Friday, October 20, 2017

Clash of the Titans

Columbia Lions (5-0) at Dartmouth Big Green (5-0)

October 21, 2017

Kickoff Time: 12:30pm

Memorial Field

Game Time Weather Forecast: Sunny and 67 degrees, (no, that's not a typo)

The Line: Dartmouth is favored by 6 1/2 points

TV/Radio: The game is on national TV on the Eleven Sports Network with Bill Spaulding and Matt Goldstein handling the call. That broadcast will also be available on the Ivy League Digital Network and on Eleven Sports' Twitter feed. Columbia will offer an audio feed of the game with Jay Alter and Shawn Fitzgerald '80 doing the call.

Leading Storylines

1) This battle of unbeatens is not only a rare occurrence for Dartmouth and Columbia, it's rare for the entire Ivy League. As the Valley News and Bruce Wood's Big Green Alert pointed out, this will be just the 11th time in Ivy history that two unbeaten teams have met this late in the season. It's a first for Columbia, but Brown and Cornell have never played in such a game. I'm declaring this the biggest Columbia football game since its 1971 battle with Ed Marinaro and Cornell, with the hope of even bigger games to come this season.

2) Both teams are riding a wave of comebacks and resiliency into this game. To that end, the only real surprise would be if this contest ends up being a blowout win for either school.

3) The injury story for both teams appears pretty fluid. Dartmouth may be getting big wildcat QB Jared Gerbino back, but WR Drew Hunnicut appears to be out and CB Danny McManus will probably play with a bad finger. Columbia's CB Denzel Hill is definitely out, and LB Sean White also appears not available. WR Ronald Smith's status is not 100% clear, but he was listed as the starter on the two-deep.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Golden Arms, Solid Hearts

Anders Hill

                                                                      Jack Heneghan

The biggest single reason why both Columbia and Dartmouth are undefeated is the improved play from their QB's. You can look at the two players' stats from 2016 at the five game mark compared to where we are now in 2017 and decide for yourself who's made the more dramatic improvement:

Jack Heneghan Dartmouth

After five games, 2016:

113 for 196 (57.6%),  1,202 yards, 7 TD, 7 INT.

After five games, 2017:

85 for 131 (64.8%),  978 yards, 11 TD, 2 INT

Anders Hill Columbiau

After five games, 2016:

57 for 113 (50.4%), 604 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT

After five games, 2017:

103 for 162 (63.6%), 1,365 yards, 13 TD, 5 INT

And then there's the stuff that doesn't show up in the stats. Both QB's have led their teams to dramatic comebacks. Heneghan doing it against Holy Cross, Yale, and Sacred Heart, (the comeback win over Penn was one I'm going to say Heneghan had to share with wildcat QB Jared Gerbino who made the big plays on the ground including the gutsy game winning TD as time expired. Gerbino has been out with an injury ever since).

Hill has done it against Princeton and Penn, and also led the winning drive in what was a tie game against Wagner.

At this time last year, both QB's were still getting their feet wet and didn't really have a total grip on the starting job. Now, they're both their teams' undisputed leaders.

Speaking of that, in a podcast interview Wednesday Head Coach Al Bagnoli finally clarified exactly what happened with the CU quarterback job last season. Skyler Mornhinweg simply did not recover from his off season surgeries as well as anyone had hoped. His foot was not strong enough to give his throws the zip they needed. And it's important to note that Bagnoli said the injury really occurred when Mornhinweg was still at the University of Florida. Hill had to be hurried into a starting job he was not expected to have for another year.

Heneghan had to win out against a QB in Bruce Dixon who at least some of the Dartmouth faithful were hoping could be a clone of all-everything QB Dalyn Williams. Now Dixon isn't even a Dartmouth student anymore.

Oh, how things can change in a hurry.

Okay, Let's Talk History (Top 10 Version)

Johnathan Reese

I've made the point here many times that focusing on history too much is simply not fair to the players who are all too young to even remember it, let alone take responsibility for it. That's why Head Coach Al Bagnoli said in his postgame news conference last week that he "gets nervous every time someone brings up history around here."

But as fans, a quick look at a few key moments in the past is helpful to help promote the game and explain its importance to our long-suffering loved ones who likely don't get why we still care so much about Ivy League football.

So, here are 10 historical points in ascending order to consider for this big Columbia-Dartmouth match up on Saturday:

10) Columbia's last win in Hanover was a 27-20 win in 2001 featuring good games from QB Jeff McCall and RB Johnathan Reese. But the Lions were almost forced to forfeit the game retroactively when it was discovered that DL Matt Stary wasn't taking enough credits to be eligible for Ivy play. The league ended up deciding that suspending Stary for the rest of the season was punishment enough.

Rick Taylor

9) Maybe they should call this game the "Rick Taylor Bowl." The former coach and athletic director was brought in to advise Dartmouth after the Big Green's 0-10 2008 season and his recommendations played a big role in the program’s slow-but-steady turnaround. Just two years later, Dartmouth had a 6-4 winning record.

8) Most of the Columbia-Dartmouth games over the last 30 years have been pretty good. Starting with the 1987 nail biter, 14 of the games have been decided by one score or less and six have been decided by a FG or less.

7) All the talk about Columbia ending its 20 game losing streak to Penn should have people remembering the 26 game winless streak the Lions endured against Dartmouth from 1972-1997. That streak was split down the middle by a 17-17 tie in 1983 in a weird game played at an almost empty Giants Stadium during the year when the Lions played every game away from Baker Field while Wien Stadium was being built. Columbia finally ended that streak in 1998 with a 24-14 win over the Big Green in Hanover. That was also the first Lion win at Memorial Field since 1946.

6) The fact that both the Lions and Big Green are undefeated has been mentioned many times over the past five days. But what makes that more interesting is the fact that there have been so many times in recent years when one or both of these teams have come into this game winless. Perhaps the most famous example was the 1987 game when the Lions were still in the midst of what would end up as record 44 game losing streak. Loss #39 ended when Dartmouth hit a late FG to take a 12-10 lead and Columbia missed a makeable FG try at the end of the game. That agonizing moment was caught in an NFL Films video you can see by clicking here. 

Columbia was winless again two years later when they met the Big Green again at Wien Stadium. A blocked punt late in the game led to a 13-12 loss.

Both teams were winless in 2004 when the Lions eked out an ugly 9-6 win, and they were both winless again in 2008 when Columbia won a more dramatic, rain and wind swept night game by a 21-13 score in New York. A year later Dartmouth came into the game in Hanover 0-5 against a 2-3 Lion team, but it was the Big Green that won that one in another rain soaked contest, 28-6. And of course, Columbia was winless in 2013 and 2014 when they played and lost to Dartmouth en route to back-to-back 0-10 seasons.

5) Another classic Columbia-Dartmouth game came back to life in the minds of savvy Lion fans just two weeks ago during the game at Marist. With QB Anders Hill approaching 300 passing yards in the 1st half against the Red Foxes, many of us were wondering if he had a shot to break John Witkowski's 35-year-old record of 466 passing yards against the Big Green. That game was a 56-41 win for Dartmouth and Witkowski racked up most of those yards after the contest was basically decided. His 466 yard mark stood for a few years after that as the Ivy single game passing yardage record and it's still the top Columbia mark.

