Monday, July 31, 2017

Odd Move


Mason Williams


We often get excited as Ivy football fans when a decent player from a big FBS program transfers to an Ivy. Not only do we start dreaming of a dominant player coming to our league, but we know we don't have to wait because by transferring down a division from FBS to FCS, the player is immediately eligible to play. When a player goes up from FCS to FBS, he has to sit out a season.

That's why transfers going the other way, that is Ivy players transferring to FBS programs, are so rare. 

But it appears Penn's 1st Team All Ivy DB Mason Williams is going to do just that after announcing that he is leaving the school just before the start of his junior year. 

Penn's defense is still stacked with a good number of top players, but to lose a guy who was already the best in the league at his position as a sophomore is a big deal. 

Those who are putting in Penn as champions in their 2017 predictions may have to rethink that. 

3rd Commit


Chris Park grabs one in heavy coverage


5-11 175-pound WR Chris Park from Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California has committed to the Lions.


Park just transferred to Serra last year, but made an immediate impact at that perennial powerhouse program. 

Park will be the just the second Serra grad to come to Columbia Football after punter Greg Guttas '13. 

That brings our list on reported commits for 2018 to three:


1) Chris Park WR 5-11 175 Junipero Serra HS San Mateo, CA

2) Mitchell Sturgill DB 6-1, 185 lbs Bellevue HS Bellevue, WA

3) Watson Tansil LB 6-3, 215 lbs. Franklin Road Academy Nashville, TN







Friday, July 28, 2017

2nd Commit



6-1, 185 pound DB/RB Mitchell Sturgill from Bellevue High School in the greater Seattle area has committed to Columbia. He chose the Lions over an offer from Cornell.

Sturgill comes from the same high school as current Lions DB Ryan Gilbert and Matt Weber '92. 

So our unofficial list of commits for 2018 is now:

1) Mitchell Sturgill DB 6-1, 185 lbs Bellevue HS Bellevue, WA

2) Watson Tansil LB 6-3, 215 lbs. Franklin Road Academy Nashville, TN

Monday, July 24, 2017

TV News



Columbia has just released the remaining info on its 2017 schedule, including the news that four Lions games will be nationally televised on the new Eleven Sports Network. 

As a FIOS customer, I'm happy because I get that network at my home, but I'm a bit bummed that no Columbia games will be on NBC Sports Network this year, (NBCSN). Columbia is actually the ONLY Ivy team not to get a game on NBCSN.

If Eleven Sports does a good job with these games, that's no problem. But as we learned from some of the problems One World Sports had last year, (they lost the feed for the Columbia-Dartmouth game for a long time), new networks covering Ivy games often deal with some bad bugs.

Let's hope it all works out and we get DVR-saved Columbia wins to enjoy during the next long off season.


First Commit


#1 Watson Tansil is our first commit for next year


Our first known commit for the class of 2022 was something we all saw the coaches tweeting about on Friday.

LB Watson Tansil from Franklin Road Academy in Nashville is already being called one of the top returning high school linebackers in the area for this fall. 

While the Lions have been bringing in more players from Tennessee in recent years, Tansil will be the first documented Franklin Road Academy grad to come to Columbia football.

2017 Opponent Preview: Yale


RB Alan Lamar is for real


Overview

Anyone who says they feel confident about their take on how Yale will do this year is probably not being fully truthful. And that’s because this team is a massive walking contradiction.

For most Yalies, the big news is that the Elis finally beat Harvard last year after a nine-year losing streak. By their logic that centers everything around “The Game,” 2016 was a successful year and this year looks bright.

But 2016 was also probably the first year ever that Yale failed to get even one player on the All Ivy 1st Team.

Freshmen stars like RB Alan Lamar and QB Kurt Rawlings have Eli fans excited, but Lamar is really the only one who has truly proven himself as Rawlings was way too inconsistent overall.

