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The first preseason polls are in, and it appears that Ivy League football is on its way out.
Two publications—Street and Smith and Athlon—recently released their pre-summer top 25s, and surprisingly just no Ivy clubs cracked Athlon’s rankings, while just one—Yale at No. 22—made Street and Smith’s poll.
I could only think of two explanations for the lack of Ivy representation in these polls. Either these two publications know something I don’t, or they’re displaying a rather high level of incompetence.
Let’s go with the incompetence theory.
Last season, the Ivy League had one team (Penn) ranked as high as eighth. Before an injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick, Harvard had inched into the top 20. Yale also sat on the cusp of the top 25 all season, as a permanent member of the “Others Receiving Votes” category—which admittedly is on par with boasting about making the NIT.
According to the GPI—the I-AA equivalent of the BCS—the Ivy League ranked as the fifth-best conference in I-AA last season. Two of the league’s top three quarterbacks—Fitzpatrick and the Bulldogs’ Alvin Cowan—are returning for their senior seasons. The Ivies return their top three running backs—the Crimson’s Clifton Dawson, the Quakers’ Sam Mathews and Brown’s Nick Hartigan—from a year ago. Both of the big play Ivy receivers—Harvard’s Brian Edwards and Penn’s Dan Castles—return as well. From an offensive standpoint, it’s clear that the Ivy League will be vastly improved this season.
From a defensive standpoint, there’s much left to be determined. Key contributors to several Ivy teams have graduated, with Harvard leading the charge, losing five all-Ivy players on defense, including three first-teamers.
This might be a problem, if Ivy games were characteristically defensive struggles. That is, if Ivy teams were consistently ranking in the upper echelon in most defensive categories, then the question marks on that side of the ball would be troubling.
But that’s just not the case. Ancient Eight contests are offensive slugfests. Half of the Ivy schools failed to rank in the top 100 in total defense, giving up more than 400 yards per game. Penn was the only league school to crack the top 50.
The Quaker defense returns six all-Ivy players from last season, which should allow it to improve on last year’s performance, while lessening the burden on Penn’s new starting quarterback.
But the Quakers’ defensive reliance will be the exception, not the rule.
Rather, for the rest of the Ivy League, defense is a means of getting the ball back, not one of taking control of a game. Expect much the same this season.
Beyond the personnel issues, take a look at the schedules from around the Ivy League. Penn had two non-conference gimmies in San Diego and Bucknell, but continues its hotly contested rivalry with Villanova at Franklin Field.
Harvard’s schedule follows the same pattern with two cupcakes—Holy Cross and Lafayette—and one tough home date against Northeastern.
Yale starts off the season against a mid-major, Dayton, but has two home challenges against Colgate and Lehigh.
The common thread here is that all of the non-conference tests for the big three come at home, giving each squad a very good chance of posting a clean 3-0 non-Ivy record. At the very worst, the three Ivy powerhouses should go 2-1 in those three games. That would set Penn, Harvard and Yale up to finish anywhere from 7-3 to 10-0—records which would keep those three teams on the top 25 radar all season long.
So, I don’t get it. Maybe the Ivy League just doesn’t get as much attention or respect from these national publications, because it has self-determined that its teams will never be in the national title hunt.
Key non-conference victories on big stages (i.e. during the playoffs) give a team and its league national credibility that can’t be earned while playing in one’s own sandbox. But, that’s precisely where the current league restrictions force the Ivy member institutions to remain. In the end, maybe it’s not that Athlon or Street and Smith’s are incompetent. They just don’t have much on which to judge the Ivy teams.
And whose fault is that?
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at email@example.com.
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