4)  The greatest single performance by a player for either team that most of us have seen in this series over the last 30 years was put in by Reese in the 2000 game at Wien Stadium. Reese broke the Columbia single game rushing record with 236 yards and four TD's in less than three quarters of play. The Lions won on Homecoming, 49-21.

Dalyn Williams

3) If this game were taking place a year earlier, bad blood could be more of a story line. That's because in Dartmouth's 13-9 win over Columbia in Hanover in 2015, a decent amount of trash talk and alleged extracurricular activity after the whistle positively unhinged the Big Green and especially star QB Dalyn Williams. Dartmouth was flagged repeatedly for personal foul penalties and basically took their own offense out of the game in the 2nd half. But it's been two years and just about everyone involved in all of that has graduated.

2) The big game everyone is referencing this week is the last time the Lions and Big Green played each other with 1st place in the Ivies on the line. That was 1996 when they entered week 8 with Dartmouth at 7-0 and the Lions 6-1. Much of the hype around the game was lost when Columbia stumbled at home the week before to suffer its first loss of the year to Princeton, 14-11. And the hype really fell apart when the Big Green whipped the Lions 40-0.

Paul Kaliades #61

1) You have to go back 25 more years from there to find the next CU-DC game that meant something serious in the Ivy race. The 1971 Lions shocked Dartmouth at Baker Field with a 31-29 win that ended with a FG that barely cleared the crossbar.  Defensive star/emergency kicker Paul Kaliades provided the heroics. Dartmouth came into the game with a 15-game winning streak, including a 55-0 shellacking of the Lions the previous year. The 1971 game would end up being the Big Green's only Ivy loss of the year in a season where they had to share the title with Ed Marinaro's Cornell Big Red. Columbia finished just behind those two giants at 5-2 in the Ivies and 6-3 overall. 

Week 6 Picks

In week 5 I had a strong 6-1 week straight up, putting my SU record at 23-11 (.676) for the year. But I struggled with a 3-4 record against the spread, putting me at 20-14 (.588) ATS. 

Princeton -3 1/2 at Harvard

I think Harvard has to be better than it's looked overall this season. But other than that nagging thought, there's no reason not to pick Princeton here.

Penn +3 1/2 over Yale

Under Tony Reno, the Elis have always found a way to crash down to earth at some point. Look for the wounded Quakers to pull off an upset win.

Brown  +7 at Cornell

I don't know why I keep thinking the Bears will at least make games close. But perhaps a new sense of urgency on the team will kick in. Cornell will win, but by less than a TD.

Fordham -2 1/2 at Georgetown

Did you ever think you'd see a day when Fordham was only favored by 2 1/2 over the Hoyas? I'm betting the Rams come to life Saturday.

Drake +3 at Marist

I forgot to pick the Marist-Valparaiso game last week. Marist forgot to show up and lost 49-15. I think they're about to lose again.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ivy Power Rankings

1) Dartmouth

The Big Green keep the top spot because they still have played the tougher overall schedule.

2) Columbia

The Lions overcame a lot of personal demons by beating Penn last week, setting up the biggest game the program has faced since the de facto Ivy championship game at Cornell in 1971.

3) Princeton

Columbia should be very grateful they don't have to play the Tigers again. Even without John Lovett, this still looks like the best offense in a league with some good offensive teams.

4) Yale

Beating Holy Cross in week 5 is not the same as beating them in week 2. It's hard to tell how good the Elis are now after defeating a Crusader team that quit on Head Coach Tom Gilmore, leading to his firing on Monday.

5) Harvard

It still seems to early to count the Crimson out. But Harvard is simply not getting great play from its quarterbacks.

6) Penn

The Quakers still have some potent weapons. But they too are plagued by inconsistency at QB.

7) Cornell

The Big Red sure made their win over Harvard look like a fluke by losing to a mediocre Bucknell team at home.

8) Brown

This is the worst the Bears have looked as a program since 1992.

A Message from Marcellus

Those shoulder pads deserve their own zip code

Dear Fellow Lions,

WE ARE 5-0!!! The last time we accomplished such a feat, I was a 21-year old, a lean 250 pounds, team captain in '96, feeling an all-time high of pride in Columbia and my teammates. This week, that feeling is back. This 2017 team has made national headlines, and I couldn't be prouder of everyone who has contributed. 

I'm feeling the wave of energy all the way on the west coast, and I don't want it to go away! Let's help push this team to 6-0 like we were in '96. We can all do our part this week to keep building on what we've started. That's right, I'm talking about Columbia Giving Day. 

Coach Bagnoli has brought exciting leadership to Columbia, and any conversation you have with him would make you want to get back on the field. Since we can't, let's do what we can. Let's give the players, coaches, and everyone else involved the standing ovation they deserve for their 5-0 start, by making a gift today for Giving Day

CU Football is where it should be this week: on top of the Ivy League!

Roar, Lion, Roar!
Marcellus Wiley '97CC

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How to Beat Us

If you were a Dartmouth coach, what would you be focusing on from Columbia's first five games in hopes of ending the Lion winning streak this Saturday in Hanover?

Trying to be completely honest about where CU's strengths and weaknesses truly are, I'd do the following five things, (and yes, this is a bit of reverse psychology and I hope the Columbia coaches are planning countermeasures to each):

 1) Start out going 100 mph

Columbia has officially played two road games already, but that's not the whole story. For the Princeton game, the team did not make any overnight travel. And the Marist game was an overnight trip, but Marist is only an hour or so from campus. The Lions still had to play on foreign turf and deal with opposing fans, (although the crowd at Princeton was especially thin and the Marist crowd was taken out of the equation fast), but getting to sleep and stay in your own room is a big way to cut down on road weariness.

Not this time. Not only is this a real road trip, but it's the longest by far for the team this year and the longest ever for all the sophomores and freshmen who have never ventured further than Harvard for a road game.

If I were the Dartmouth coaches, I'd test to see if the Lions are fully awake as soon as possible. Onside kick to start the game? Possible. Total blitz package on Columbia's first offensive possession? Absolutely. Deep pass or trick play on offense on the Big Green's first drive? Yes.

2) Test the other corner

Marist and then Penn just missed on at least four deep balls to receivers that were open against Columbia DB's not named Cameron Roane. While Ben McKeighan and the other corners have played well, they're at least sometimes beatable if the opposing QB can deliver the ball accurately.

3) Use the TE to test CU's tacklers

It doesn't look like Dartmouth uses big senior 255-pound TE Stephen Johnston as a very frequent passing target, but he does have three receptions this year and one for a TD. The Lions do a very good job of covering opponents' top receivers, but they've also shown some problems wrapping up bigger receivers along the sidelines.

4) Penalties are better than home runs

In most Ivy games, when a receiver gets open deep, there is still less than a 50% chance that the eventual bomb of a pass will be completed. But Columbia is getting really good at achieving an insanely high percentage of completions on passes that travel 30+ yards in the air. To avoid the big TD play and to disrupt the Lion rhythm, Dartmouth shouldn't be shy about taking a few 15-yard pass interference penalties when and if their DB's get burned.

5) Run Heneghan late

Expect Columbia to not expect Dartmouth to run QB Jack Heneghan in key situations. I think he could make some big gains, but it would be foolish to tip that hand too early in the game. From the late 3rd quarter on, the Big Green coaches should put in a running package for him with designed QB draws.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Last Looks

One of the adjustments Columbia fans are going to have to make as long as the Lions continue to play this well is putting an end to focusing on any individual win and looking at the bigger picture.

