Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Schedule Previews: Week 2 Opponent, Georgetown

Kyle Nolan

(Week one opponent, St. Francis preview here)

In many ways, the week 2 loss last year to Georgetown was a low point of the 2015 season for Columbia. The Hoyas had seemed liked a beatable team and the stage seemed to be set for a Lion win in the home opener after a good showing by Columbia against the heavily-favored Fordham Rams the week before.

The biggest reason for that loss was a series of Lion mistakes on special teams. But Georgetown QB Kyle Nolan, who had shown flashes of brilliance in prior seasons, played the best game to that point of his career. And as the season went on, he got better and better.

So here's the good news: when Columbia takes on the Hoyas in week two in Washington, D.C., Kyle Nolan won't be there. He graduated and is currently trying to get on an NFL roster. I wouldn't be shocked if he makes it one day.

Also gone is last year's top rusher Jo'el Kimpela, but considering the fact that Georgetown didn't run the ball very well last year this can't be considered a huge loss.

But WR Justin Hill, who burned the Lions for 118 receiving yards and two TD's is back and so is almost all of the GU offensive line that held Columbia's vaunted 2015 D-line to no sacks in the game last year.

Georgetown's defense also loses it's top player from 2015 in LB Matt Satchell. But impressive DE Phil Novacki is back as is DB Jelani Williamson. Williamson had three pass breakups against Columbia last year alone.

Overall, it's hard to believe the Hoyas will be as good as they were last year. Nolan's emergence made the season exciting and had Georgetown at an impressive 4-4 record before dropping the last three games of the season. But not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I'd caution against even penciling in the GU game as a win before we get a better idea of how they play in their two games before Columbia against Davidson and Marist.

Monday, June 27, 2016

First Commit?

Seth DeVary

According to his Twitter feed, 6-4 275 pound OL Seth DeVary from Larue County High School in Hodgenville, KY has received and accepted an offer to be our first confirmed incoming freshmen for 2017.

Now, this of course is not really official. But I don't doubt DeVary's announcement is as solid as it can be this far from the actual beginning of his college career.

DeVary will be the first Larue HS grad to come to Columbia football.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Cleveland Miracle

I lived and worked in Cleveland in the mid-1990's in the midst of the Indians resurgence and the loss of the Browns. It was a good mix of the "agony and the ecstasy" in sports, but all without ever winning that elusive championship. 

That long wait finally ended Sunday night with the Cavs impressive win in Oakland and Cleveland has a major champion for the first time in 52 years. 

It's hard for Columbia football fans not to look at that and think about our current 55-year Ivy championship drought. We know the Cavaliers finally grabbed that title because it has a once in a lifetime player in LeBron James and basketball's 5-man team structure basically milks the most out of a single great player at any given time. Football is tougher, especially the larger roster college variety. 

Columbia does have a once in a lifetime coach now with Al Bagnoli. And it has a once in a lifetime commitment from the administration to really boost the program instead of doing the things that make it look like it's committed. 

But at some point, I have not doubt that it will take a couple of once in a lifetime players to finally put Columbia over the top. Marcellus Wiley '97 and Rory Wilfork '97 were two of those kinds of players on defense, but the Lions did not have enough talent at the offensive skill positions to finish better than second during their era. 

As I mentioned a little earlier this year, when people talk about Columbia now they're saying better things but they're still not talking about any players. Until they do, the Lions won't be real contenders. Luckily that change can happen during the course of a season, so the fact that no one outside of Columbia is talking about our players right now or perhaps next off season is not a reason to give up hope on either year.  

But no matter how good the coach or the program, the true stars on the field need to emerge. Columbia has now prepped the soil and planted the seeds. The question is how long it will take for things to blossom.

Friday, June 17, 2016

New Place to Chat

The dedicated Lehigh fan and writer Chuck Burton has launched a new place for Ivy sports fans, (and Patriot and NEC fans), to chat and debate our teams.

Check it out.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

No Longer in a Bubble

Something that Head Coach Al Bagnoli believes is a transformative moment has begun in Inwood: the construction of the bubble over the soccer field that will allow our football team to practice in indoor conditions year round.

