This year, the Harvard football team was projected to vie for the Ivy League title with Princeton. By the end of the fall, each squad sat below .500 in conference play, and Yale dominated its way to a 9-1 season and an outright championship.
It is safe to say that the Ivy League football season was unpredictable, even without considering Harvard’s fate. Up until week nine, the press boxes at various Ivy schools were jammed with journalists salivating over the potential seven-way tie for first place scenario. Alas, it didn’t come to fruition, but interesting storylines still abounded week after week.
Would Columbia rise from the dark depths of the league to contend for a title? (The Lions finished in second place with a 5-2 record.) Would Dartmouth ever fail to complete a late-game comeback? (The Big Green ended up squandering a potential game-winning drive against the Crimson.) Would Cornell upset its way to a title berth? (The Big Red beat both Harvard and Princeton in stunning fashion.) Could Brown possibly get worse on a weekly basis? (Yes, it could.)
The last time Harvard finished with a losing record in the Ancient Eight was 1999—clearly the Crimson’s run of dominance was bound to end sometime. As head coach Tim Murphy would say, Harvard has enjoyed a “bull market” in the league for an inordinate amount of time.
So how does the Crimson regain its former glory? Well, it already has a solid core of returning players. Most notably, the incoming senior class is full of talented athletes who have already cemented themselves as stars in Cambridge.
Wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley has further established himself as one of the premier punt and kick returners in the nation. This season, he finished third in the FCS in punt return average with 18.8 yards per attempt. Adam Scott and Charlie Booker are other junior skill players who will play larger roles next year and will complement Shelton-Mosley’s offense.
Aside from established veterans, some key role players and stars-in-the-making will be important to the team’s redemption attempt next year. Freshman quarterback Jake Smith will likely take the reins on day one, and breakout junior receiver Henry Taylor (337 yards and three touchdowns in 2017) will diversify the Crimson’s group of wideouts.
Though Harvard is losing a few senior tight ends, we have seen appearances by junior Dan Werner and sophomore John Stivers this season. That duo could wind up fitting into the classic halfback/tight end role in Murphy’s system.
On the defensive side, the next Crimson football team may be thinner in the secondary due to the departures of key contributors Tanner Lee, Tim Haehl, Tobe Ezeokoli, and Raishaun McGhee. Zach Miller, who was just elected Harvard’s 145th captain, aims to reinvigorate the unit, along with juniors Cole Thompson and Wes Ogsbury and freshman Isaiah Wingfield.
The defensive front and the linebacker corps should prove to be solid in 2018. Defensive end DJ Bailey will return—despite being injured for several games, the junior still posted 23 tackles and four sacks. Rising seniors Charlie Walker and Anthony Camargo, along with sophomore Joey Goodman, will anchor the linebackers.
But before all that, before we see the Crimson take the field again in mid-September of 2018, we have to wait through a long, tedious, football-less offseason. For fans, Harvard’s season unfortunately takes up only a fifth of the calendar year. Without winter workouts, spring football, and preseason prep of our own, we must wait until the very end of next summer to see Harvard Stadium abuzz with the activity of hundreds of players and tens of thousands of fans, as reported by Harvard Athletics.
Not to disparage the Athletic Department in any way, but I’ve been working on a half-serious conspiracy theory on game attendance. I think we all know that the smattering of fans throughout the Stadium’s concrete bleachers on windy, rainy, sub-freezing days does not add up to approximately 10,000 reported attendants. And wouldn’t you know it? The school’s fight song is titled “Ten Thousand Men of Harvard.” Really makes you think.
That aside, Harvard football is a timeless institution around Cambridge, and I will certainly miss it during the dreary winter ahead. It is no SEC, but the Ivy League is filled with historic stadiums and wacky traditions that are unparalleled elsewhere in college football. It may not be as popular as it once was, but it still brings joy year after year to alumni, current students, and completely impartial college journalists alike.
Until next year….