The win over Harvard was a combination of solid athleticism and brilliant strategy, but Yale was embarrassed in both those categories in bad losses to Ivy co-champions Princeton and Penn.

Expect more “x factor” players from the incoming freshmen haul to play a role this year, and all the unpredictability that comes with them.

But let’s take a stab at what looks like what we can expect from the Bulldogs this season:

OFFENSE

Lamar is a potential 1,000 yard rusher and seems like a return to Yale’s long tradition of big name tailback-dominated offenses. He’s the bright spot for the entire team.

A slightly less bright spot, but one with the potential to be great, is Rawlings. The rising sophomore can run and pass. But like many QB’s who do both, his completion percentage was weak at just 50% last season.

And the top returning WR is also a rising sophomore in Reid Klubnik, who made some big plays for the Elis last year. Christopher Williams-Lopez looked promising when he was healthy in 2016 and he’s back for his senior year.

The offensive line is a big question. All Ivy Honorable Mention Center Karl Marback returns, as does emergency starter Sterling Strother. But Yale has really four starting OL slots to fill, which is probably the single most important variable for this team overall.


DEFENSE

The Elis gave up a ton of points and yards last year, mostly through the air.

All Ivy Honorable Mention Junior DE Kyle Mullen is the top returnee on the D-line that needs to put more pressure on opposing passers to give the secondary a break. The top LB returning is fellow All Ivy Honorable Mention Matthew Oplinger. But three other Yale All Ivy Honorable Mention players on D have graduated. The top returning DB is senior Foyesade Oluokun, who is trying to get back to the level of play he showed in 2014 when he made 2nd Team All Ivy as a freshman. But fellow senior Jason Alessi could emerge as the true leader of that beleaguered secondary.

Another graduate departure is once great-feared LB Victor Egu, who flipped his commitment to Berkeley to come to Yale four years ago. He was always a good player,but never developed into the force many predicted he’d be.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Alex Galland handled the punting and placekicking duties pretty well in 2016 and he’s back for this fall. Alessi was a sometime explosive punt returner who made the All Ivy 2nd Team as a return specialist.


CONCLUSIONS


The folks writing in Yale as a definite top-four finisher in the Ivies are taking a lot of chances with a team that has a lot of questions left to be answered at virtually every position. And it’s hard to be optimistic about a team that’s doing this much retooling on the offensive line alone. Caveat emptor.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Playoffs? Playoffs? Yes, we had playoffs!



For years, hardcore Ivy football fans have been clamoring for football playoffs.

But did you know we've had them before.

Well, it wasn't a playoff system like most of us envision. But in 1931, Ivy teams participated in a special postseason tournament to benefit Depression era charities.

And what was Columbia's record in those playoffs?

A perfect 1-0.

Here's how it worked. Four Ivy teams were invited during the first week of December 1931 to participate in the Quadrangle Football Tournament at Yankee Stadium. Princeton, Cornell, and Penn were the other invitees. It was a one day tournament with three games, with the winners of the first two games taking each other on in the final championship. Each "game" was two 12 minute periods, and in the event of a tie judges would determine the winner.

I found all of this out by digging deep into the Sports Illustrated archives.  Definitely read the story and be amazed.

But, spoiler alert, the Lions won their "playoff" game against Princeton 13-0.


Monday, July 17, 2017

2017 Opponent Preview: Dartmouth



Hunter Hagdorn snares a pass

Okay, so Dartmouth went from 6-1 and being a co-champion in the Ivies in 2015 to 1-6 and last place in 2016. 

But they also had some high points last year, including finally beating in-state rival UNH in week one. 

Be careful with underestimating these guys for this fall. 

OFFENSE

The first post-Dalyn Williams year for Dartmouth football did not end up being a disaster at the QB position, far from it. Jack Heneghan emerged as a very talented player and is poised for a great senior year. But if he stumbles or is injured, the Big Green may have an ace in the hole with Illinois transfer QB Jimmy Fitzgerald now on the team.

