There's the best--as the saying goes-- then there's all the rest. And this year, the best are going to be singing that same old song. You've probably heard it. It starts like this:
"Bulldog, Bulldog, how wow wow..." and ends like this:
A strong nucleus of players at the so-called skill positions should make the Bulldogs a cinch to repeat as Ivy League grid champion, not withstanding a possibly potent challenge from Joe Restic's Crimson.
"There's no question in my mind that the class of the League is Yale," Pennsylvania head coach Jerry Berndt said last week. Berndt--hypothesizing on the principle that things look clearer from the bottom--named Harvard. Princeton and Dartmouth as the squad's most likely to dethrone the defending champion Eli.
In fact, with the exception of Yale's own Carmen Cozza, every head coach in the league picked the Bulldogs to grab the third consecutive title, and fifth in the last six during a recent Ivy League telephone press conference.
"I honestly feel the race will go down to the wire," Cozza said. "Several teams have a shot at the title, Harvard, Cornell and Brown will be in the thick of it. I don't know if you can count anybody out. Any team can beat any other team in the League on any given day."
Stop blushing, Carm. no need to be modest. Everybody knows you've got all your big defensive guns back, primed and ready to go. Also back is tailback Rich Diana, only the third Yale runner ever to gain more than 1000 yards in a season. Just as importantly, senior quarterback John Rogan and a crop of talented receivers are back, promising to make Cozza's multiple-I formation a potent threat. Rogan will be looking for favorite receiver Curtis Grieve; that combination, as Harvard fans will painfully remember, buried the Crimson last November. All these potential offensive fireworks depend on Cozza's success in rebuilding his offensive line, decimated by graduation. That, he cautions, takes time, especially since the task includes replacing a pair of All-Ivy tackle selections, with players who didn't start but did see a lot of action anyway last year.
Cozza's squads all display smothering defensive prowess, and five starters are coming back from the 1980 defensive unit which gave up just 12 points per game. Two of those five copped All-League honors, although Cozza will have to find a replacement for All-Ivy defensive captains, middleguard Kevin Czinger. With two part-time linebacking regulars--Jeff Rohrer and Jay Sneider-- returning in good form, the linebacking cores should be more than adequate.
Cozza points to the defensive seconders as one possible area of concern where "Pat Conrad is the only good, experienced man returning." Overall, the weaknesses seem to be few and far between, although as Cozza points out, "We're one-deep, like most teams in the league." An injury to Diana or Rogan could prove difficult to adjust to, as could a failure of the inexperienced offensive line and defensive secondary. Besides Harvard, which the Crimson Sports Cube picks to finish a relatively close second for the year, the Ivy elite for 1981 should include--in no certain order-- Princeton, Dartmouth and Brown.
The Tigers should be solid on offense-- particularly on the line--where a bunch of adequate interior linemen are back to protect quarterback bob Holly. Holly will be trying to fill the shoes left by Mark Lockenmeyer, the guy who replaced him four games into the 1980 campaign. Through three games Holly had completed more than 60 per cent of his passes, but couldn't seem to get the ball either across the goalline or even through the uprights. This year, having received his job back, he will have to make the offense more potent if he hopes to keep it.
Helping him out are a pair of solid--if not flashy--running backs. Larry Van Pelt and Mike Neary both bowled their way for over 500 yards last season, and Van Pelt garnered an honorable mention All-Ivy selection.
Holly can throw, as he showed last season, but one person he won't be throwing to is former All-Ivy split end Cris Crissy. To replace Crissy, a Harvard nemesis, Princeton coach Frank Navarro will deploy Scott Oosdyk--the leading returning receiver with nine catches-- to the tight-end spot, while Dave Ginda is slated to start at a split end position.
Navarro will have his hands full preparing his defense for Ivy League play. The unit lost eight of last year's starters to graduation; all that's left is a pair of linebackers--Ed Nardi and Doug Kaye--and Jono Helmerich, an honorable mention All-Ivy defensive tackle. Four newcomers will man a highly vulnerable backfield, with junior Dave Rudd at safety, and seniors Tim Yaggi and Stan Freck at the Corners, and Chris Fickett at the other defensive spot.
