NEW HAVEN, Conn.—An undefeated 2003 campaign may have bought Penn a spot atop the Ivy League pre-season media poll, but labeling the Quakers—or any of the other Ancient Eight squads, for that matter—“odds-on favorites” won’t be happening any time soon.
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.
“Dylan McCrory, Matt Thomas—neither of these guys is Isaiah or Dante,” Murphy said.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Players whistled for infractions on the field won’t be able to slink back to the huddle or the sidelines alone with their guilt any longer.
Beginning this fall, referees will announce not only the penalty, but also the number of the offender for the first time, new Ivy League Football Coordinator of Football Officials Jim Maconaghy announced Monday.
The decision was in part the product of concerns raised by coaches that flags assigned to anonymous rules violators prevented officials from being held accountable on questionable calls.
Among other changes to the rules, defenders attempting to block extra points will no longer be allowed to run headlong towards the line of scrimmage before leaping and landing on an opposing blocker without first bumping into a member of their own team. Maconaghy equated the 15-yard penalty to roughing the passer, arguing that an unsuspecting and unprotected player should never be left exposed to such force and vulnerable to unnecessary injury.
Offenses will also be limited in their ability to rush to the line of scrimmage from either the huddle or the sidelines. If an official suspects that a team is unfairly attempting to gain advantage over the defense, he will stand over the ball until both sides complete their substitutions.
FOURTH AND TWO
The Ivy League and the YES network have joined forces for the third straight season, as YES will broadcast six Ivy games this fall including two Harvard contests. The package will begin on Sept. 25 as the Crimson travel to Providence to take on Brown. YES will also broadcast Harvard’s game against Columbia in Cambridge on Nov. 6. Last season, the Lions upset the then-No. 23 Crimson 16-13, essentially ending Harvard’s hopes for an Ivy title.
The Crimson will also appear three times on CN8 this season. The regional Comcast network has picked up Harvard’s season opener against Holy Cross on Sept. 18, the Crimson’s matchup against non-conference rival Northeastern on Oct. 16, and its trip to Philadelphia to take on two-time defending Ivy champion Penn on Nov. 13.
Harvard will appear on television two more times this fall; its contest against Lafayette will be shown on the Empire Sports Network and “The Game” can be seen locally on the WB network....The Yale Bowl will be getting a face-lift, as renovations began over the summer.
“The restoration of the Bowl will be done in a two stage process,” Yale coach Jack Siedlecki said. “At the end of this season, you’ll see the changes. They’re working on the outside first, then the inside.”
According to Siedlecki, the Bowl will look the same after construction and will maintain its current capacity of around 64,000. The Bulldogs hope that the revamped stadium will draw more fans out to the games.
“We led the nation in attendance last year,” Siedlecki said. “And we expect to continue to do that.”
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at email@example.com.
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