The ranking, released Monday at the conference’s annual media day, held at Yale Golf Course, handed two-time defending champions Penn the inside track to repeat with 114 points, aided by six first-place votes. But the Quakers, hard hit by key graduations in the past off-season—certainly weren’t afforded the luxury of anything resembling the three-game cushion with which they finished last season.
Harvard rated second with 107 points and four first-place votes, while Yale projected not far behind at 105 points—and six first-place votes.
Though none of the other five schools cracked 80—and bottom dweller Cornell lagged far behind the second-tier foursome—all eight coaches touched on the league’s emerging parity during their brief appearances on the hot seat.
“In my 11 years in the league, I have never seen the league stronger,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “It’s the most competitive from top to bottom that I have ever seen. We’ve got a lot of teams that can play with any of the other I-AA leagues.”
“You could just take that order [of finish from last season] and reverse it,” Brown coach Phil Estes added.
Concrete signs of the reemergence of the Ivy League’s weaker teams first appeared last season—often against the Crimson.
Though Harvard was weakened by the absence of star quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Princeton forced the Crimson to overtime in Cambridge before falling, 43-40.
Dartmouth handed Harvard a stunning upset in a televised contest at Soldier’s Field, before Columbia served up a second-straight defeat the following week. As select replays from the two contests were screened for the coaches on Monday, Murphy could only shake his head in dismay, particularly at Big Green receiver Andrew Hall’s miraculous reception to seal the first loss.
Though Murphy seemed unsure as to precisely how he would fill the void left by the graduation of four-year starter and former captain Dante Balestracci ’04, he did offer a glimpse into the battle he expects to take shape as the season draws near.
According to Murphy, sophomore Dylan McCrory and junior Matt Thomas will compete for Balestracci’s role as middle linebacker, all but guaranteeing that senior Bobby Everett will remain as strong-side linebacker, where he enjoyed a breakout campaign last year.
Murphy had hoped to ease Thomas into the defensive unit alongside Balestracci last season, as he had Balestracci with current Seattle Seahawks standout and former Crimson linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski ’00.
But Thomas suffered a broken foot his freshman season—an injury which he did not fully recover from prior to last season, preventing Murphy from realizing his intended plan.
McCrory was similarly sidelined his freshman year by a broken hand.
Regardless of which candidate earns the starting role, Murphy cautioned not to expect the same level of play that has become standard fare for Harvard’s middle linebackers.