senior DT Niko Padilla #93. Padilla's hard work up front is a big reason why linebackers like Brady are racking up the great stats. But I think this game may be the day where Padilla does more than just draw double teams and he puts up some big numbers of his own.
-Senior RB Cameron Molina #31. Harvard has been beastly against the run this year, so not much is expected of Molina in this game. But if the Lion QB's spend a lot of time running the ball early, Molina may be in a good position to catch the Crimson off guard in the later stages of the game. And regardless of how well he runs the ball, Columbia may choose to test the Harvard defense with screen passes to Molina with some regularity.
-Sophomore WR Dylan Weldon #10. The Lions still haven't completed a deep ball all season, but they started to try last week against Yale and Weldon was the intended target. One of the best ways to get Harvard to ease up on its tough run defense will be to try some longer throws and Weldon just might snag one.
-Freshman PR Jacob Young #14. Will Young continue to be ordered to call for fair catches or will he get a chance to set up a return? Columbia may not see open field opportunities like they'll get on kickoff and punt returns, so the Lions may need to take what they can get here. 
5 Harvard Players to Watch
-Senior QB Scott Hosch #3. Of course you're always going to want to watch the opposing team's QB. But the key in this game will be watching how much Hosch runs the ball after he had a spotty start throwing the ball last week against Dartmouth. 
-Senior WR Seitu Smith #2. Smith is the product of the classic Harvard blueprint for success. EVERY Ivy heavily recruited him and everyone but Harvard basically promised him early playing time. But he chose the Crimson, waited his turn, and seems poised to have a few massive games in his final few weeks of his career. Plus with fellow starting WR Andrew Fischer out with an injury, Smith may get a lot more balls thrown his way.

-Junior LT Max Rich #79. Harvard has a huge offensive line and it will face perhaps it's #1 challenge of the season against Columbia's defensive line. Watch Rich and Hosch's blindside to see how well that O-line is doing. 

-Senior LB Jacob Lindsey #51. Lindsey is the defensive stats leader on the team and should be the guy asked to stop the Columbia short passes and the Lions QB's from running effectively/

-Senior LB Matt Koran #59. Whatever Lindsey doesn't do, Koran probably will.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Week 9 Picks

I went 5-1 straight up, but a few very tight games killed me against the spread to drop me to 2-4.
Overall I'm 38-15 overall and 26-27 ATS.

Dartmouth -34 vs. Cornell (game is Friday night)

The Big Green will be fighting to prove they still have a lot of air in the tires after that stomach punch of a loss against Harvard last week. That bodes badly for Cornell, which looks like a one note team with RB Luke Hagy as the only serious weapon.

Penn -7 vs. Princeton

Princeton is still successfully keeping the secret from the fans about Kurt Holuba's season ending MCL injury he suffered against Columbia. Man, they keep a tight ship on the info at Old Nassau and I can only imagine how quickly I'd be assassinated over there if I wrote a Princeton fan blog. Anywhooo... Penn is really gearing up at the right time and the Tigers will have no real answers for the Quaker offense.

Brown pick 'em at Yale

I think this Yale team is quitting on the coach. Brown should be able to win.

Fordham -19 vs. Bucknell

The Rams do a great job of bouncing back from losses and they're also coming back home for this one.

Bryant +19 at Wagner

The Seahawks just barely beat the spread last week and I think their luck is running out.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Down on the Farm: Arman Samouk gets some Hype

Nice article here about the incoming frosh:

Scouting Harvard: Deception, Deception, Deception

1) The Crimson's stats are really deceptive

Go ahead and check out Harvard's cumulative season stats, and tell me what jumps out at you.

I'm waiting...

The truth is there are a lot of good stats, but no individual player looks like an All American.

But the one start that counts is that Harvard has outscore its opponents by 277-60... oh, and they've won 21 games in a row.

The fact is that the Crimson are so good because every aspect of the team is at least 2nd Team All Ivy caliber with a few 1st Teamers thrown in. There are no weaknesses and no place where Harvard suffers a lack of depth. It doesn't mean the Crimson are unbeatable, but it does mean you can't hammer one part of the team and hope to see the rest of it collapse.

But beating Harvard comes down to simply holding your own against their QB. No team, no matter how good it is, can win consistently if the QB is neutralized in some way. Dartmouth did it for 3+ quarters and it took a miracle for the Crimson to win last week. Sacking QB Scott Hosch like the Lions have done to their last two opponents will at least keep them in the game.

2) Paul Stanton is deceptively elusive

The diminutive RB Stanton looks like "Rudy," but he's super fast and just the kind of back who slips out of tackles when you think he's down. But he's not rushing for 100 yards per game, and you could get cocky about stopping him. Columbia has done a great job against the run this year, but I can see why Harvard might think the Lions haven't been totally tested in the way that Stanton can.

