THE MALCOM X-FACTOR: Harvard, Yale Only Contenders for Ivy Crown

With three games to play, it’s down to a two-horse race for the Ancient Eight trophy.

Well, not technically, but unless there is a two-loss champ for the first time in a quarter of a century, the champion of the Ivy League will celebrate the conclusion of its title season on a late afternoon following The Game in New Haven in less than three weeks.

Whether that champion is Harvard or Yale (or both) has yet to be determined.

Dartmouth met the Crimson on Saturday with just a single Ivy loss for the first time since 2002. But after Harvard’s 28-21 win, every team in the conference besides the Crimson and the Bulldogs sit with at least two league defeats.

With Harvard and Yale both 4-0 in the Ivy League, only two winnable games for each stand in the way of a 12th edition of The Game with all-or-nothing stakes.

True, either team can lose once beforehand and still end up playing for a share of the title but, as the saying goes, a tie is like kissing your sister.

Two weeks ago, undefeated Yale looked unstoppable, and star Bulldogs running back Mike McLeod was in the thick of the race for the Walter Payton Award, given annually to the best player in Division I-AA.

And though McLeod’s still in the running for the hardware and the Bulldogs are still unbeaten, the league’s parity—something almost every coach has talked about this season—is becoming apparent.

Yale squeaked by Penn a week ago in the second triple-overtime game in league history (avenging its loss in the first such game two years ago against Harvard), and on Saturday, the Bulldogs went the entire first half without a score—against Columbia, a team with the worst rush defense in the Ivies.

Add to that the fact that a resurgent Dartmouth squad made things interesting against the Crimson, tying the game at 14 in the third quarter.

“I think the state of the Ivy League and college football in general is that…any time you beat a good football team, you have to appreciate that,” said Harvard head coach Tim Murphy. “Dartmouth’s really getting better. Their win over Penn was legitimate, we could see that by how they played today, and it’s just never easy with anyone in our league.”

Following a time as recent as two years ago, when Penn and Harvard traded jabs as the league’s top dogs, this year’s Quakers find themselves tied for sixth in the conference with three games to go. Perennial cellar-dweller Columbia is struggling this season, but they’re just a year removed from a 5-5 campaign under Norries Wilson.

Princeton, the one-loss darling of the league a year ago, is still below .500 overall after a nail-biting win over Cornell. Brown is a long way away from its title team of 2005, and the Big Red is also scuffling, having already lost three conference contests.

“We’re closing the gap,” said Big Green head coach Buddy Teevens. “I don’t see the league just jumping ahead. The thing about the Ivy League is, we’re all recruiting the same players. So what we need to do is raise our talent pool, and it’s coming.”

And what about Harvard? Every graduating class has earned at least one title since Murphy came to Cambridge in 1993, and if that trend is to continue, it’s either now or next year for the Crimson.

But in typical Murphy fashion, his focus after Saturday’s game wasn’t the looming showdown of 6-0’s at Yale in a few weeks or the growing parity of Ivy League football.

“We know that the only way we can reach our goal is to just take it one day at a time,” he said. “When we go to Sunday practice, we just talk about, ‘Hey, let’s just get a good night’s sleep tonight. We can’t beat Columbia tonight, the best we can do it go get a good meal, get a good night’s sleep and come down tomorrow and watch video.’ That’s the only approach that works.”

—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at