So, let's take a few more victory lap observations about Columbia's fantastic Homecoming win over Penn before focusing entirely on the showdown with Dartmouth in Hanover this Saturday:

Hill Country

Remember this guy?

Again, since day one of 2017 we've known that this season rides mostly on QB Anders Hill's shoulders. So far, he is delivering in a big way:

-Hill is now 8-5 as a starter and owns a six game winning streak at QB. Since the 1996 team that started 6-0 featured two different starters because of injuries, (Bobby Thomason and Paris Childress), this is either the longest winning streak for a CU starting QB since Gene Rossides '49 won six straight beginning with the 1947 historic win over Army, or the longest winning streak for a starting Columbia QB since Cliff Montgomery '34 racked up six straight wins. The sixth win was Montgomery's final game as a Lion... the 1934 Rose Bowl. The reason we don't know is that reliable starting lineups for each game during those team winning streaks so long ago are not available.

-Hill has now delivered three wins at QB where the Lions were either behind or tied with under two minutes left in regulation.

-My favorite QB stat is 3rd down passing, and Hill on 3rd down vs. Penn was 8-for-10 for 70 yards, five 1st downs, two TDs, (including the 24 yard game winner), one INT, and three sacks.

For the season on 3rd down passing, Hill is 28-for-36 for 323 yards, 19 1st downs, five TDs, two INTs, six sacks and an 8.9 yards per attempt average.

-Overall this season, Hill has 1,365 yards passing, an incredible 8.4 yards per pass attempt, 13 TD passes and five INTs.

Columbia is indeed a resilient team this year, stepping up in the face of tight games and/or late deficits three times this season already. But when you have a long passing game that succeeds with the regularity the Lions are enjoying, you're going to be able to come back and win games against some steep odds. We've known Hill is a good long ball passer since we first saw his highlight reel tapes, and this resiliency thing begins and ends with him.

The Coach

-Head Coach Al Bagnoli is now 10-15 at the helm of the Lion program. He's reached 10 wins eight games faster than Norries Wilson and 29 games faster than Ray Tellier.

-Bagnoli has now defeated every team in the Ivy League at least once.

-Bagnoli is now just one win away from becoming the fastest to achieve a winning record in a season for a Columbia football head coach since Lou Little did it in his first year at CU in 1930.

The Fans/Game Experience

-The official attendance for the game was just over 13,000, but the key factor was how the crowd stuck it out during Columbia's weak start and how LOUD it got down the stretch. Early morning drizzles and some uncomfortably humid weather may have been the only things keeping it from getting much closer to 15,000 in a 17,000 seat stadium.

-The next home game is on 11/4 vs. Harvard, which could be a shoo-in for a sellout if Columbia and the Crimson are still very much in the Ivy title race by then.

Wainwright's Time

-WR Josh Wainwright now has 1,053 total yards receiving through one and a half seasons as a Lion. As impressive as that is, he still needs 488 more yards this year to match Austin Knowlin 10's, 1,541 yards through his first two seasons on the team.

-Wainwright's 538 yards receiving this season puts him just 462 yards shy of the Columbia single season record of an even 1,000 held by Don Lewis '84 who set that mark in 1982.

Comeback History

-The last time Columbia came back from two or more scores down in the 4th quarter to win was the 2011 season finale against Brown when the Lions came back from 21-7 down to force OT and win it 35-28.

Linebacker Emergence

-Michael Murphy's big game Saturday got a lot of deserved attention, but freshman Justin Woodley is making more of an impact week after week even as just a 3rd down specialist at the LB position. Sean White was officially listed as a starter Saturday, but I'm pretty sure he was out for the entire game and mostly replaced by Parker Tobia. But after all three of Columbia's 2016 LB's graduated, this area of the team was an understandable question mark. Now it looks like a strength filled with underclassmen.

Secondary Concerns

-5th year senior CB Denzell Hill was reinjured against Penn and we'll have to see if he's back next week or beyond.

-For the second straight week, Columbia's opposing QB's consistently overthrew open receivers who had beaten the Lion coverage. Whether those overthrows are just the result of poor QB skills, WR timing disrupted by the CU DB's, or just plain luck is probably only clear to the Columbia coaches studying the tape. But look for Dartmouth and the rest of the Lion opponents to see if they can't connect where Marist and Penn failed.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Resurrection on the Hudson

Columbia 34 Pennsylvania 31 (OT)

Why Columbia Won

The Lions shook off an extremely poor start and they finally got their potent passing game going while their defense began creating turnovers. WR Josh Wainwright had his finest game of the season, hauling in 10 catches for 193 yards and two TD's including the game winner in overtime. QB Anders Hill was able to shake off an early hard luck interception and five sacks to get hot just in time. And the defense forced four turnovers in the course of just 18 minutes of game clock time from the middle of the 3rd quarter to the middle of the 4th.

Why Penn Lost

The Quaker offense and defense flamed out simultaneously, and at just the worst time. And while the offense finally came back to life late in the game, the defense never recovered its ability to cover the Columbia long passing attack.

Key Turning Points

-With just over 11 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Penn followed a pick-six of backup QB Ryan Suitt, (who was in for just that one play after Hill lost his helmet the play before), with a pop up on-side kick recovery at the CU 27. But after getting one 1st down to the Lion 15, safety Landon Baty forced a Justin Watson fumble that LB Michael Murphy recovered at the Columbia 15. From that point on, the Lion bleeding stopped.

-Still trailing 21-7 with 14:40 left in the 4th quarter, LB Justin Woodley picked off a Penn pass and the Lions took over at the Penn 39. On the next play, CU executed a double flea-flicker play that eventually ended in a Hill pass to Wainwright that netted 20 yards. All of a sudden, the Lion offense had come back to life. Six plays later, the score was 21-14 after goal line QB Josh Bean took it in on 4th and goal for his second TD of the game.

-Penn went three-and-out on their ensuing possession and Columbia took over at the Lion 41. On the only play of the drive, Hill found Wainwright with more than a step on the coverage and streaking down the west side of the field for a 59 yard TD pass and a tie game.

-On Penn's ensuing possession, Woodley grabbed his second interception of the game and set the Lions up with the ball at the Quaker 19. Six plays later, TE Rory Schlageter somehow kept Hill's seven yard TD pass from hitting the turf, and Columbia had its first lead of the game at 28-21 and 4:11 left in regulation.

-Penn's offense woke up after that, scoring on a 80-yard drive to tie the game and then netted a 41-yard FG in OT to retake the lead at 31-28. But after two lackluster running plays that gained a total of just one yard, Hill found Wainwright open just inside the middle of the end zone for the winning 24-yard score and 218th Street turned into Electric Avenue.

Columbia Positives

-Resilience isn't a stat in the box score, but the Lions have about as much of it as a team can have. Columbia absorbed a flurry of Penn's punches and never gave up.

-Wainwright's heroics mostly came with his fellow sensational sophomore WR Ronald Smith on the sidelines after he took a pop early in the game from a couple of Penn defenders. But he continued to get open even when it became evident he was going to be the lone deep threat.

-Despite the terrible start, the Lions out-gained Penn in total yards, had more 1st downs, won the time of possession battle, and held the Quakers to a 35% 3rd down conversion rate.

-Columbia committed only three penalties on the day.