Dartmouth coach Joe Yukica--in his second year with the Big Green after several campaigns with Boston College--can stay confident about a defensive unit with eight starters returning, but he admits that the offense--after losing eight regulars--"has to mature fast. We don't want to wait too long. We have to get moving and score some points."
If he's looking for early momentum, he won't be able to look to any regulars at the still positions. But the Dartmouth establishment seems sold on the replacements for the graduated passing combinations of Jeff Kemp and Dave Shula. Rick Stafford--who looked very impressive in last season's finale against Princeton--will get the nod 'at QB. He'll be gunning the ball to Shawn Teevens, a starting wide receiver last year and to any combination of John Idzik, Ray Murphy and John Okeniczik. As directed by Yukica's multiple I to a trio of backs--Shawn Maher, Dennis Ruck, and Rich Lena look to be starters with Peter Lavery at backup.
Should the offense gel, the Big Green could develop into a legitimate contender in this year's race; with eight starters and 10 of 11 back-ups returning, defense looks imposing, especially in the secondary.
Brown head coach John Anderson blinked once, and his entire offense disappeared. In fact, both the offensive and defensive units were hit hard by graduation, with the offense returning three starters and the defense just four. Although the backfield of Quarterback Larry Carbone and company is gone, the replacement could put as many points on the board. Junior Dave Flanders, who saw some action last fall and played a full game against URI, will step into the quarterbacking role. He will throw to tight end Steve Jordan, who snared 26 passes for almost 500 yards last year--and split end Mike Campbell--who grabbed 29 tosses, three for touchdowns.
The defensive is at least as suspect with almost each position an unknown quantity. Still, Anderson--coached squads have a reputation for aggressive and skilled defense, and the coaches are counting on sophomores off a 5-1 freshman squad to fill many of the holes on both sides of the ball.
Cornell coach Bob Blackman is another Ivy replace 20 of his 22 starters. For this reason alone, Cornell cannot be considered anything more than a dark horse to finish in the top half of the League. "In 35 years of coaching I've never had so few returning starters. We lost 20 starters and 35 seniors. In many positions we lost our two top players," Blackman said last week. The Big Red has, in addition, lost several key players to pre-season injuries including three of the top four quarterback candidates. "As for quarterbacks, I very honestly have no idea at this time," Blackman said. Prime contenders would have to be Chris Metz, Doug Fusco and Andy Schraer, but Blackman isn't saying who he's leaning towards.
Penn and Columbia have been bad for so long that nobody even takes them seriously; instead, observers group them together when they talk about the Ivy basement, laughing derisively at the Quakers and Lions. Well, you won't get any promises here, but this may be the year for one or both of those squads to climb out of the bottom two.
Penn head coach Berndt--in his first year with the Quakers--has instituted an entirely new offensive and defensive system which he hopes will revitalize last year's 1-9 squad. Berndt last week cited a new commitment from the Penn administration, including the President, and "an air of excitement and enthusiasm" as evidence of an eventual resurgence of Penn grid fortunes.
"We feel the strength of the team will be on defense and with the running backs" Berndt said, while noting that the offensive line must be completely rebuilt. Columbia--which also finished 1980 at 1-9--has a few simple goals for the upcoming season under second-year mentor Bob Naso. "We aim to be an improved football team," Naso said. "Some people around here felt Columbia at times played well even though we lost, I can't be satisfied with that. I was very disappointed with the way we played last year."
Columbia certainly should have the horses to improve on last year's record. Most of the offense returned with junior Peter Rappa and sophomore John Witkowski penciled into the quarterback slot. Equally impressive, the two may split the duties all season.
Second-team all-Ivy tailback Joe Cabrera leads the backs, while soph Jim McHale--"bona fide 4.5 40," says Naso--will provide quick yardage from the same position. Fullbacks Jim Pritchard and James Powell fill out the backfield.
Even with the tough odds Naso remains confident, even keeps his sense of humor. "I just hope we can make it exciting for people," he said wistfully. "Actually I don't care who we upset so much as long as we win a few."
Keep on slugging, Bob