It'll  help whoever takes the QB reins that Dartmouth has a super-talented receiving corps to work with that is also returning for 2017. Leading that crew is rising sophomore Hunter Hagdorn who won the Ivy Rookie of the Year award. Hagdorn had one of this best days in the Big Green’s loss to the Lions, so Columbia fans should remember him. They should also know that Drew Hunnicutt and Emory Thompson, Dartmouth’s #2 and #3 receivers by total receptions and yards, are also back. Starting TE Stephen Johnston is also coming back for his senior season.

The offensive line is more of a concern. 1st Team All Ivy honoree Dave Morrison and two other regular starters are gone to graduation. But Matt Kaskey is coming back after getting an All Ivy Honorable Mention nod last year as is fellow starter John Kilcommons and Phil Berton, who started much of the second half of the season.

Dartmouth didn’t run the ball very well for most of last year, but rising junior Miles Smith had back-to-back 100+ yard performances against Cornell and Brown at the end of the year.  I thought Ryder Stone, who is back this year too, would have a big junior year in 2016, but he only saw limited duty. #2 RB Rashaad Cooper is back. There’s room for improvement in the running game, but what else is new in a league where almost no team has a really potent traditional running attack? The Big Green will do as well in this area as the offensive line takes them.

DEFENSE

The knee jerk reaction many people have about the Big Green is that with the loss of super LB Folarin Orimolade, the defense will be really hurting this season.

Now losing a player who was your top tackler, sacker, fumble creator, and heart of the team is nothing to sneeze at. But look closer, and you’ll see that Dartmouth has a lot to be optimistic about on defense.

Three of the starters on what was a very good secondary last year are coming back for 2017, including Jarius Brown who broke up eight passes in 2016. The other two starting linebackers who played alongside Orimolade, Jake Moen and Eric Meile, are also back.

Arguably the best D-lineman from last year, Nick Tomkins, is still in Hanover too.And Jackson Perry, the 3-star recruit who switched his commitment from Vanderbilt to Dartmouth in 2015, made an impact his freshman year, but went down to injury in week one last year, is back too.  

I still expect the Dartmouth defense to be less effective than it was last year, at least during the first half of the season. But that does not mean it’s going to be poor or even below average.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker David Smith was an accurate placekicker last year, he just didn’t do so well for distance. He’s back this season, but punter Ben Kepley is gone to graduation. Hagdorn handled most of the kickoffs in 2016 and was unspectacular in that role. I can’t imagine the risk of continuing to use him in that position is worth it, so expect some new faces there.

Overall, I think Dartmouth will continue to be a work in progress in 2017 with some occasional greatness.  

Thursday, July 13, 2017

2017 Opponent Preview: Penn


LB Colton Moskal lived up to the hype in 2016


It really says something when you’re a two-time defending Ivy champion and you still have 11 returning All Ivy players.

That’s the reality for the Penn Quakers, who have a bevy of riches in their pockets as they try for a 3-peat. That is, they have riches in their pockets with the exception of the man who works in the pocket… the quarterback.

The very good QB Alek Torgersen is gone to graduation, and that’s obviously the one position where experience counts the most. Making matters worse, heir apparent Michael Collins defected to TCU in the spring, leaving even more questions to be answered at Franklin Field.

Of course, this is still Penn we’re talking about. Unlike the result of Dartmouth’s loss of Dalyn Williams last year, where the Big Green went from “first to worst” without him, the Quakers are not in terrible trouble.

First off, they have transfer QB Nick Robinson from the University of Georgia on the roster and he certainly has the pocket passing tools to make the Quakers formidable again in 2017. Secondly, they still have a talented running and gunning QB in sophomore Tyler Herrick. 

We shouldn't yet assume that Robinson is getting the starting job just because of his big time athletic program pedigree. But I'd still have to say I'd make him the favorite to start.