Columbia Negatives

-The Lion pass protection was totally inconsistent, breaking down for long stretches of the game. Meanwhile, the Lion pass rush was mostly non-existent.

-The Columbia running attack is also still too spotty to give Hill the relief from the pass rush that he needs.

Columbia MVP

WR Josh Wainwright's career day wasn't just about getting open. He made key adjustments on at least two major catches in the game, including the game-winner. He stepped it up even when the Quakers must have known he was the most likely option late in the game.

While Wainwright was the clear MVP, LB Michael Murphy had a monster game with 12 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss for a huge total of 24 yards lost. His read and tackle of Watson on a Penn screen pass in OT went for a seven yard loss and effectively blew up the Quaker chances for a TD in the extra frame.

Woodley was also a force, playing on mostly 3rd downs only. In addition to his two interceptions, he had a key tackle for no gain and a QB hurry.

What's Next

The 5-0 Lions head to Dartmouth to take on the 5-0 Big Green next week. Not only are both teams undefeated, but Dartmouth is also an uncannily resilient team with dramatic comeback wins four weeks in a row.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Millstone

Homecoming 2017

Pennsylvania Quakers (2-2) vs. Columbia Lions (4-0)

October 14, 2017

Kickoff Time: 1:30

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

Game Time Weather Forecast: 69 degrees, 35% chance of rain

The Line: Penn is favored by 2 points

TV/Radio: The game will be televised nationally on the Eleven Sports Network, online on the Ivy League Digital network, and free audio is available on the Columbia website and on WKCR FM, (probably WKCR's online stream channel only).

Leading Storylines

1) The tables have turned as it is now Columbia that is riding high with an undefeated record and Penn that is struggling to get its season on track. This game will be a key test for both teams to prove or disprove they belong right where they are in the standings.

2) Getting to the X's and O's, Penn comes in with one of the weakest pass defenses in the Ivies and Columbia has probably the best passing offense. The Quakers will have to make some big changes to address this game.

3) Penn has defeated Columbia 20 straight times, mostly by more than two scores. It's the longest current Ivy vs. Ivy streak and a singular millstone for the Lion program. The fact that the man who coached the Quakers to 18 of those 20 straight wins, Al Bagnoli, now paces the Columbia sidelines makes this game even more potentially meaningful.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Week 5 Picks

I bounced back with a decent 4-2 last week against the spread and 3-3 straight up to put my records at 17-10 in both columns and holding on just barely to a respectable .600-plus .629 winning percentage

Brown +16 vs. Princeton

The Bears look like the dregs of the Ivies right now, but Brown gets hyped for big games like this and I think they'll keep it close for the most part. Princeton should win by between 10 and 14 points.

Harvard -17 vs. Lafayette

The Leopards are starting to do lots of things right while Harvard is stumbling. But somehow, the Crimson look poised to explode at home.

Yale -6 1/2 vs. Holy Cross

Now it feels like the Holy Cross season is falling apart.

Dartmouth -9 at Sacred Heart

The Big Green may take their feet of the gas a bit here, but they'll still win by 10 or 11.

Cornell +1 1/2 vs. Bucknell

The Big Red will eke out another win.

Georgetown +14 1/2 at Lehigh

Lehigh will win, but the Hoyas will make it a game,

Central Connecticut -1 1/2 at Wagner

I don't get the small spread in this game. Seems like a real gift.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ivy Power Rankings

1) Dartmouth

The Big Green keep beating good teams and doing it by the skin of their teeth. Sometimes, lots of close wins is the sign of a very good team. Sometimes, it's a sign of a lucky team that will soon see its luck run out. Right now, Dartmouth looks like the former.

2) Columbia

The Lions are basically playing like a team that's a year or two ahead of schedule right now. The only knock is they've really only beaten one solid opponent.

3) Yale

The Elis are still a very good team. The question is whether they can bounce back from their first setback of the year. A lot of teams in their place right now suddenly start to fall apart.

4) Princeton

The Tigers bounced back nicely from the loss to Columbia and the offense is still a serious machine. Their chances to repeat as champs are far from over.

5) Harvard

The stunning inconsistency of the Crimson offense continues. This is very much on the coaches too as they simply aren't drawing up the right plays to suit their QB's.

6) Penn

The Quakers offense is still potent, but the defense has fallen apart. This is starting to look like a rebuilding year after two straight titles.

7) Cornell

Beating Harvard was a great achievement, but there's no real evidence that the Big Red will be able to make a big move with their existing weapons. Let's see how they do after they play another Ivy opponent.

8) Brown

Losing to Stetson is bad enough, but to lose with such a poor offensive showing is just plain odd for this Bears program.

History Means Nothing...

... or almost nothing to a group of college student/athletes who are all about 20 years old or so.

For them, the fact that Columbia hasn't beaten Penn in 21 years doesn't come with many personal memories of all those losses.

For them, the fact that Columbia coincidentally hasn't had a winning season or seriously contended for an Ivy title since it last beat Penn isn't really something they can grasp.

And that's how it should be.

The great thing about college football is that if any given program truly commits itself to getting better coaching and recruiting results, it can turn things around in a hurry. Columbia had never shown a consistent commitment to that until President Lee Bollinger hired Athletic Director Peter Pilling in late 2014 and he quickly lured Head Coach Al Bagnoli out of retirement to helm the Lions. That commitment hasn't faded since, and it's actually been increased with the building of the Columbia off season bubble indoor practice facility.

For the vast majority of the Lion football players, this committed Columbia is the only Columbia they've known.

That said, they certainly have memories of last season's tough battle with the eventual Ivy co-champion Quakers at Franklin Field that ended in a deceptively uneven 35-10 score. 

They have seen a Penn team that their coach built with his recruiting efforts win a share of the last two Ivy titles.

And they see that their 4-0 record has yet to convince many naysayers, (who are clearly relying more on Columbia's history than current on-the-field evidence), that they're for real.

For the fans, everything is different.

I could catalog dozens of interesting Columbia-Penn facts to explain just how much longtime Columbia fans want a win in this game.

But I'll stick with this top five in descending order of importance:

1) Penn had been a bottom feeder for most of the Ivy League's official history from 1956-82, when the administration got serious about winning in football. 1982 was a turning point for not just Penn, but the entire Ivy League. The Quakers became perennial winners, and Columbia got worse as Penn extended its dominance in recruiting in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania areas where the Lions relied on finding incoming talent. 25 years later, Columbia is in the midst of trying to make a major change of its own.

2) The Quakers have often played the role of bringing the Lions crashing back down to earth on the rare occasions when Columbia looked like it might have a strong team. The three most recent instances were in 2010 when the Lions came into Franklin Field and lost 27-13, 2009 when the Quakers came into Wien Stadium and beat the Lions by the same 27-13 score, and 2003 when Penn ruined Columbia's 250th anniversary Homecoming game with a 31-7 win. In each case, the Lions were 1-0 in the Ivies and hoping to make a statement. In each case, the Quakers went on to win the Ivy title.

3)  Two recent games were glaring examples of how superior coaching made the difference. In the 2011 Homecoming game at Columbia, the Lions under Norries Wilson famously botched a 1st and goal opportunity to seal the game with multiple delay of game penalties in a row and lost 27-20. The second was a year later when under Pete Mangurian, the Lions squandered a 20-10 4th quarter lead and lost 24-20. In both cases, Bagnoli was clearly the superior coach.

