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.


oldlion said...

Cornell will be playing with a sense of desperation. Unlike last year's Columbia team, I think the Cornell players like their coach and may think that the only way he can keep his job is if they beat us. So we are going to have to try to take it to them and not let them hang around.

oldlion said...

PS, who is the DL recruit about whom the coaches were tweeting yesterday?

Jake said...

I still haven't been able to get his name.

alawicius said...

Be very afraid. The Cornell game is exactly the type of scenario in which the Lions have been prone to disappoint big time...the Penn game is an example. We know Al won't let his guard down, and I think we're certainly capable of winning the last two, but I'll be holding my breath fer sure.


Chick said...

Cornell does have motivational factors but so do we, so I don't feel this is a game changer for either side.
A strong finish against Cornell and Brown is so desirable for a program that needs to keep improving each year.
Watching Cornell on tv against Dartmouth, I thought Hagy is a very nice back but not one who can carry a team as Varga did.
QB Somborn didn't seem above our tandem of Morninwheg and Hill, so if the Lions are focused, it could be a very nice win.

Tony Brinson said...

Jake who were the last columbia coaches to have 5 wins or more in their first season at the helm in the last 43 years?

tbone55 said...

This may not be the forum. But where are all those haters who came out in defense of Mango during last years nightmare of a season? And beratted jake for pointing out the obvious, held strong and I for one want to thank you for this blog and the forum to support the CU football program. It's amazing how far the team has come from the depths of the worst season in CU football history to where we are today. Shame on all of you who gave up and defended the worst coach in the history of Div 1 football. And praise for all who never gave up the fight. Sorry but this had to be said.

Chen1982 said...

This Columbia team MUST be capable of defeating an 0-8 Cornell team. But we must go into it with the intensity and fight as if we were facing Harvard. I don't much care the margin of victory but we must find a way to WIN it.

I remain, very truly yours, Richard Szathmary said...

That was a very good post above, Jake. And if our expectations for the remainder of this season include two more victories in a row, why not? The future we all seem to expect from Coach Bagnoli just seems to be a little closer and sooner within reach.

Chick said...

You hit the nail on the head, Alawicius, and obviously have lived through all the negative vibes of the past as I have.
I still feel both sides have strong motivations in this game which is why I said those should balance out.

But you're right about this being the type of scenario where the "old" Lions would implode. Even if this is only the first year of the "new" Lions
under Bagnoli, I'm hopeful his management will keep them on target. Could be quite a game,for us.

Chen1982 said...

If not this forum which one? There was never a clearer case for the difference a Head Coach and his staff can make than Bagnoli vs Mangurian. Other than a few transfers, the personnel belongs to the previous staff. Yet the competitiveness on the field is truly night and day. In the prior two seasons we were hapless and helpless in 19 of the 20 contests and only competitive against Cornell (but still lost). This year we were competitive in all but one and I geneuinely feel we are a stronger team in the second half f the season than the first.

I for one hope Mangurian is rotting in a wellness Center in North Korea.

oldlion said...

Norries Wilson was 5-5 in his first season.

oldlion said...

But Norries did it in year one with a gimmick defense, based I think on West Virginia, in which he played a diamond with 6 DBs. By year two, everybody caught on to it. We are in a much, much better place than we ever were with Norries, although Norries did bring in some incredible talent like Knowlin, MA, Gross and Kennedy. Watch what Al does over the next few years.

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen any Cornell games this season but it does seem business as usual for them - competent offense, weak defense. Bottom line is they always show up for this game vs Columbia. I expect the Lions will be prepared and have a better mentality than previous seasons.

I still consider our offense to be a bit shaky. They have their moments but sputter when they have momentum in their favor. The kicking game is at 50% effectiveness. Too many mistakes overall.

The D could be what wins it this week.

DOC said...

"Watch what Al does in the next few years"....wondering how long he
stays and under what circumstances ?

Chen1982 said...

Assume there is no mandatory retirement age, I would peg Als retirement to coincide with Columbia's first Ivy League title. Probably needs three full classes of recruits to contend. If he achieves that, he should go out on top!!!

Tony Brinson said...

Geez your right.....little early for statues is my point.

oldlion said...

Al will be coaching for as long as he enjoys it, has the support of the university, and has good health. I expect that he will be here until at least 70 and will bring us at least two championships. It will cement his legacy as the greatest Ivy coach in history.

WOF said...

Some posters on this string were burying Jake and defending Mango at this point last year.

Regardless, let's see this team finish the season with two strong wins and plenty of momentum.

Byu the way, is anyone else as shocked as I am with all the commits already? I suppose you can chalk it up to the intenet age but this just seems amazing.

I also have to figure that coach and staff have plenty to sell now, with all the added support of the school and admin, a couple of wins and great efforts against HDP, not to mention coach's 9 Ivy Titles. There have got to be a couple of higher end recruits who are tempted to bypass HYP and come here to be part of the revolution.

Such an exciting time!