Thursday, August 4, 2016

2016 Opponent Preview: Dartmouth

Flo Orimolade

Your opinion about whether the Dartmouth will be a contending team this year all comes down to what you think is more important overall, individual proven player talent or overall program excellence.

If you’re the kind of person who believes experienced and proven players are the only way to win, then you’re going to be bearish on the 2016 Big Green because so many of the most talented players Dartmouth’s had in many years graduated this spring. Chief among them is QB Dalyn Williams, a once in a generation talent who was the missing ingredient Head Coach Buddy Teevens had been looking for since returning to Hanover in 2005. It’s no coincidence that it was Williams’ senior year that produced the first Ivy title for Dartmouth since 1996.

Williams is not the only rare talent who’s boarded the graduation train for the Big Green. LB Will McNamara was pretty close to a once in a generation talent  and he’s gone too. Perhaps not quite as good as Williams and McNamara, but not by much are the following long list of departed Big Green super performers: DT A.J. Zuttah, DB Vernon Harris, OL Jacob Flores, (and brother of Columbia OL Charlie Flores), WR Ryan McManus, WR Victor Williams, DE Cody Fulleton, DB David Caldwell, OL Niko Mamula, LB Zach Slafsky, DB Troy Donahue, DE Sawyer Whalen, LB Eric Wickham, and DB Chai Reece. Phew! Clearly, this is going to be a rebuilding year for Dartmouth… right?

But what if you’re the kind of person who thinks overall program strength and smarts is more important. After all, the program that could recruit stars like the 15 guys named above all in the span of the same year, (or in the case of the 5th year seniors), or two years has to be pretty darn good. And ever since consultant Rick Taylor, (who famously brought his act to Columbia in 2014), was brought in to make key suggestions after Dartmouth’s 0-10 2008 season, the Big Green program has seemed to be on a generally constant upward path. So even if you don’t think Dartmouth is as good as it was in its shared Ivy title season last year, you might feel confident the team will be just fine in 2016.

I’m going to have to be a tad annoying and say that a mixture of the two arguments above is the truth. I know that’s the safe way to go, but it’s also based on a few things I know about the few returning established stars and a couple of up-and-comers on the team.

The first key thing to focus on is a unit on the team, and not an individual player. That would be the offensive line, which is returning a lot of experienced guys and it seems like the coaching staff is taking it for granted that the pass protection at least will actually be better this season that it was in 2015. Any team, especially in the Ivies, that comes into a season confident that it has a strong O-line has a great shot to win. Other than Harvard, no program in the Ivies has a steady pipeline of good linemen so when you get an improving front five after a championship season and your name isn’t “Harvard,” that’s a big deal.

Second, one of Dartmouth’s few returning stars is DL Flo Orimolade, a 1st Team All Ivy pass rusher who’s best days may be ahead of him.

Third, I’m pretty much sold on the fact that QB Bruce Dixon is going to be a great one. I don’t think he’s another Dalyn Williams, but he’s got All Ivy potential especially since I think he’ll be the every game starter this fall even as a sophomore.

Fourth, RB Ryder Stone is back and I was impressed with him last year. With a better offensive line he could be a strong leader of what looks like a running game by committee in Hanover that could easily work. I also think Stone has something important to prove this season after his fumble late in the crucial Harvard game last year basically cost the Big Green the un-shared Ivy title.

Finally, we still haven't seen what transfer WR Emmanuel Soto can do. He came to Dartmouth from the Air Force Academy and was considered dangerous. He seems like a decent bet to make an impact at least. 

The special teams should be good. Senior Kicker Alek Gakenheimer had an off year last year and seems like a good bet to get back on track this fall or simply get replaced by a better option. Senior Punter Ben Kepley is one of the better punters in the Ivies. Senior Danny McManus, (I think he is the last of the endless line of McManus brothers at Dartmouth), is a good return man.  

But The defense overall concerns me more as I’m just not sold on the returning linebackers and secondary as much as I am on the offensive line. Not by a long shot.

And then there’s the schedule. Good for Dartmouth for putting local power New Hampshire back on the slate this year and taking them on at home to start the season. But winning that game seems to be nearly impossible, and the rest of the first half of the schedule isn’t that much easier. After UNH, the Big Green take on the rising Holy Cross team on the road. Then they have to face Ivy favorite Penn at home in week three. Week four opponent Yale at the Yale Bowl follows, and then an extremely tall order at home versus a Towson team that might be significantly better than UNH.

By the time Dartmouth comes into Wien Stadium for Columbia’s Homecoming on October 22nd, we’ll very likely be looking at a very good 1-4 team that just had the bad luck of playing a bunch of super teams early on or a 3-2 /4-1 team that beat everyone’s expectations by a mile. I think the former scenario is much more likely and the Big Green will probably be looking at 5-5 being their most realistic scenario by the end of the year.     

1 comment:

oldlion said...

I was totally underwhelmed by Dartmouth last year. We almost totally dominated the line of scrimmage, made Williams lose his cool, and we 40 yards and one big play from beating them.