Here’s a look at the rest of what we can expect from Penn:

OFFENSE

Okay, Penn isn’t returning every great player other than Torgeresen. The offensive line also had some significant graduation losses as 1st Team All Ivy Nick Demes and 2nd Team All Ivy Dan Poulous are gone and fellow starter Nick Whitton has also graduated. Nathan Kirchmeier, an Honorable Mention All Ivy does return. So the 2017 Quakers will be sporting a new QB and mostly new starting O-line at the same time. 

But that’s where the offensive concerns should end. 1st Team All Ivy RB Tre Solomon and  1st Team All Ivy WR Justin Watson return, as does 2nd Team All Ivy WR Christian Pearson. That’s an embarrassment of riches for that new QB, whoever he is, to work with.

DEFENSE

The Quakers have no fewer than five All Ivy returnees on defense, led by monster DE Louis Vecchio and ball hawking DB Mason Williams.  But fellow 1st Team All Ivy DB Mason Williams has surprisingly decided to leave Penn this summer. It's not yet clear where he's headed.

Of course the cupboard is far from bare at Franklin Field.

Three returning linebackers made 2nd Team or Honorable Mention All Ivy, led by Syracuse transfer Colton Moskal. Another 2nd Team All Ivy returnee is Sam Phillippi. All of the aforementioned players also happen to have made an impact in the Penn win over Columbia last season at Franklin Field.

All three starters on the D-line are back, and 3/4 of the starting LB’s and 3/4 of the starting DB’s are back too.

It’s no leap of faith to expect the Quakers to have the best defense in the Ivies this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Honorable Mention All Ivy Hunter Kelly is back after posting an impressive 42.7 yards per punt average last year. And kickoff specialist Jack Soslow is back too.

But placekicking was basically non-existent for Penn last year as the Quakers only attempted five FG’s, making just one. The now-graduated Jimmy Gammil was an impressive 38-for-38 on PAT’s.

So it looks like it’s up to sophomore Drew Brennan or freshman David Perkins to do the job, unless Soslow is ready to shoulder more duties. Soslow did attempt one FG last season, missing from just 23 yards out.


Overall

A lot of Ivy watchers are taking it almost for granted that Penn will win at least a share of the title again this season. I’m not one of them. I certainly expect Penn to be in the top 3 finishers and wouldn’t be at all surprised if they do pull off a championship. But with a new QB and O-line to break in at the same time, it’s hard to be so sure they’ve got the inside track. But the Quakers do have time to get it right. They don’t have an Ivy contest until week 3 against Dartmouth and will have until week 5 when they face their second league opponent in Columbia. That’s enough time to get their QB/O-line ship on course. And the fact that neither the Big Green nor the Lions are expected to finish in the top 3 in the Ivies this fall is another break for Penn. Oh, and week six opponent Yale is no lock for a winning season either.

Penn might start a bit slow, but get exponentially better by week three. This is a team that could win the title outright, but also fall back as far as third. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Home Run Derby



In honor of tonight's Major League Baseball Home Run Derby, I want to take a time out from the opponent previews to point out something that has to be a top goal for Columbia Football this fall: The home run ball. Or as we call it in this sport: big plays.

In game after game last season, losses and wins, the otherwise very solid Columbia defense gave up huge plays that were often more about dumb luck than blown coverages. But whatever the cause, the Lions need to make these spectacular plays more of a rarity in 2017 if they want to climb the ladder in the standings.

Here's a look at the key home run-type plays that plagued Columbia last season.


-In the week one 13-9 loss to St. Francis, a 72-yard TD pass early in the 4th quarter made the difference in the game. St. Francis QB Zach Drayer threw the ball in the middle of the field to WR Kamron Lewis, who had Columbia CB Cameron Roane all over him in excellent coverage. Luckily for the Red Flash, Drayer's pass was a little overthrown and off to the left. That allowed Lewis to tip the ball to himself and then he broke Roane's tackle to take it in for the score. It was a fluky play, pure and simple.