4) The last time Penn was looking weak coming into a game against Columbia was 2014 when the Quakers were 0-4. They proceeded to whip the Lions in Philly by a 31-7 score. Penn finished that season 2-8, the Lions went 0-10.

5) Many of the stalwarts of this current Lion team were either not yet fully prepped to play or out of action when these two teams met in Philadelphia last year. WR Josh Wainwright was out, WR Ronald Smith only saw very limited duty, and QB Anders Hill was not very effective in his third career start.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Time to fill this place up

It's been a long time since I made a pitch for people to go out and buy tickets for Columbia Football.

But the effort this team and coaching staff has put forth this year is extraordinary in many ways. The 4-0 record is the headline of course, but the relaxed confidence and close-knit culture of the team is in many ways even nicer to see.

Meanwhile, the athletic department under A.D. Peter Pilling is running on all cylinders in year three of Pilling's tenure. Not only is football undefeated, but the men's and women's soccer teams are both undefeated and in first place in the Ivy League. That kind of success at this stage for the three most important fall sports teams is unheard of in Columbia history.

One of the sad things about Columbia's football struggles in recent decades is the fact that the university genuinely works hard to make Homecoming games really enjoyable for the entire family.  Last year ended a 14-year Homecoming losing streak when the Lions edged Dartmouth 9-7. But the game was played in the rain and attendance was muted. So far, the forecast is calling for just a cloudy day Saturday, which shouldn't keep anyone away from the game.

In the hopes of pushing the CU faithful from all over the world to come out to this game, I'm pushing the #CramKraft hashtag on Twitter. That's as in, cram Kraft Field at Wien Stadium with fans and maybe get the sellout this program deserves after its amazing transformation in just three years from a team that could not even come close to beating the rest of the league's backups.

Final Thoughts after Marist

-Head Coach Al Bagnoli now has nine wins after 24 games at CU. That's seven games faster than Norries Wilson and 29 games faster than Ray Tellier recorded their ninth wins with this program.

-QB Anders Hill is now 7-5 as a starter.

-On 3rd downs so far this season, Hill's passing stats are 20-for-26 for 253 yards, 14 1st downs, 3 TD passes, 1 INT, 3 sacks, and 9.7 yards per attempt.

-Columbia is converting 54% of its 3rd downs and holding opponents to a 28% conversion rate.

-Columbia is averaging more than 30 points per game and holding opponents to under 18 points a game.

-Despite featuring a potent passing attack, Columbia is winning the time of possession battle by an average of more than 10 minutes per game.

-Columbia is outscoring its opponents in the first half by a combined score of 87-14.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Full Arsenal

Columbia 41 Marist 17

Why Columbia Won

The Lions played a perfect first half, scoring on every possession and forcing two Marist turnovers en route to a 38-0 lead at the break. QB Anders Hill was lethal, throwing for 350 yards, three TD's, and running for two more. Meanwhile, the defense forced Red Fox QB Mike White to throw his first 10 passes incomplete.

Why Marist Lost

The Red Foxes had no answer for the Columbia passing game and could not get their offense going into well into the 3rd quarter.

Key Turning Points

-The Lions set the tone early in their first drive when Columbia elected to go fot it on a 4th and 1 from their own 46. Hill took the ball himself for the 1st down run and the offense never looked back. Eight plays later, it was 7-0 after Hill's first TD throw of the game.

-On Marist's ensuing possession, White was stripped of the ball by freshman DL Ashton Cooper and the fumble was recovered by freshman LB Justin Woodley at the Red Fox 42. Columbia then took the ball and converted a tough 3rd and 12 and a 4th a 3 en route to a Hill two yard TD run on 4th an 2 for a 14-0 lead that emotionally broke Marist for the rest of the day.

Columbia Positives

-The Lion passing game didn't seem like it could be much better, but it was on Saturday as Hill spread the ball around to nine different receivers. Freshman WR Emerson Kabus had a breakout game with 4 catches for 114 yards, including a 65 yard catch and run down the sideline and a fine grab of a pass darting away from his body in the end zone for a 19 yard TD.

-Kabus wasn't the only relatively new face to get into the action. WR Kyle Castner made two incredible catches in heavy coverage en route to four total receptions on the day. RB Lynnard Rose got into his first game of the year and flashed some speed. Defensive players like Wilson and DL Alex Robin got extended playing time and looked good.

-After a bit of a shaky start this season, K Oren Milstein made both of his FG attempts, both from a longish 39 yards out. He was also 5-5 on PAT kicks, putting his career perfect record on extra points at 28-for-28.

Columbia Negatives

-A couple of Lions, including Woodley and DB Cameron Roane seem to have sustained injuries, but it's not clear if they are serious at all. Roane may have just slightly turned an ankle.

-It seemed like every snap from center was too high, often hurting Hill's rhythm especially on running plays. C Tyler Schonewolf needs to get that under control.

Columbia MVP

In my full season preview for Columbia, I emphasized over and over just how important the play of Anders Hill would be for this team. After four games, his improvement over last year has been the most obvious constant. Against Marist, he was near perfect and the key reason for the blowout win.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Keep the Train Rolling

A bird's eye view of Marist

Columbia Lions (3-0) vs. Marist Red Foxes (3-2)

October 7, 2017

Kickoff Time: 12:00 noon

Tenney Stadium at Leonidoff Field

Game Time Weather Forecast: 75 degrees and mostly cloudy

The Line: Columbia is favored by 16 1/2 points 

TV/Radio: The game can only be seen on the Red Fox Network, (I don't know if there's any charge), for free on Marist's Facebook page, and can be heard on the Columbia online radio network with Jay Alter and Shawn Fitzgerald '80 on the call. 

Leading Storylines

1) Columbia is suddenly on everyone's radar thanks to the 3-0 start and the thrilling win over Ivy League preseason favorite and previously undefeated Princeton. The conventional wisdom is that the Lions could overlook Marist amid the newfound positive fame and stumble. Very hot temperatures, and a potentially large Marist crowd in a tiny stadium might add to the pressure. 

2) Marist has two demonstrated strengths: A decent passing game and a good defense against runs up the middle. Columbia cannot hope to continue running right up the middle and succeed. The Lions will also have to do more to get to QB Mike White, who doesn't scramble and run.

3) Columbia QB Anders Hill needs better protection than he got against Princeton. If the Lions can't get a running game going, the Red Foxes will blitz him mercilessly and make the game dangerous. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Week 4 Picks

Well after a couple of stellar weeks, my luck ran out big time in week 3 with a lousy 3-4 straight up record and even worse 2-5 record against the spread. That leaves me for the season at 14-7 straight up (.666) and 13-8 ATS (.619).

Dartmouth pick 'em vs. Yale

If this game were at the Yale Bowl, I'd probably pick the Elis. But it's in Hanover and Homecoming besides. It'll be Dartmouth in another thriller.

Harvard -14 1/2 at Cornell

The Big Red look like they're struggling all over the place now. Harvard is getting used to some new offensive realities, but they're coming on now.

Georgetown +24 1/2 at Princeton

I feel like the Tigers will still be hurting emotionally after the loss to Columbia and will not blow the Hoyas out. This will be more like a 14-to-17-point win.

CCSU +13 1/2 vs. Penn

Penn is also on a bit of a low after their loss to Dartmouth. The Quakers will win, but it will be closer than this spread.

