Last year, Harvard and Yale played in the biggest game of the year. Appropriately, that game--The Game--fell on the final week of the season.
This year's big game could come this Saturday in Princeton, N.J. when the home team faces the undefeated University of Pennsylvania.
Oddsmakers have made Princeton (3-1 Ivy League) a two-point favorite over the Quakers (4-0 Ivy, 6-0 overall). Penn has won or shared five of the last six Ivy championships. So why should the Quakers, in great position to run that streak to six of the last seven, be the underdogs?
Penn has not won its games by convincing scores. Last Saturday, the Quakers barely squeaked past Yale, 10-3. Penn also has not faced the league's top teams. The Quakers' victories have come against Brown (0-3-1 Ivy), Columbia (1-3), Dartmouth (1-2) and Yale (1-1-1). And Princeton, despite losing to Columbia four weeks ago, is a good, perhaps a great, team.
The Tigers, picked by many preseason prognosticators to finish first in the Ivies, have one of the best quarterbacks and one of the best running backs in the league. QB Jason Garrett has completed over 60 percent of his passes and has not thrown an interception this year. RB Judd Garrett averages over 100 yards rushing per game.
The Garretts are to Princeton what quarterback Tom Yohe and running back Tony Hinz were to Harvard last year.
Penn's defense, which has allowed just three points in its last two Ivy games (against Brown and Yale), will face its toughest challenge of the year.
Cornell (3-1 Ivy) is also in good position to capture at least a share of the Ivy crown. Cornell plays Colonial League leader Lafayette--the seventh-ranked team in Division I-AA--this week. Next week the Big Red faces Yale and the following week, Columbia.
Cornell concludes its season against Penn on November 19. That game, too, could prove important, particularly if Penn remains undefeated.
Brown Down:Saturday, the Crimson (1-3 Ivy, 1-5 overall) will face Brown (0-3-1 Ivy, 0-5-1) in what should have been a stop on the road to a repeat Ivy championship. Instead, this game is shaping up as a test of just how far the Crimson has sunk. Will Harvard snap out of its doldrums long enough to bring down Brown?
Harvard has lost five straight games, something no Crimson team has done since 1979, when Harvard lost six in a row. (That year, Harvard opened with a victory over Columbia--sound familiar?--and proceded to fall to the University of Massachusetts, Boston University, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton and Brown.) The '79 Crimson rallied to win its final two games over Penn and Yale.
What is disturbing about this year is that the Crimson wasn't supposed to be this bad. In 1986, when Harvard lost three straight times (all by shutout), beat Dartmouth and then dropped four in a row, few people were surprised. Harvard was a young team. Tom Yohe was a young quarterback.
This year, Yohe and the Crimson are veterans. Veterans are not supposed to lose five in a row.
Personal File: Despite the difficult season, Harvard players are putting up some nice numbers. Hinz needs 327 yards to move into fifth place on Harvard's all-time career rushing list. He needs 11 points to move into 10th place on the Crimson's all-time scoring list.
Yohe's 1578 yards passing this year puts him in second place behind himself on the season passing list. Last year, he threw for 2134 yards.
Three players--Don Gajewski, Hinz and Neil Phillips--have more than 20 catches this season. The last time the Crimson fielded three players who caught more than 20 passes was in 1980, when Harvard went 7-3.
Yohe remains in striking distance of a record he would prefer not to own--most interceptions in a season. The record, set by Brian Buckley in 1980, is 14. Yohe has thrown nine this season.
Yohe is also in danger of becoming the Crimson's career leader in interceptions. He has 21. The record is 22, set by Eric Crone, who graduated in 1972.
The Fall Classic: "The good thing about it is that it keeps us in the pennant race."--Princeton Coach Steve Tosches after his team beat Harvard, 23-8, Saturday.
What about the BoSox?