Sometimes symbolism means more at Columbia. It doesn't mean we don't wins and championships above all else, but it does mean it's a big deal that when the athletic department finally makes progress on everything from publishing obituaries on the web site to building things quickly and less than a year after they were first mentioned. The previous athletic department administration actually did make great progress on our facilities at the Baker Athletics Complex. But it would never have been able to get something like this bubble project up and running as fast as this regime did.

Bagnoli knows that better facilities are a key to recruiting, and he simply doesn't have 10 years to wait around while the administration drags it feet on a bubble or something like it. Bagnoli has a keen ally in A.D. Peter Pilling and the results have been obvious.

The simple fact is, despite promises to the contrary and brutal attacks on those who said otherwise like me, the previous administrations at Columbia Athletics did not do all they could to improve our teams' performances on the field. They did not care as much about wins as the players and the committed alumni. They did not really care primarily about what we wanted.

Caring about what we want, acting quickly, and improving facilities won't guarantee a winning football season or an Ivy championship, but doing those things certainly makes it a lot easier.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Our Next Top Models?

Dominic Perkovic

It's hard to look at the 2015 Lions and the presumptive 2016 Lions and not fret about the defensive line. With impact players like Chad Washington, Toba Akinleye, Niko Padilla, and Hunter Little gone to graduation, it seems like there's little chance the D-line won't be a weakness or at least a relative liability this fall.

Not so fast my friend.

The #1 reason why optimists have a case for the Lion defensive front right now is junior Dominic Perkovic. Many of our coaches believe he was snubbed for All Ivy recognition last season, but perhaps that will help him emerge under the radar for this season. At 6-6 and currently 259 pounds, he can be a force as a DE pass rusher. Anyone who saw his bust out game against Fordham last season knows what I'm talking about.

There's also concern about our secondary with the loss of Travis Reim and some of the injury issues we've suffered there. But I think seniors Brock Kenyon and Jared Katz, along with junior Cameron Roane make up the nucleus of what could be one of the best secondaries in the Ivies.

The issue with both the D-line and the Secondary is depth. The coaching staff will be taxed with the tough job of getting the younger players ready to play. The good news is we know this group can be very persuasive. Coaching alone played the biggest role in Katz's marked improvement last season.

This year it looks like the coaches are putting the persuasion efforts into junior Connor Heeb, who impressed in the spring scrimmage. Alexander Holme is another junior who could step up.

It's nowhere near as clear which players in the secondary this season are "coachable" to impact level. We may see a freshman play that role. Michael Murphy is surely the freshman DB with the most accolades coming in to camp.

95 days to go!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Money Well Spent?

Every year, the 100 day before kickoff mark always seems important somehow

One of the things Head Coach Al Bagnoli demanded and received when he came to Columbia was higher salaries for the assistant coaches. He wanted to be able to lure and retain good new talent.

Most of the staff he brought in with him last season had worked with Bagnoli before, and it was good to be able to get them. And the same is true of new Tight Ends/Passing Game Coach John Audino, who worked with Bagnoli and then succeeded him as head coach at Union College.

But one of the most interesting developments this off season has been the hiring of new QB Coach Ricky Santos. Santos was not just lured to Columbia, but lured away from his Alma Mater at New Hampshire even as he was being named to the UNH Hall of Fame, (induction ceremonies for that are this Saturday). Santos was an incredible player who truly changed the course of the UNH program. So far as a coach, he's earned good marks and that's why Bagnoli wanted him. If Santos succeeds, it will provide immediate justification for the budget and salary boost so there's a lot riding on Columbia's quarterback play this season. With 2015 starter Skyler Mornhinweg missing the spring practice while recovering from a foot injury and Anders Hill still coming along, Santos has had plenty of mentoring to do right away.

A lot of Columbia's QB stats were skewed last year because of all the injuries and overall weakness at the wide receiver position. But with 5th year senior Scooter Hollis coming back, Cameron Dunn returning with more experience, and the emergence of TE John Hunton as a legitimate passing target, there's reason to believe the 2016 numbers will be better.

