AROUND THE IVIES: Getting Excited For The Game

Harvard head coach Tim Murphy and Yale skipper Jack Siedlecki are surely exhorting their teams to take it one game at a time, that the biggest game of the season is the next one, that you can’t look past any opponent, and on any given Saturday, yada yada yada, etc., etc., etc.

Sorry. It’s time to start getting excited about the stakes of The Game, scheduled for two weeks from tomorrow in the Yale Bowl. Both Harvard and Yale enter this weekend with 4-0 records in the Ivy League. There is a chance that either team could drop one of its next two winnable games—the Crimson plays at Columbia and home against Penn, while the Bulldogs host Brown and travel to Princeton—but only a tiny one that either will lose both. That means the league title will be on the line in New Haven. It could be a meeting of 6-0 archrivals for the first time in over 30 years.

What looked like an utter mismatch after September (something along the lines of last year’s 34-13 drubbing by Yale) is shaping up to be a classic like 2005’s triple-overtime thriller. Harvard has won four straight in convincing fashion, the defense is dominating, and veteran Chris Pizzotti has looked sharp in replacing the injured Liam O’Hagan at quarterback. The Bulldogs’ record remains unblemished, but they have shown clear signs of weakness in their last two outings and stud tailback Mike McLeod has returned to planet Earth, i.e. closer to 150 yards per game than 250.

The rest of the conference is doing its part to leave the two traditional nemeses alone in the spotlight. If this week’s picks are correct, Sunday will find, count 'em, five teams tied for third place with identical 2-3 league marks.

If tomorrow’s doesn’t seem like the most captivating football lineup, you’re right. There’s a lot more on the menu: men’s and women’s hockey open their seasons tonight, men’s and women’s soccer are trying to keep their title hopes alive at Columbia, and field hockey can earn a share of the Ancient Eight crown with a win in the Big Apple (and a Princeton loss) this evening.

But Nov. 17 is seeming more and more likely to offer the most captivating matchup of all: Harvard and Yale, with the Ivy championship hanging in the balance.

HARVARD (5-2, 4-0 Ivy) AT COLUMBIA (1-6, 0-4)

Norries Wilson is a good football coach. After last season’s surprise 5-5 finish, the Lions are experiencing a sophomore slump in Wilson’s second year as big man on campus in Morningside Heights. But they are well-prepared and don’t back down from challenges, as evidenced by last weekend’s first-half shutout of powerhouse Yale.

Still, this is too favorable of a matchup for the Crimson. Columbia relies on its passing game, specifically the combination of senior signal-caller Craig Hormann and speedy sophomore wideout Austin Knowlin, and Harvard has a truly elite secondary. The Lions are woeful against the run, allowing 267 yards per game, which promises Murphy his full array of offensive options.

Prediction: Harvard 35, Columbia 17

NO. 15 YALE (7-0, 4-0) VS. BROWN (3-4, 2-2)

It’s very rare to see a team win and still drop in the polls, but voters are responding a string of two straight relatively uninspiring victories from the Bulldogs. First, they needed three overtimes to dispel a two-win Penn team and last weekend they were blanked for 33 minutes by last-place Columbia.

Can the Bears, who turned in an impressive victory over Penn last time out, shock Yale by beating it through the air? Brown passer Michael Dougherty is leading Division I-AA is yards per game, but he’s facing one of the better defensive outfits in the league.

Take the points, but no upset at the Bowl...yet.

Prediction: Yale 34, Brown 31

PENN (2-5, 1-3) VS. PRINCETON (3-4, 2-2)

The Quakers have not had three straight non-winning seasons since Al Bagnoli took over as coach in 1992. But .500 is the best they can do this season after 5-5 efforts in '05 and '06. Penn has endured considerable bad luck (four overtime losses in its last 12 games, including a double-OT defeat at Princeton last season) and heartache in that span. Here’s wishing the team a win in front of the Philly faithful.

Prediction: Penn 27, Princeton 20

DARTMOUTH (2-5, 2-2) VS. CORNELL (4-3, 1-3)

Cornell’s Nathan Ford completed his first 14 passes last week against the porous Princeton secondary. Two Dartmouth quarterbacks did not combine for that many completions in four quarters against Harvard. Put the Big Red down for its first road victory since 2005.

Prediction: Cornell 30, Dartmouth 21

Record to Date: 34-7

—Staff writer Jonathan Lehman can be reached at jlehman@fas.harvard.edu.

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