Brown -21 at Stetson

I don't think I'd take Stetson at any spread.

Duquesne -5 over Wagner

I'm still not convinced the Seahawks have bounced back.

Mike Donnelly Passes

The man who put together Columbia's greatest defensive units in modern history has passed away. 

Mike Donnelly, who left the job as the Lions defensive coordinator in 1997 to take the head coaching job at Muhlenberg College, died yesterday of leukemia at age 65. He had held that head coaching job at Muhlenberg for the last 22 years and seen great success there.

Because of that success, I called for him to be considered as the replacement for Norries Wilson in 2011. 

Our condolences go out to his family, friends, and players.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Marist Challenge

The view from the visitors bench at Tenney Stadium

Before the season started, it sure looked like Marist was the weakest opponent Columbia would face all season.

It's not that the Red Foxes have proved to be a surprise powerhouse, but after their road wins over Georgetown and Davidson and a decent showing in all but one game it's clear Marist is not without some punch.

The defense's play has been inconsistent, but the biggest weapon the Red Foxes were expected to sport all season has come through in red shirt junior QB Mike White. White does the best with what he has, and stands tough in an often collapsing pocket.

This season he's boosted his completion percentage to a decent 56%, up from 48% last season. But his TD-to-INT ratio has deteriorated, most likely because of a continued lack of any potent running game to use as another option. Marist is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry.

The defense is posting better numbers overall than last year, but inconsistency is the key here. Perhaps the most telling Red Fox game this year for Columbia to study is the 44-37 loss Marist suffered to Jacksonville on September 23rd. This was a game against a conference opponent on the Red Fox home field. And in that game, Marist never led and gave up five yards per rushing attempt.

On offense, White passed for 315 yards and four TD's, but he was also picked off four times and only completed 50% of his passes. The Red Foxes only netted 42 yards rushing and 2.1 yards per carry.

Marist has a huge offensive line with an average weight of 301 pounds, but for some reason they're just not getting a push for their running backs.

The intangibles are a little more daunting for the Lions. This is Marist's Homecoming game, and things could get intense in that 5,000-seat bandbox stadium of theirs. By the way, by my count there are fewer than 400 reserved seats left to buy as of Wednesday at noon. Otherwise, you might be subjected to sitting on wet grass behind the CU bench.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Ivy Power Rankings

This week's rankings lean heavily on the two head-to-head match ups of previously 2-0 Ivy teams from last Saturday. They set us up for a rare #1 vs. #2 game in Hanover this weekend between the Big Green and Yale. And that means one of those teams is going to have their bubble burst.

1)  Dartmouth

Of all the undefeated teams in the league, Dartmouth is the only one that's played more than one good, (or apparently good), team.

2) Yale

The Elis haven't played any really good teams, but they've buried all three.

3) Columbia

We know the Lions have a lethal passing attack, and a lot of resilience in crunch time.

4) Harvard

The Crimson are getting into a groove.

5) Princeton

This is still a strong team with a lot of weapons.

6) Penn 

The Quakers aren't firing on all cylinders. But remember, this is the point in 2015 when they started their surge.

7) Brown

The Bears are just too inconsistent.

8) Cornell

Now the Big Red offense is starting to look bad too.

*NOTE: The Stats FCS poll has Columbia ranked ahead of every Ivy team but Dartmouth, (you have to look at the "others receiving votes footnote at the bottom)

Monday, October 2, 2017

10 Post-Princeton Thoughts

The Coach

-Al Bagnoli is now 8-15 as the Columbia Head Coach. He has reached eight wins six games earlier than Norries Wilson and 30 games faster than Ray Tellier.

The Team

-A lot of people are pointing out this is the first time the team has started 3-0 and posted an overall four game winning streak, (stretching back to the season finale win at Brown last year), since 1996. But most of Columbia's previous great seasons featured losses to Princeton, including the 1933 Rose Bowl team, the 1961 Ivy co-championship season, and the 1996 8-2 team.

This team, with two late game clinching scoring drives already in the books, is looking more and more like the 1971 6-3, (5-2 Ivy), team that came in second in the Ivies. The '71 team was a group of comeback kids that made their first real statement that year with a win over Princeton to end a 26-year drought against the Tigers.

The Players

-QB Anders Hill is now 6-5 as a starter. He's the first Columbia starting QB to earn four straight wins as a starter since Don Jackson '73 did it with three wins at the end of 1971 and a win to open 1972.

-Hill now has TWO come-from-behind wins with possessions that began with under two minutes left under his belt. The last Columbia QB to have even one of those wins was Jeff Otis '05. In those two game-winning drives, Hill's stats in those two drives not including incomplete spike passes to stop the clock are 4 for 8 for 94 yards, 11.7 yards per attempt, two 1st downs, 1 TD, 0 INT, and 1 sack.

-Hill's overall 3rd down passing stats are 23 of 31 for 398 yards, 12.8 yards per attempt, 18 first downs, 4 TD's, 2 INT's, and 5 sacks.

-As I wrote yesterday, WR Ronald Smith's 236-yards receiving broke Bill Wazevich's 50-year-old record of 215 receiving yards. But what I left out was that Wazevich set that record against... Princeton. But the Lions lost that game, 28-14. The QB in that game was the NFL-bound Marty Domres '69.

-Junior LB Sean White was the emergency starting replacement for sophomore Matt Tofano when he went down with a career-ending injury. White has played extremely well in every game, but he was a difference maker Saturday. His interception was a highlight everyone noticed but he was also in on many key tackles and had 11 total.

-Sophomore DB Ben McKeighan's INT was the result of an athletic dive to keep the ball from falling harmlessly to the turf. No longtime Columbia fan is likely to forget the many dropped INTs that would have ended games in just these kinds of circumstances in games that ultimately ended in either a Columbia loss or another few minutes of agony. Phillip Murray '03 dropped an INT on a very similar play against Cornell in 2002 and that ended up leading to a winning TD pass by the Big Red a few moments later. Jared Katz '17's drop of an INT late in the Dartmouth game last year gave the Big Green new life and almost cost the Lions the game. The list goes on and on.

-Sophomore Justin Hill is becoming a serious force in punt coverage. It'll be exciting to see what he can do in the secondary. Freshman LB Justin Woodley got some quality playing time. He looks good and he looks BIG.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Overturning the Evil Decree

Columbia 28 Princeton 24

Why Columbia Won

Lion WR Ronald Smith broke Columbia's 50-year-old single game receiving yards record with 236 on 10 catches and two huge TD's, and Princeton simply did not have an answer for him all day. QB Anders Hill kept his composure and made several key 3rd down throws on his way to become the first 400-yard passing performance for CU QB in six years. The defense held the Tigers when it counted and forced four huge turnovers.

Why Princeton Lost

The Tiger offense was inconsistent and QB Chad Kanoff was rarely accurate on the rare occasions when he was pressured. The Princeton defense could not cover the Lion receivers deep down the middle.

Key Turning Points

The game didn't have so many turning points as much as it featured several moments where the Tigers seemed to have Columbia down for the count and the Lions sprang back up with a vengeance and overturned an evil decree on this Day of Atonement:

-After Columbia failed to score on three straight possessions, including two that started inside Princeton territory after Kanoff interceptions, the Tigers took a 14-7 lead with 8:21 left in the first half on an 80-yard drive. Columbia's ensuing possession ended in an three-and-out, and the Lions looked like they were about to collapse. But Kanoff threw an incomplete pass on 4th and 4 from the 50 on Princeton's next possession and this time CU did not miss the opportunity. Two straight completions to Smith followed by two consecutive good runs by RB Tanner Thomas tied the score at 14 with 3:16 left in the half when Thomas' second run turned out to be an 11 yard TD score.