The good news is that there seem to be very few questions about the abilities of Mornhinweg and Hill. And the offensive line clearly improved as 2015 went along and the OL returns almost all its veterans this season. Santos won't have to work miracles to show big progress this fall, that's for sure.

But anything associated with a 5-5 season or better in 2016 for Columbia will be portrayed as a miracle anyway. Santos certainly was a miracle worker on the field for UNH 10 years ago, so I'm sure he's used to it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Good Words, but...

I enjoyed this Football Gameplan.com interview with Head Coach Al Bagnoli released yesterday. Bagnoli said all the right things, including the very gratifying declaration, (that he's made before), that the Columbia football program was underachieving for so long in the past. I also think he made a great succinct argument for why Columbia is a superior choice for student athletes who want to have the best career opportunities.

But I do long for the day when the interviews with Bagnoli focus not just on our overall program and history, but on individual current players and games won. Hopefully that day will come soon.

Where's VOY?

The Ivy League sports chat board that served as a regular home for many of us for about 12 years has been offline for more than a week now and it looks like it could be the end. I hope it comes back to life soon, but all fans of all Ivy teams are always welcome to debate in the comments sections of my posts and I can also launch an "Ivy Open Thread" post at the beginning of each week so people don't have to search through all my Columbia posts to find a general conversation.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Yale Rounds Out the Incoming Data

Alan Lamar

Yale announced its list of 29 incoming freshmen, and it turns out the reports we've heard for months about an impressive Eli class certainly ring true.

A large number of players who took prep school PG years are on the way to New Haven, as well as more than the average Ivy League program's share of large linemen.

Some of the players who especially caught my eye:

-RB Alan Lamar from Mississippi is a Parade Magazine HS All American and has a lot of other accolades. Lamar is the most multiply-touted RB coming into the Ivies in several years.

-OL Lucas Tribble is a 1st Team all stater from Texas.

-DL Josh Keeler from Florida is a 300-pound beast DT.

-OL Sterling Strother from the Bay Area.

-WR Reed Klubnik from Austin, TX was a player Columbia recruited hard as well. It's not hard to see why.

-DL Julian Fraser from Georgia is one of those PG's who could get early playing time.

The pressure on Yale Head Coach Tony Reno is getting close to the intense level as the Elis still haven't been able to crack Harvard's dominance in the rivalry. Freshmen players don't usually make enough of an impact to make a mediocre team champions, but with all the PG players in this crop it might be smarter to look at this incoming class more like a mix of freshmen and sophomores. But if Yale does not contend for the title or defeat Harvard this season, I would not be surprised if Reno is ousted in December.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Brown's Class

Elijah Pierre

Sorry I'm a little late with this, but Brown announced its new crop of incoming players last week.

Phil Estes and his Brown program are still a throwback of sorts when it comes to recruiting. The Bears are the only Ivy team that still focuses on one specific region of the country primarily. That region is New England, and 13 of the 30 incoming players hail from the region or did post graduate years at a New England prep school.

Some of the impressive New Englanders in this class include:

-WR Jaelon Blandburg who did a PG year at Wilbraham and Monson Academy

-OL Phil Lynch from Boston College HS

-DT Elijah Pierre from Boston's Xaverian Brothers HS

-OL Nicholas Allsop also from Xaverian Brothers

-OL Jay Carnevale from St. John's Prep near Boston.

-WR Demitri Jackson from Lawrence Academy in Groton, MA

... and that's just the New Englanders.

The non-New Englanders who look good to me are:

-LB Brendan Pyne

-DB Jared Cutlip

-DB George Schmelzle

-WR Jakob Prall

In case you haven't guessed, this looks like a very good group of incoming players for Brown. It certainly seems like it's one of the better recruiting classes in the league. Perhaps the only real concern is that no new QB's in Estes' pass-happy system seem to jump out at you. But really good QB's are very hard to spot at this stage.