The most important thing for a fan of the Cornell Football team last year. It was a necessity for anyone who saw the Brown game, or the Harvard game, or the Columbia game, or even the Pennsylvania game.
These four league games, all of which were decided in the final minutes, were vital to the Red’s impressive 7-3 (5-2 Ivy) record a year ago.
And now this team, along with Yale, is favored to win the Ivy crown.
This is a team which could have been sub-.500 if it had caught a few more bad breaks, and now it is the favorite to win the league title.
How can this be?
Sure head coach Pete Mangurian gets another year with standout Joe Splendorio, and Ricky Rahne will have developed even more, but the team didn’t have a ground game last year.
And yes, the offensive line has stayed in Ithaca for the past two summers, busting tail to get as strong, as fast and as powerful as possible, but with one exception none of the starters can claim to be over 275-pounds, and two are under 260-pounds. Even if they have played together since the 1998 campaign, they are undersized. They allowed 28 sacks last year. What good is knowing where your linemates will be, when you are not big enough to stop a bull rush?
And how about this hope for the running game. Evan Simmons has shown that he has some speed, which is a new thing for the program. And legitimate fullback in the form of Nathan Archer will help, but remember the problem with the offensive line? How is it supposed to open holes for Simmons? And Mangurian said that speed guys normally need to have holes made for them, as opposed to making their own holes. Does this mean running is out of the question on third-and-short situations?
And don’t forget about the many questions on the defensive side of the ball. Dan Weyandt is a solid leader in the middle of the defense, but can the young guys at the outside linebacker spots replace Dave Pitman ’00 and Nate Fischer ’00?
And how about this secondary? Predicted starters go 5-8 and 5-10 at the corners, 5-8 and 5-9 for the safeties. How are they supposed to reasonably guard the 6-2 receivers which are everywhere in this league? No matter how fast and technically proficient they are, they will lose many jump balls.
The defensive line is yet another place full of questions. Yeah, the defense did manage 28 sacks year ago, but it got burned on the ground, allowing 174.6 yards per game last year. George Paraskevopoulos is a big guy at 6-2, 290-pounds, but the other likely tackle in the base 4-3 will be Bill Goodrich who is listed at 6-3, 245-pounds. So the opponent knows to run away from Paraskevopoulos and at Goodrich inside, right?
So, given all that, does anyone actually believes these guys have realistic shot at the title?
Yes. I do.
And as you might have guessed, the reasons begin on the offensive side of the ball.
Cornell has the best returning quarterback in the league from a year ago in Rahne, a guy who just knows how to win. He can throw to the best group of receivers in the league, bar none. Splendorio, Edgar Romney, Keith Ferguson, Kevin Farese and Tim Hermann are already giving every coach in this league headaches.
As for the ground game, Simmons speed is obviously a big plus. But he also goes 5-8, 194-pounds, so essentially he is a really quick brick wall. And when you bring in tight end Ryan Visniski and the aforementioned Archer to block, I’ll take my chances running the ball on third-and-two. Especially since we know if Simmons can find a little opening, third-and-two could quickly become six on the scoreboard.
All of what I just said depends on the offensive line, but I think this is an underrated group. They have stayed in Ithaca for the past two summers, and while they are not big, they are well drilled and in condition. Mangurian was a lineman, so he takes a special pride in the offensive and defensive lines. So while that may mean more work for them, I bet it will pay off come gameday.
And the defensive line should do quite well, especially at the ends with Jay Bolton, Bryan Sacco and Tom Crone. They will apply pressure on the quarterback. Paraskevopoulos can go with just about anybody in the league in terms of size, so if Goodrich can occupy some space, the front four should be fine.
Weyandt leads a young linebacking corps. But Pete Combe, Nate Spitler and Derek Kingrey all have athletic ability, and pretty good size at about 6-0, 220-pounds.
The height of the defensive secondary is certainly a concern, but crafty veterans Phil Rigueur and Jimmy Vattes should be fine. Vincent Bates has the speed to stay with about anyone in the league, and as strong safety Cory Ziskind should be able to provide help.
And if you remember the Columbia game, you know enough not to be worried about Peter Iverson’s leg or nerves if a last second field goal is necessary.
But, perhaps the most important thing to remember about this team is that it will not die, it will not give up, and it will do what it takes to win in the end. It knows how to, it has done it before, and it will do it again.
So if you are going to the games this year, take it from a veteran.
Keep a bottle of Mylanta ready, just in case.
Archived article by J.V. Anderton