-A week later at Georgetown, the Hoyas took an early 7-0 lead on a 44 yard home run ball TD pass to WR Michael Dereus. Want to know how rare that was? Dereus only gained 34 more total receiving yards all season long and did not score another TD.

-Even though Columbia beat Wagner in week four, the Seahawks hit two home run balls that almost sank the Lions. The first was a little screen pass to RB Matt McKinnon that turned into a 47 yard TD and gave Wagner a 10-3 2nd quarter lead. The second was a 25 yard completion on 4th and 10 during Wagner's final possession that kept Seahawk hope alive.

-In week five at Penn, the Lions were playing eventual Ivy co-champion Penn extremely tough and trailing just 7-0 in the 3rd quarter when WR Justin Watson took a little sideline pass and sneaked all the into the end zone for a 46 yard TD as it appeared the Columbia defense thought he went out of bounds. It was a huge and odd play.

-In the Homecoming win over Dartmouth a week later, the Lions gave up two killer home run plays to the same player. With 5:14 left in the 2nd quarter, QB Jack Heneghan found WR Hunter Hagdorn for a 65 yard TD. Hagdorn had a half step on Columbia CB Jared Katz, but the pass was just perfectly placed so that Hagdorn never had to break stride. Then with the Lions leading 9-7 and less than two minutes left in the game, Heneghan found Hagdorn open again on 4th and 10 from the Dartmouth one when Hagdorn somehow got open in the middle of the field.

-The follow week against Yale, the big home run ball was actually given up by the offense. In a scoreless game Columbia had been statistically dominating up to that point, CU RB Alan Watson fumbled the ball and it was returned for a 61 yard TD by Yale's John Herubin.

-Late in the 2nd quarter in week eight against Cornell, the Lions had a disastrous streak of bad luck. First, the refs incorrectly ruled that Watson fumbled the ball out of the end zone on a play that would have made it 21-7, Columbia. Predictably, just three plays later Cornell QB Dalton Banks found WR Ben Rogers streaking down the east sideline for a 47-yard game-tying score.

There were more huge plays of course, but the ones listed above were the real killers, even though four of them took place in Columbia wins. In many ways, they were each like Hail Mary plays that are so low percentage no team should be allowing more than three or four of them per season.

It should be noted that in the season finale against Brown, the Lions made that their best game of the year in no small part because they did not allow any Bear home run balls. An early blocked punt that set Brown up at the CU 2 yard line resulted only in Bear field goal. And when Brown brought in scrambling QB Nick Duncan to confound the Columbia pass rush and pass defense, he made some great plays but did not burn CU for any big 25-plus yard gainers. It was a great display of containment and making sure small mistakes didn't become big mistakes, etc.

In 2017, the Lions need to get their heads more into the game at crucial moments. Otherwise, three or four wins will be the most they can hope for.

Friday, July 7, 2017

2017 Opponent Preview: Marist


Mike White


Columbia will travel to Marist College’s tiny 5,000 seat Tenney Stadium in week four to reciprocate two games in recent years, (a 31-7 win in 2007, and a 10-9 squeaker in 2012), where the Lions hosted the Red Foxes at Wien Stadium.

I’m selfishly happy about this arrangement because Marist is very close to the lovely town of Rhinebeck, NY and its bevvy of incredible restaurants run by graduates of the nearby Culinary Institute of America.

But getting back to the game, Marist is another opponent that’s a little harder to measure than most. The Red Foxes had a mixed year in 2016, going 5-6 overall, but failing to win any games against its non-conference opponents. That included a 20-17 loss to Georgetown at home.

Here’s what we need to expect from Marist this season:

OFFENSE

Coming back this season is the somewhat erratic but still potentially dangerous starting QB Mike White. He had some good numbers in 2016 with a 21 TD pass-to-11 interceptions ratio and an average of 266 yards passing per game. But he only logged a 48% completion rate and he took more than an average of three sacks per game.

