HANOVER, N.H.—We’re nearing the home stretch of the 2010 football season, and for the Ancient Eight, it’s been a tale of two leagues. At the beginning of the year, it appeared that Ivy teams were moving towards parity, with recent doormats Dartmouth and Princeton showing signs of life. But with four conference games in the books, the Ivy League has once again split into its hierarchy.
Defending champion Penn sits alone at the top, its unbeaten record intact after a 24-7 spanking of Brown. Harvard sits at the next level of the Ancient Eight pyramid, tied with Yale and the Bears at 3-1, while the lower half of the league is an exact mirror, with three more teams owning a 1-3 record and winless Princeton alone at the bottom.
Realistically, then, it’s a four-team race to the top, and as far as Harvard is concerned, the crown is still very much within reach.
The 21st-ranked Quakers looked every bit as good as advertised on Saturday, yielding just a kick return for a touchdown against Brown. Since Penn has already topped Yale, only a matchup with the Crimson seems to stand between the squad and another outright title. Of course, Harvard will be sure to make its own statement. Despite its early-season loss to the Bears, recent history may favor a Crimson comeback.
“Even with the loss, I mean we were in this position [two years ago],” junior quarterback Collier Winters said. “We lost at Brown, still had a chance at the end to win, and we were able to take advantage of it and win out and...get a share of [the Ivy title]. So that’s been our mission, and that’s what we’re going to set out to do these last three games.”
Winning out is by no means a given for this Crimson team, as matchups with Penn and Yale follow this coming weekend’s contest against Columbia, but Harvard still controls its own destiny. With the Bears and Bulldogs set for a showdown next Saturday, at least one of the single-loss teams will fall out of contention, and we could easily see at least two teams hoisting a collective trophy.
That is, if the Crimson maintains the full-team brilliance it displayed in Hanover. With Winters back under center and both running backs looking stronger each week, Harvard’s offense appears as potent and balanced as it promised in Week 1.
Sophomore Treavor Scales and senior Gino Gordon continued to share the ball effectively, rolling for 124 and 93 yards on the ground, respectively, and it was Winters who got the rushing touchdowns, getting over the goal line twice with his legs.
Like any good head coach, Tim Murphy will emphasize this week that Harvard isn’t looking past the Columbia game, but every Ivy League football fan will be salivating at the matchup between this group and Penn’s rushing defense. Since the Quakers have allowed just 66 yards per game and three total rushing touchdowns, something has to give. And while many people will be chalking it up as Penn’s advantage, the Crimson has every reason to be confident. Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens prides himself on the Big Green’s ability to get leverage at the line of scrimmage, but Harvard made it clear on Saturday that its players up front are the ones in top form.
“They’ve got some pretty stout ballplayers on both sides, specifically on the offensive and defensive lines,” Teevens said. “I mentioned offensively, we weren’t getting the surge off the ball that we’ve had to date, and they were. They got a pretty good push against our guys, and that’s why they [had] second and two, second and one.”
Running the table is never easy in the Ivy League, even with most of the season gone. But with a rapidly-improving offensive line, the Crimson’s balanced running game may be exactly what gets it there. Three difficult Ivy games remain, but Harvard should still be setting its sights on the crown.
—Staff writer Max N. Brondfield can be reached at email@example.com.