-After Columbia squandered two more possessions that began inside Tiger territory, Princeton woke up in the middle of the 3rd quarter. First, they drove 63 yards in four minutes to convert a 27-yard FG to get within 21-17 with just over three minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Then they intercepted Hill in the end zone to kill CU's otherwise impressive ensuing drive. Now it was the Columbia defense's turn to overturn the evil decree. The next two Tiger possessions got as close as 1st and goal at the Columbia three. On the first chance, the Lions forced Princeton into three straight runs for no gain and an incomplete pass on 4th and goal. On the second chance, DB Landon Baty ripped the ball out of PU wildcat QB Kevin Davidson's hands for a fumble recovery.

-But Princeton did score the go-ahead TD on their next possession and the Tigers took a 24-21 lead with just 2:32 to go. On Columbia's ensuing possession, the Lions looked finished after a false start penalty forced them into a 3rd and 11 situation at their 37 with 1:22 left. But that's when Hill found Smith in single coverage in the middle of the field and Smith took off for the 63-yard game-winning score.

Columbia Positives

-Hill and the receivers were in a groove all day. Not only did Smith gain the CU record 236 yards, but fellow sophomore sensation WR Josh Wainwright had seven catches for 78 yards and there were some key completions to WR's Emerson Kabus and Christian Everett too.

-The Lion defense was strong for most of the day, and the four forced turnovers were a major difference in the game.

-It's hard to quantify emotional strength, but this Columbia team has it after bouncing back so many times from the kind of gut-punching setbacks they've experienced against Wagner and Princeton already this season.

Columbia Negatives

-The Lion O-line had an inconsistent game. They gave up six sacks and about half the running plays just didn't have the necessary blocking.

-Columbia committed 13 penalties, including multiple personal fouls.

Columbia MVP

-Ronald Smith had a game for the ages, breaking Bill Wazevich's 1967 Columbia single game receiving record by 21 yards. He came up with key catches in crucial situation after crucial situation and was the most important man on the field all day.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Tiger Test

Columbia Lions (2-0) at Princeton Tigers (2-0)

September 30, 2017

Kickoff Time: 12:30pm

Princeton Stadium

Game Time Weather Forecast: 64 degrees and cloudy

The Line: Princeton is favored by 15 points

TV/Radio: The game will be televised on the Eleven Sports Network USA available on many cable systems. Their broadcast will be simulcast on the Ivy League Digital Network. Bill Spaulding has the play-by-play and former Yale great Jack Ford the color commentary. The game is also available on audio only on the Columbia Athletics feed with Jay Alter on the call. WKCR will also broadcast the game, but it may only be available on the WKCR internet feed.

Leading Storylines

1) Neither team has really played a very good team, or at least a team that had a competitive offense and defense. While Columbia has faced two decent defenses, Princeton has yet to be tested by a defense while playing without their best all-around player, QB/RB/WR John Lovett. Lovett will be out again for this game.

2) The Lions strength is in their talented receiving corps and a big Tiger question mark is their secondary.

3) Princeton's best strength is its offensive line; it's the best in the Ivies. The Columbia defense will have to find a way to overcome that.

4) This game has all the makings of a statement game for the Lions, who would like to prove they belong in any discussion of the Ivy's top teams. The Tigers want to prove they haven't missed much of a beat without Lovett and all the graduations on defense. They're also trying to prove they can be a #1 team two years in a row, something they haven't quite pulled off in the Bob Surace era.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Original "Slash"

I've written a lot of articles about the very storied and dramatic history between Princeton and Columbia over the years. Over the 30 or so years I've been following the Lions and the Ivies, these two teams have played some incredibly dramatic games including many with shocking outcomes.

There was the 1988 game Columbia won 16-13 to end their then-record 44 game losing streak. It was my freshman year at CU. Not only was it surprising to see the Lions win, but to get that first win in five years over the team the experts predicted would win the Ivy title that year was really something.

There was the Princeton win in 2000 in OT after the Tigers came back from two scores down with less than two minutes to go. A last-second Hail Mary win for Columbia in 2003, and another OT comeback win for Princeton a year later.

But as far as their importance to overall Ivy standings, the three games the Lions and Tigers played from 1994-96 captured the most drama. And one player who played a key role in two of those three games, with his absence looming largely over the third, was Columbia QB Mike Cavanaugh '96. 

Cavanaugh was John Lovett more than 20 years before John Lovett. He mostly played QB for the Lions, but often lined up as a RB or WR given the situation. He was also the lead punt returner.

Cavanaugh had his breakout season in 1994 when the Lions were on their way to their first winning season since 1971. Coming into the Homecoming game against Princeton that year, Columbia was 3-2-1, (they used to have ties in college football), and were facing a 5-1 Tiger squad that was 2-1 in Ivy play. A record crowd packed Wien Stadium to see if these new look Lions were for real.

Cavanaugh split time as QB with senior Jamie Schwalbe. He ran the ball 17 times for 82 yards, caught two passes for 33 more, and made key 1st down after 1st down with his option keepers and bootlegs. He was Mr. Everything for Columbia in an emotional 17-10 win.

A year later, Columbia came into Palmer Stadium with an identical 3-2-1 record, but a 3-0 mark in the Ivy League. Princeton was also 3-0 in the league and the week seven game was hyped across the league as the de facto Ivy championship game.

At that point, Schwalbe had graduated and Cavanaugh was carrying the QB duties on his own. He was still running quite a bit and also improving as a passer. Head Coach Ray Tellier and company decided to try to trick the Tigers and their improving defense by unleashing Cavanaugh as an aggressive passer early in the game.

The plan backfired in spectacular fashion. Cavanaugh was picked off five times in the 1st half alone, and eventually had his leg broken after a Princeton sack. His career was over just like that, and the Tigers routed Columbia 44-14. The Lions didn't win another game that season. It was one of the most devastating losses in modern CU history. Princeton went on to win an un-shared Ivy title for 1995.

The following year, Columbia struggled offensively without Cavanaugh but jumped out of the gate at 6-0 thanks to the return of Marcellus Wiley on defense after he took 1995 off. The Tigers were struggling much of that year, and the week 7 match up back at Wien Stadium looked like an easy win for Columbia.

But Cavanaugh's absence loomed large as the CU offense was stymied and the Princeton offense got just enough to eke out a 14-11 win. A deflated Columbia went on to get blasted the following week in another de facto championship game at Dartmouth, 40-0. They finished the season 8-2.

There was some measure of revenge the next year when Columbia shut Princeton out 17-0 in 1997, and the Lions best days against the Tigers came in 2009-10 when CU beat Princeton in back-to-back beat downs by a combined score of 80-14.

But none of those games were as crucial to either team as that stretch from 1994 to 1996. And with the schedule keeping the Columbia-Princeton tilt in week 3 for the time being, this rivalry will probably not reach that level of drama again.

Week 3 Picks

I went 5-1 straight up last week and 5-1 against the spread. For the season, I'm now 11-3 straight up and 11-3 ATS (.785 winning percentage)

Dartmouth +7 at Penn

I think Penn will eke this one out, but this seems like another game that will be decided by less than a TD. So expect the Big Green to cover.