3) Harvard deceptively defends the pass

Like Dartmouth, the Crimson do a very good job of stopping the pass the old fashioned way; they knock the passes down. They have a huge number of pass breakups as a team at 32. On the other hand, they don't have so many sacks or interceptions. But an incomplete pass works just as well. The one difference is that a running QB can take advantage of a defense that's too focused on defending the pass downfield. I didn't think Dartmouth's QB Dalyn Williams ran enough against Harvard last week and that played a role in the Big Green's loss. If Columbia moves its already mobile QB's a little more, there might be an opportunity.

4) Hosch looks human most of the game, until he throws long... or runs

There's nothing too stunning about Crimson QB Scott Hosch's numbers, but he is especially adept at throwing the long ball. Six different Harvard receivers have caught passes of 35 yards or more this season. And the 39 yard TD Hosch threw to Seitu Smith on 4th and seven against Dartmouth late in the 4th quarter was absolutely one of the most impressive plays I've seen in 30 years watching this league.

Hosch is also a great runner. He's very good at burning defenses once he's established that long ball threat.

5) Harvard deceives you into thinking you can throw on them

Until that Dartmouth game, every Crimson game this season had been a total blowout. So you'd expect to see stats showing that teams passed the ball a lot more than usual because they were playing from so far behind.

And you will. Harvard's opponents have thrown the ball a whopping 37% more than they've run it... to little success.

The Crimson are allowing a meager 2.6 yards per rush and just three TD's, so opponents have no choice. Your QB's may not get sacked or picked off when you abandon the run, but you still won't get 1st downs.

The fact is, the big scores Harvard has been putting up every week except last week are the biggest deception of all. This is a team that's winning on team DEFENSE and the solid offense and the lack of All America superstars on the defense doesn't matter. Harvard just won't let you score and they're doing it better than anyone else in the league.

In Demind on the Interior

6-0, 215 pound inside LB Jalen Williams of Hewitt-Trussville HS in Trussville, AL has committed to Columbia.

Williams had offers from Navy, Army, Yale and a few others.

Williams will be the first Hewitt-Trussville grad to come to Columbia football.

So far this season, he has 13 tackles for a loss and 82 overall.

You can see his highlight video here.

Here now is our list of 22 (!) committed recruits for 2016 that we know about so far:

1) Kyle Baskin WR/DB 6-4 210 lbs. Quakertown HS Quakertown, PA

2) Parker Coogan OL/DT 6-2 270 lbs. Kingwood HS Houston, TX

3) Matt Dame QB 6-2 185 lbs. Suncoast HS Riviera Beach, FL

4) Chris Everett WR 6-2 200 lbs. Whitney Young HS Chicago, IL

5) Danny De Lorenzi LB 6-3 230 lbs. Bergen Catholic HS, Oradell, NJ 

6) John Fischer OL 6-3 290 lbs. Sacred Heart-Griffin HS Springfield, IL

7) Alex Gibson RB 5-10 195 lbs. Central Bucks High School East Doylestown, PA

8) LinDon Harris DE 6-2 215 lbs. Sidwell Friends Washington, DC

9) Ben Hill TE/DE 6-3 230 lbs. Christian Brothers HS Memphis, TN

10) Hogan Irwin RB 5-10 180 lbs. Central Cathedral HS San Diego, CA

11) Ben McKeighan WR/DB 6-0 187 lbs. Scottsdale Prep/Cheshire Academy (PG year) Scottsdale, AZ

12) Max Mullaney LB 6-2 225 lbs. Colts Neck HS Colts Neck, NJ

13) Michael Murphy LB 5-11 194 lbs. Plant HS Tampa, FL

14) Lamine Nouck-A-Nwal DE/OL  6-4 250 lbs. Central Bucks High School East Doylestown, PA

15) Will Ontiveros WR/DB 6-2 175 lbs. Assumption HS Davenport, IA

16) Hunter Petlansky QB 6-2 225 lbs. Modesto Central Catholic HS Modesto, CA 

17) Alex Robin DT 6-0 260 lbs. Vestavia Hills HS Vestavia Hills, AL 

18) Arman Samouk DT 6-2 270 lbs. Copley HS Copley, OH

19) Joseph Scowden OL 6-4 290 lbs. Montgomery Bell HS Nashville, TN

20) Tanner Thomas RB 5-10 183 lbs. Farragut HS Knoxville, TN 

21) Jonathon Webster DB  6-0 180 lbs. Eastside Catholic HS Sammamish, WA

22) Jalen Williams LB 6-0 215 lbs. Hewitt-Trussville HS, Trussville, AL