Also back is Marcellus Calhoun, a very experienced RB who led the team in rushing with 604 yards and six TD’s, but only averaged 3.6 yards per carry.

Top 2016 WR Juston Christian returns after an impressive sophomore year where he hauled in 48 passes for 1,018 yards and eight TD’s.

The offensive line returns a decent three starters, but again this is a unit that could not run block all that well and gave up more than three sacks per game.

DEFENSE

The good news for the Red Foxes is the defense returns seven of 11 starters from 2016, including  top tackler and demon ball hawk safety Wesley Beans, excellent linebacker Willie Barrett and rising sophomore sensation DE Peter Delatour.

The bad news is Marist’s defense was a weak link last year, playing very poorly against the run. The Red Foxes gave up an average of 207 yards rushing per game, 4.6 yards per attempt, and 24 rushing TD’s in 11 games.

The pass defense was better, but since running was so easy to do against Marist it’s hard to judge those passing stats the same way. The Red Foxes did do a very good job at picking off the ball, however, with 18 as a team for 2016. Another safety, Jordyn Jean-Felix has good size and talent to round out the Red Fox secondary.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Top punter/kicker Mike Maccarone has graduated while Marist’s two top kick returners are coming back.

The Red Foxes have some weapons, but on paper they look like the weakest opponent Columbia will face in 2017. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

2017 Opponent Preview: Princeton


John Lovett


Columbia fans weren’t fooled by the official tie for the Ivy League Football championship last season between Princeton and Penn. Based on the Lions’ experience of getting badly blown out at home vs. the Tigers as opposed to playing the Quakers pretty tough in Philly, there was no doubt that Princeton was the better team.

Oh and throw in the fact that Princeton totally obliterated Penn in their head-to-head matchup by 28-0 last year, and the point really gets hammered home.

So is the week 3 Ivy League opener at Princeton a lost cause for Columbia?

Not so fast, my friends.

OFFENSE

The fabulous offense is bringing back its top weapons going to be without the tandem of Chad Kanoff and John Lovett for at least some portion of the season. Kanoff is the traditional QB while Lovett splits his time at QB, RB, and WR. But Lovett, the 2016 Bushnell Cup winner as the Ivy League's Offensive Player of the Year, is going to be out for some portion of the season because of a problem in recovering from off season surgery. He may a lot or all of the season, actually. 

But top rusher Charlie Volker is back and so is 4/5 of the starting O-line, including the three O-linemen who made either the 1st, 2nd or Honorable Mention All Ivy rosters. The best of those linemen is Mitch Sweigart who was a machine against the Lions last year.

Excellent TE Scott Carpenter has graduated along with the rest of the leading pure WR’s from last season, but this offense looks like it will be the best in the Ivies in 2017 anyway. 

DEFENSE

The problem, or the opportunity for Columbia this fall, is that the Tigers are really getting gutted on defense by graduation. The only starter coming back is the excellent DL Kurt Holuba, who was shut down against Columbia by the now-graduated Kendall Pace last year. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many graduation losses on either side of the ball for a single Ivy team, let alone a championship team. Dartmouth suffered massive losses from its 2015 co-championship team to last season, but those losses were more spread out over the offense and defense. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Princeton’s excellent Punter Tyler Roth has graduated, but decent placekicker Tavish Rice returns for his sophomore season. Princeton was not an especially good return team last year, so I expect some new names to be in the mix fielding punts and kickoffs.

BOTTOM LINES
Under Head Coach Bob Surace, Princeton has been inconsistent from one year to the next. And by that pattern, you'd have to expect a significant drop off this season. 

But Kanoff and Lovett will assure that Princeton contends for the title again this fall. They're just that good. Still, the Lions should have a chance to beat them if they bring their “A” game to Powers Field. That’s opposed to last year when even if they brought their “AAA” game to the Princeton contest, they still wouldn’t have had a chance.