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The year is 1812. The French Empire is at the peak of its power, and the nation of crepes and croissants controlled much of the European continent. Napoleon, all five-foot-nothing of him, was scoring all of the beautiful women and getting picked first in every game of pick-up basketball. Or something like that.
But the French emperor was not satisfied with what he had. Most of Europe wasn’t enough—he needed Russia, the barren wasteland of vodka and chess. Without expecting too much of a fight, Napoleon and his troops moved into Russia in June of 1812. But he forgot to take into consideration one critical factor: the weather.
By all accounts, the weather in Russia is terrible. Not 40-degree terrible, but I’m-wearing-five-layers-of-animal-fur-and-I-still-can’t-feel-my-arms terrible. And as a result, Napoleon lost, and the French empire quickly crumbled.
In the world of football, you learn from legends like Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi. Not often do coaches take a page of out the old Bonaparte playbook. But Harvard coach Tim Murphy and the football team did something that too many erstwhile European conquerors did not—he remembered to account for the weather.
All season, the Crimson relied on its passing, and it worked. The team’s two quarterbacks, senior Collier Winters and junior Colton Chapple, set all sorts of records in the first six games of the year, and the two are responsible for the team’s offensive success since week two.
It all changed last week. The Crimson shifted its strategy with an impending snowstorm, and the run game became the emphasis for the first time all season. In front of literally tens of fans at Harvard Stadium, three different rushers passed the 100-yard mark as the home team cruised to another easy victory, 41-10.
Around the league, the weather had a big impact on the Penn-Brown game a few hours earlier. Battling heavy rain, neither team could muster much offense, but two Bears field goals were enough en route to a 6-0 win. The Brown victory completely changes the dynamic of the Ivy League.
For the first time, there’s no question that Harvard is the favorite in the Ancient Eight. And if the team wins out, the crown is coming to Cambridge.
But if Penn wins its next three games, it is also guaranteed at least a share of the title, and the same goes for Yale. So there is still a lot in the air.
BROWN (6-1, 3-1 Ivy) at YALE (4-3, 3-1)
If the mothers of the Harvard football team taught their sons good manners, I would hope that everyone on the Crimson squad is writing thank-you letters down to Providence.
The Bears took a huge burden off of Harvard’s shoulders last week by taking down Penn, handing the Quakers their first league loss in 18 games.
But after last week’s win, the Crimson shouldn’t really be cheering for either the Bears or the Bulldogs in tomorrow’s game.
Brown, Yale, and Penn all share second place in the Ivies right now with a 3-1 league record. So while the Quaker loss was huge because it gave Harvard sole possession of first place in the league, it means that there are three very clear threats chasing Harvard going into the final three games of the year.
Playing in cold and wintery conditions with the rest of the league, Yale beat Columbia, 16-13, but that score doesn’t tell the whole story. The Lions mounted a solid comeback at the end before the Bulldogs managed to hold them off. The fact that Columbia kept the game so close should worry for Yale, especially as it enters a stretch of the year when it plays Harvard and Brown.
The Bulldogs go back to New Haven for the first time in almost month. Last week, quarterback Patrick Witt completed just two passes, but when your running back goes for 230 yards, it doesn’t really matter.
Like Harvard, Yale adjusted its game plan around the weather. Don’t count on the Bulldogs relying too much on the run again—unless, of course, New England gets hit with another freak snowstorm.
The title implications of this game can’t be overstated. This winner stays alive; the loser is all but eliminated.
Prediction: Yale 17, Brown 16
PRINCETON (1-3, 1-6 Ivy) at PENN (4-3, 3-1)
Penn suffered its first league loss of the season last week, but it was hardly its first lackluster game.
In the Quakers’ three earlier Ivy wins, Penn escaped only with fourth-quarter comebacks. That sort of luck catches up to you eventually, and Brown finally ended the Quakers’ long Ancient Eight win streak.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t expect this game to be too close, but I have reservations. For one, Penn was tied with Columbia into the fourth quarter, a game that demonstrated the team’s vulnerability. The other is what I’ve seen from Princeton this year. Yes, a 1-6 record is hardly impressive, but in the third quarter of the Tigers’ game against the Crimson, Princeton proved that it could be an offensive threat.
Even so, I can’t imagine Penn losing to the Tigers. That would send the league into all kinds of chaos.
Prediction: Penn 28, Princeton 20
CORNELL (3-4, 1-3 Ivy) at DARTMOUTH (2-5, 1-3 Ivy)
Dartmouth is like that one drunk friend everyone has. I mean, sure, he’s a cool guy, but it’s always an interesting experience when you go drinking together.
Sometimes, he’s chill and one of those friendly drunks. But other times, he’s a sloppy mess, throwing himself at anything and anyone and hardly able to control any of his own actions.
Like your inebriated buddy, the Big Green is erratic and tough to predict. The team has certainly had its ups—a 37-0 win over Columbia proves that—but Dartmouth has taken its share of beatings as well.
In early October, the Bulldogs shut out the Big Green, and Dartmouth looked consistently outplayed on all fronts against Harvard last week.
Cornell, as I’ve said all year, has tremendous upside. Quarterback Jeff Mathews is a serious threat in the air, and is probably the best passer in the Ivies who isn’t wearing a Harvard uniform.
I’ll go with Cornell, but who knows which Dartmouth team decides to show up.
Prediction: Cornell 35, Dartmouth 28
HARVARD (6-1, 4-0 Ivy) at COLUMBIA (0-4, 0-7)
Lions are often associated with prideful and noble imagery. Simba. Richard the Lionheart. Lionel Richie.
The Columbia Lions don’t conform. The team is playing a little bit like the lion with the thorn in its paw, except there’s no mouse there to take out that thorn. As a consequence, that paw has become infected, and it’s slowly spreading into the rest of the lion’s body.
Harvard is probably playing its best football since 2008, the last time the Crimson won the Ivy title. Barring another week of rough conditions, I expect Winters to pick up right where he left off.
Excluding last week’s game against Dartmouth, Harvard’s quarterbacks have thrown 14 touchdowns in a three-game stretch, a program record by a wide margin. Even without passing much last week, the team matched an 1890 mark of four straight 40-point games.
With the state of Columbia’s defense, the Crimson could very easily get to 40 again. And it would be the first time that the team has scored 40-plus in five straight since 1888, when it defeated a smattering local high schools and MIT, among other opponents.
This shouldn’t be close. But who knows—football is a strange game sometimes.
Prediction: Harvard 45, Columbia 9
RECORD LAST WEEK: 4-0 (To date: 20-6)
—Staff writer E. Benjamin Samuels can be reached at email@example.com.
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