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Crimson Looks to Clinch Title in Season’s Penultimate Week

By E. Benjamin Samuels, Crimson Staff Writer

I’ve wasted away countless days of my life watching sports movies. What can I say? There are a lot of good ones out there.

The worse expenditure of time is not just watching these films, but the inevitable debates that follow arguing which is best. Rudy vs. Remember the Titans. Rocky vs. Raging Bull. Caddyshack vs. … well, nothing, Caddyshack stands alone. And take your pick of any one of Kevin Costner’s films.

Always near the top of my lists is Bad News Bears (the original, of course). The movie has its moments, but my favorite scene is at the end. The Bears, after an unexpected, come-from-behind season, fall in the finals to the mighty Yankees. Carrying themselves with the attitude of LeBron—undeserving self-satisfaction, that is—the Yankees offer a half-hearted apology to the losing team for poor treatment all season.

It’s at this point that one of the Bears responds in kind: “Hey Yankees! You can take your apology and your trophy and shove it straight up your…” I don’t think we have to tell you where.

But my favorite line is the one that comes next: “And another thing: just wait ‘til next year!”

It’s a great mantra, not just in sports, but in life as well. For Harvard football, that waiting might be over. This is the weekend when the Crimson can reach the promised land of “next year.”

For the past two seasons, Harvard has come into its second-to-last game of the year with a shot at the Ivy League title. And for two years in a row, Penn has shut the Crimson down and has taken the Ancient Eight Crown along the way.

Entering with an undefeated league record in 2009, the Quakers beat Harvard, 17-7, en route to the title. Last year in Philly, the Crimson lost in a 20-point blowout.

The situation this year is very different. All Harvard has to do is win one of its next two games to clinch at least a share of the title. With a one-game lead over Penn, the game doesn’t have the same do-or-die importance.

But where’s the fun in losing your way to an Ivy League title? For the first time in a while, the Crimson is a clear favorite in this one. On Saturday, we’ll know whether next year has finally arrived.

YALE (4-4, 3-2 Ivy) at PRINCETON (1-7, 1-4)

With a loss last week, Yale is going to need some serious magic to win even a share of the Ivy League title.

Here’s what has to happen. Harvard has to lose to Penn and then again in New Haven next week. The Quakers have to beat the Crimson and then lose to Cornell the next week. Brown has to lose to either Dartmouth or Columbia in its next two games.

And, of course, the Bulldogs have to win out. So I think the odds of a Yale title are about as high as a Schwarzenegger presidential campaign.

Because the team is out of the title hunt, this week’s game against Princeton only means two things. One, it’s a chance for the two schools to reinvigorate their rivalry a little bit before basketball season. Two, it’s warm-up before The Game.

The Tigers’ offense is entirely erratic. In every game this season, the team has either scored fewer than 10 points or more than 20. Against Harvard, Princeton somehow managed to put up 39 points, but the Tigers have scored seven and nine in the two weeks since.

It might just be a tune-up for Yale, but quarterback Patrick Witt will still be there—which is more than we can say about Harvard-Yale. The Rhodes can be such a roadblock sometimes.

Prediction: Yale 35, Princeton 7

DARTMOUTH (3-5, 2-3) at BROWN (7-1, 4-1)

Coming into the season with quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero healthy once again, Brown was a team to watch in the Ivy League. But I don’t think anyone could have anticipated that after playing Harvard, Yale, and Penn, the Bears would still be a contender in the league.

After a shaky performance in the second week of the year in Cambridge, Brown has rolled through the Ivy League. Two weeks ago, it handed the Quakers their first Ivy loss since 2008. Last Saturday, the Bears beat the Bulldogs in New Haven to all but end Yale’s shot at an Ivy title.

Despite all this success, Brown still has to win out. If the Bears lose and Harvard wins, the Crimson clinches the Ancient Eight title outright.

Though Dartmouth has struggled all season, it had one of its best games of the year last week. Running back Nick Schwieger ran like he was scared to be too close to his own quarterback, rushing for 257 total yards and breaking the program record.

But the way Brown has played since mid-September, I think that the Bears stay in the Ivy League title hunt for at least one more week.

Prediction: Brown 24, Dartmouth 20

COLUMBIA (0-8, 0-5) at CORNELL (3-5, 1-4)

The matchup between these two schools is commonly known as the Empire State Bowl. But just because it has a cool name doesn’t mean this game matters for much.

Let me give you a list of bowls that mean more than the Empire State Bowl. The Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. A bowl of chicken gumbo. Lawn bowling.

With that said, both of these teams are better than their cumulative 1-9 league record would indicate. Columbia, at 0-8, has still been competitive with Penn, Yale, and Harvard this season. Likewise, Cornell’s offense can be a real threat if firing on all spheres, and it demonstrated its ability against the Crimson in early October.

The Big Red might be a better team next year, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the team contend. As for the Lions, success might be a few more years down the road.

Prediction: Cornell 31, Columbia 17

PENN (5-3, 4-1) at HARVARD (7-1, 5-0)

This is it. If Harvard wins this week, it clinches at least a share of the title. If the Crimson loses, the team will have to wait at least one more week.

Penn was the clear favorite coming into the season, but in all honestly, the Quakers have disappointed so far. The team has suffered near-losses to Dartmouth, Columbia, and Yale before finally losing to Brown. Until Penn played Princeton last week, the team didn’t have a single comfortable win all year.

Despite these struggles, Penn remains very much alive. With a win over Harvard, the two teams will likely share the Ivy League crown, and it would be its third in a row. But let’s be honest: who likes sharing?

The last time Harvard shared a title, the Crimson and Princeton met in New Haven for a one-game basketball playoff. And we all know how that ended: sitting alone, eating Baskin Robbins ice cream in silence for an hour-and-a-half. Well for me, anyway.

The Game may be the most important event for the Harvard community. But from a football standpoint, it comes down to the game (with a lowercase “g”) this week.

Prediction: Harvard 31, Penn 28

RECORD LAST WEEK: 2-2 (To date: 22-8)

—Staff writer E. Benjamin Samuels can be reached at samuels@college.harvard.edu.

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