Habitual readers of Around the Ivies will notice some of the same team names, not familiar as rival Ivy institutions, recurring in this space week after week and year after year. Most of them are members of the Patriot League, probably the conference most similar to the Ivy League, in terms of philosophy and geography, in collegiate athletics. Although just over two decades old as an organized conference, the Patriot is full of history: Lehigh-Lafayette is the oldest (yes, even more ancient than Harvard-Yale) and most-played series in college pigskin. Army and Navy, which belong to the Patriot League in other sports but play football as independents, have also been playing since before the forward pass was legalized.
The Patriot League constituents also pride themselves on their commitment to academics. Athletic scholarships, not offered by the Ivy League, are a recent innovation in Patriot sports—in fact, journalist John Feinstein wrote a book several years ago about its basketball conference titled *The Last Amateurs*. However, unlike the Ancient Eight, the Patriot League does participate in the Division I-AA football playoffs, sending its regular-season champ into the bracket as an automatic qualifier, and, in up years, a second squad with an at-large bid. In this way, the annual set of Ivy-Patriot clashes are the best means available of comparing the league’s teams to the rest of the I-AA field.
Last year, the Ivy League dominated the head-to-head encounters, posting a combined 13-4 record—two of those losses were by doormat Dartmouth—and a 7-1 mark vs. the Patriot League at home. This season, it’s already a different story. Through two weeks, Ivy squads are 3-5 against their non-conference nemeses, and 1-3 at home.
There are three Patriot games (starring Harrison Ford) on the Ivy schedule tomorrow and seven more, including Lafayette’s visit to Harvard Stadium and a Yale-Lehigh showdown, still to come.
HARVARD (1-1, 1-0 Ivy) AT LEHIGH (2-1)
The Crimson ventures to Bethlehem, Penn., tomorrow for the second straight year. In 2006, it took a gutsy effort from Chris Pizzotti and the back pages of Tim Murphy’s playbook to pull off a come-from-behind win.
In many ways, this matchup should set up similarly to the Holy Cross game two weeks ago. Lehigh is less explosive offensively, but should play slightly stiffer 'D.' The Mountain Hawks rely on savvy veteran quarterback Sedale Threatt to engineer the offense. Threatt is running less than in years past, and has completed only 54 percent of his passes this season, but still ranks second in the conference (behind Crusaders QB Dominic Randolph) in total offense. And he’s a gamer. The Hawks are not a quality running team, so the onus will once again fall on the Harvard secondary and pass rush. The unit picked up key momentum by performing beautifully in the second half of the Brown game (62 yards allowed in 30 minutes).
Let’s take a second to credit the Crimson coaching staff for its handling of Liam O’Hagan last Saturday. The game was within a score when the league’s most efficient passer and leader in total offense took a bone-crunching hit early in the third quarter. With harrowing new research being done on the long-term neurological consequences of concussions, head coach Tim Murphy and the team doctors went the safe route and held O’Hagan out for the rest of the night, trusting the game-tested Pizzotti to seal the primetime victory. O’Hagan will be back in action tomorrow, maybe with his chin strap tightened another notch, and will lead Harvard to another narrow win.
Prediction: Harvard 23, Lehigh 20
PRINCETON (1-1) VS. COLUMBIA (1-1)
Nothing fancy in Jersey tomorrow: this game will be three yards and a cloud of dust, dustier team wins (more dusty? dustiest?).
Princeton was ransacked by Lehigh in Week 1, but recovered with a win over then-ranked Lafayette on the road last week. Credit Tigers skipper Roger Hughes with the quick recovery—his team hasn’t lost back-to-back gamessince October 2005.
In what has become a hallmark of the Norries Wilson Era at Columbia, the Lions have been strong defensively, ranking second in the Ivies in scoring defense and total defense. But they’ve been susceptible against the run, including a 323-yard output by Fordham in their season opener. Their own tailback, Jordan Davis, is in the midst of a breakout season as a junior.
Princeton has the best statistical punter in the league, and in a game of field position, that makes a difference. A late field goal wins it.
Prediction: Princeton 19, Columbia 16
DARTMOUTH (0-2) VS. PENN (0-2)
Embattled quarterback Josh Cohen, the Big Green’s primary signal-caller in 2005, made his return to action last week in the late stages of a lopsided loss to New Hampshire, completing 2-of-5 passes for six yards and throwing an interception. That wasn’t even the worst line for an Ivy quarterback on the day: Penn’s Robert Irvin threw five passes—to the other team. The Quakers offense is being exposed for its dependence on hobbled tailback Joe Sandberg. Without him, they’ve managed only 21 points in two games. Dartmouth, for all of its foibles, has been able to move the chains and could swing an upset in Hanover.
Prediction: Dartmouth 21, Penn 17
NO. 22 YALE (2-0, 1-0) AT HOLY CROSS (2-1)
After winning five of the first six Patriot League titles in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Holy Cross seems on the verge of reasserting itself as a top division team. Gunslinger Dominic Randolph has the ‘Saders putting up points in bunches. They followed a 31-point effort against Harvard with 55 big ones versus hapless Georgetown.
Is Yale an excellent fundamental team or has it just played lackluster opponents? The Bulldogs have zero turnovers through two games, they’re playing superbly on both sides of the ball in the red zone, and their special teams have been outstanding. Yale, according to at least one disreputable website, is a 2.5-point underdog in this game, so the bookies may think the latter.
Prediction: Holy Cross 30, Yale 24
BROWN (1-1, 0-1) VS. RHODE ISLAND (0-4)
Being the best college football team in the Ocean State is damning the winner of this game with faint praise.
Prediction: Brown 25, Rhode Island 14
CORNELL (1-1, 0-1) AT GEORGETOWN (0-4)
In Week 1, the Big Red beat Bucknell, 38-14. Last week, it lost to Yale, 51-12. Afterwards, Cornell coach Jim Knowles said, “Yale is a far superior team to Bucknell, obviously.” Wow. Fortunately, Bucknell is a far superior team to Georgetown.
Prediction: Cornell 31, Georgetown 10
Record to Date: 11-3
—Staff writer Jonathan Lehman can be reached at email@example.com.