Fordham +6 1/2 vs. Yale

The Rams will start to turn their season around with an upset win.

Cornell +10 1/2 vs. Colgate

Colgate will badly want revenge after a shocking loss to the Big Red last year. But I think Cornell will keep this one close before falling late.

Harvard -14 1/2 at Georgetown (Game at RFK stadium)

This game could get ugly.

Rhode Island -10 at Brown

URI is just a very good team right now.

Davidson +9 vs. Marist

Davidson may be the worst FCS football team in America right now. But I have to think they can cover a nine point spread at home against the Red Foxes. Marist will win, but not by two scores.

Lehigh -7 1/2 at Wagner

Wagner's season is falling apart due to injury.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Forget the Stats...

With both Columbia and Princeton not really playing the best competition up to now this year, focusing too much on the teams' identical 2-0 records is not completely helpful. 

Instead of breaking the Tigers down position-by-position, I think these are the three things that are the center of the CU coaches' thought processes as they game plan for Princeton:

1) Senior LT Mitchell Sweigart is an incredible weapon

I've been watching Ivy football for about 30 years. I have never seen an offensive lineman dominate a game as much as Sweigart did for Princeton against Columbia last year. I'd say he's a bulldozer, but bulldozers aren't as fast and as strong as Sweigart. I don't know how he can be neutralized at all. But to be fair, the entire Tiger O-line is the best the Lions will see all year. It seems like every starter is an All Ivy player.

2) The Lions have to test the Princeton pass defense all day

Columbia needs to go to its strength and make the Tigers prove they can defend both Josh Wainwright and Ronald Smith down the field as much as possible. One part of this team that has not proven itself yet is the secondary.

3) Can Columbia get pressure on QB Kanoff?

This is a subset of item #1, since Sweigart and the rest of the O-line will presumably take care of a lot of this. But creative blitzing can change the game and we haven't seen really any of Columbia's blitz package so far, (and I think that's intentional). Guys like DB Landon Baty are quick and elusive enough to beat some of these big linemen and we know we packs a lot of punch for a player of any size. I think LB Michael Murphy may also be asked to use his speed to blitz Kanoff. At the very least, this might tire out Princeton's front five and the RB's by the 4th quarter as they are tasked with picking up blitzers. 

Whatever the tools used, the Lions need to get to Kanoff somehow.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Ivy Power Rankings Week 2

1) Princeton

What other team, even Harvard and Penn, could lose a player like John Lovett and still have an offense running on all cylinders? The Tigers got top RB Charlie Volcker back against Lafayette and he looked good too.

2) Harvard

The Crimson got a fire lit under them after the loss to URI and they responded by deciding the game against Brown in a hurry.

3) Yale

The Elis offense is humming along.

4) Penn

The Quakers now have a superstar running threat in Karekin Brooks to go along with top WR Justin Watson.

5) Dartmouth

The Big Green stunned Holy Cross, but a tough defense and solid running game will produce lots of victories no matter what.

6) Columbia

The Lions have held serve with two wins against weaker opponents.

7) Cornell

Still no defense for the Big Red, but they can throw the ball really well.

8) Brown

The Bears were exposed at Harvard Stadium,

Quick Warning on Marist tickets

I just bought my tickets for the week 4 game at Marist and noticed that there are just about 480 reserved tickets still available. You can get general admission and sit on the lawn behind the Columbia bench, but I suspect that's not a very comfortable option.

I'm not a ticket salesman, and I'm not getting any commissions. But I think any Columbia fans who would like to help jam 5,000 Tenney Stadium on October 7th better not wait to buy tickets on game day.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Final Thoughts on the Georgetown win

The Players

-Remember last year at this time when WR Josh Wainwright was exciting, but also dropping passes and fumbling at key moments? Well, now he's a sophomore and the difference that year of experience makes is big. 

-Remember last year at this time when WR Ronald Smith was... actually Smith wasn't playing yet at this time last year and made his debut in week 5 at Penn. 

-So in the course of just seven games, the Lions have gone from having no real dangerous receiving threats to having two. That's a big jump in a very short amount of time.

-QB Anders Hill is now 5-5 as Columbia's starting signal caller. He stands a chance now of becoming the first Lion QB in modern history to have more than 10 starts and graduate with a winning record. Sean Brackett cannot say that. John Witkowski can't say that. Archie Roberts can't say that. Marty Domres can't say that. Even Sid Luckman can't say that. Stay tuned. 

-No one is even testing CB Cameron Roane anymore by even throwing the ball his way more than once per game or so. We'll see if this keeps up in Ivy play, but that is the essence of what they mean in football when they say "shutdown corner." 

-K Oren Milstein was a perfect 5-5 on PATs, despite having one of his kicks slightly tipped. 

The Coach

-Head Coach Al Bagnoli is now 7-15 at Columbia. His predecessor only had three wins in 30 tries, and Norries Wilson needed 26 games to reach the seven win mark. Ray Tellier didn't log his seventh win at CU until he had coached 42 games.

-For the second straight game, every point scored by Columbia was scored by a Bagnoli recruit.

-What Columbia is doing now is winning the games it SHOULD win. The Lions were simply better going into games this year against an injury-scarred Wagner offense and a generally inferior Georgetown team. Last year, if Columbia had simply won the games they played against weaker opponents alone, the Lions would have gone 6-4, (they blew games they should have won over St. Francis, Georgetown, and Cornell). And in 2015, Columbia should have gone 4-6 instead of 2-8 after dropping games they should have won over Georgetown and Cornell). Getting teams to simply beat weaker opponents is actually a tough job that has to come first for any coach. Bagnoli seems to have arrived at this accomplishment now. 

The Fan Experience

-Count me among the fans who was at first amused, and then annoyed by the P.A. announcer's performance at the game. I mean not personal offense, and I doubt many people could do better off the cuff, (was he hired off the cuff?), but come on. We can't have that guy doing the same routine at Homecoming.

-WKCR hasn't stopped broadcasting games, they're just only available on the stations internet feed and not over the regular air. I don't like that development either, but it's a big difference from abandoning sports altogether.

Hints for the Future?

-Almost every Ivy team, including the half of the league that doesn't start its Ivy part of the schedule until week three, (Columbia, Dartmouth, Penn, and Princeton), waits until that Ivy schedule kicks in to show off some new weapons. But my guess is we saw glimpses of some new strategies Saturday. 

They include:

1) We hadn't see much in the way of blitzing at all until LB Cal Falkenhayn burst through the middle of the line in the 2nd half for a big sack. 

2) Hill executed the spring option, pitching the ball laterally to his right to RB Chris Schroer for a nice gain later in the game. 

3) The Lions finally took some of the running game off-tackle and generally got good results. 

Just to Compare...

-Columbia started 2005 and 2006 with 2-0 records, but the 2005 team was generally terrible and the 2006 team was an inspiring group. The 2005 team took that 2-0 record into Princeton and was thoroughly mauled by an up-and-coming Tiger team that was still not playing its best football. The 2006 team was 2-0 and played Princeton at Homecoming the following week and lost a close contest against the eventual Ivy champs. So, will this game be like the 2005 debacle that exposed a Columbia team that did not win again that season, or will it be more like the 2006 game that proved that team's grit? Or will it produce an entirely different result and lesson?