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Football Enters Second Half of Season Against Princeton

Lowering the Shoulder
Senior quarterback Tom Stewart lowers his shoulder and braces for a hit against Holy Cross.
Here we are: the second half of the Ivy League football season.

Though each team has just five of its 10 games remaining, all five of these games count toward the league standings. With non-conference play in the rearview mirror (don’t worry, I’m not going to pepper this ATI with Pearl Jam song titles), there is still plenty of time for the conference standings to shift significantly.

Currently, Princeton and Dartmouth lead the way. I’ll leave particulars for later in the article, but let’s just say they’re both extremely good and leave it at that. Penn, Yale, Harvard, and Cornell are each knotted at 1-1, and Columbia and Brown bring up the rear at 0-2. Here’s hoping for another shot at seven teams tying for the Ancient Eight championship.

YALE AT PENN

Let me set the scene of a typical Friday night at Franklin Field. Wintry wind whips through the bleachers, slicing through multiple layers of clothing and reducing beat writers’ typing speed to 10 words per minute. An agonizing halftime show features the Harvard Band. Stale pizza and cold chicken fingers are all that await in the media room.

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These were the circumstances on Nov. 11, 2016, the last time The Crimson ventured down to Philadelphia to cover Harvard–Penn. If it seems to you that I’m acting like a wimp, you’d probably be right. I guess I need to invest in a warmer jacket.

This Friday night game will not feature weather conditions quite as dreadful — Yale (3-2, 1-1 Ivy) travels to Penn to take on the Quakers (4-1, 1-1) in mid-October, when the leaves are still clinging to the trees and winter woes have not fully taken hold.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know what to make of these Yale and Penn squads. The Quakers boast an impressive 4-1 record, with their lone loss coming at the hands of conference-leading Dartmouth. However, the team’s non-conference slate was not particularly challenging, and it barely squeaked out a 13-10 decision over Columbia last weekend. With star receiver Justin Watson having departed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, no Penn receiver is gaining more than 40 yards per game.

Yale was a heavy favorite to repeat as league champion entering the 2018 campaign, but so far the Bulldogs have shown signs of weakness. They lost in overtime to Holy Cross in week one, and like Penn, they also fell victim to Dartmouth in a 41-18 blowout. The Yale defense is allowing 12 more points per game than it did during its 2017 title season. Given home-field advantage, I’ll take Penn in a close one.

Penn by 1.5

PRINCETON AT HARVARD

Déjà vu can be pretty eerie. It’s inexplicable, really — you recall having experienced a detailed situation in the past, but it’s also happening right in front of your eyes in the same place, with the same people, featuring the same events.

I’m getting just a bit (read: a ton) of déjà vu ahead of this Saturday’s bout between Princeton (5-0, 2-0) and host Harvard (3-2, 1-1). In this case, however, it’s not so inexplicable. In 2017, the Tigers visited Cambridge armed with a strong record and a dominant offense that was lighting up scoreboards left and right. Entering last year’s contest, the Crimson had rebounded from a heartbreaking defeat at Cornell by beating a non-league opponent at Harvard Stadium.

There are a few small differences this time around. Instead of simply possessing a dominant offense, Princeton now has an absolutely unfair offense to go along with an equally unfair defensive unit. The Tigers are 5-0 in 2018, have scored no fewer than 45 points, and have allowed no more than 10. Yiiiiiiiiiiiiikes.

There is perhaps nothing more gratifying in sports than being a fan of a team that defeats a bitter rival, especially when that rival has strung together a run of dominance. That is the situation as Princeton enters Harvard Stadium this Saturday. In eight of the last 11 meetings between these two teams, the Crimson has earned the W.

Though the Tigers already began to turn the tide with last season’s 52-17 beatdown, you can be sure that they will not relent. Given Princeton’s offensive and defensive production this season, I’m not sure it’s even possible for the team to relent unless it leaves both its first and second string players off the travel roster.

Princeton by 14

CORNELL AT BROWN

I’m at a loss for words.

No, seriously, I don’t know what to write about this game. There don’t appear to be any major storylines, the two teams are not exactly the cream of the FCS crop, and this game only serves to keep Cornell’s hopes alive for one more week. “Maybe, just maybe, this is the year the Big Red can contend past week six,” they’ll say up in Ithaca. You just hate to see that.

Brown (1-4, 0-2) has had a rough couple of weeks due to a challenging schedule (to say the least). Back-to-back contests on the road against Rhode Island and Princeton resulted in a final cumulative scoring tally of 96-10. However, Cornell (2-3, 1-1) does have to travel a significant distance for this matchup and is coming off a 31-0 drubbing courtesy of Colgate.

If I’m being honest, here’s what I do know. One: I’d be losing gobs of money if I actually bet my picks on these games. Two: every time I pick against the Big Red, Cornell obliges by winning. Three: every time I pick the Big Red to come out on top, the team rolls over. Every. Single. Time. In other words, the following pick is bad news for the Ithacans for reasons one and three.

Cornell by 6.5

DARTMOUTH AT COLUMBIA

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease is currently terrorizing Dartmouth’s campus.

The ailment, commonly seen in children, has afflicted over 50 students, according to an Oct. 11 report in The Dartmouth. Hand, Foot, and Mouth even made an appearance in Major League Baseball this season — New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard missed some time when he contracted it.

You’ve got to hand it to the Big Green — its team (5-0, 2-0) has been nothing short of dominant this fall. The team has pitched two shutouts so far, and it is just as adept on the other side of the ball, posting 39 points per game. I don’t want to end up with my foot in my mouth, but I don’t think this game will be particularly close.

One of Columbia’s redeeming qualities — a quality that will perhaps allow the team to avoid a beatdown until the second quarter instead of within the first 10 minutes — is its defense. The Lions (3-2, 0-2) held Lovett’s Tigers to their lowest point total of the season so far (still a ridiculous 45 points). The Columbia defense is allowing an average of 24.2 points per game, though Princeton’s output skews this result.

As Dartmouth travels to Robert K. Kraft Field, situated beautifully at the mouth of the Hudson River, it aims to improve to 6-0 ahead of next week’s tilt against Harvard. Not sure you even need me to make this pick, but I’ll hand it over anyway.

Dartmouth by 21

—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at jack.stockless@thecrimson.com.

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