September 20, 2002

Does the Bear Win Ivy Titles?

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When Pardon the Interruption premiered on ESPN, we at The Sun gave the it two thumbs up. But when we noticed the Cornell football helmet on Tony Kornheiser’s desk, we officially fell in love with the show. So when we were trying to make our picks for the upcoming season, we thought, “Who better to solicit help from than Kornheiser and his partner in crime, Mike Wilbon?”

Unfortunately for us, the duo has bigger fish to fry than Ivy League preseason standings. Enter Stat Boy.

“Kornheiser and Wilbon are off doing a big shoot on the Patriot League, so I guess that just leaves me for the Ivies. Do what you want with these — recommendation: leave them in the bathroom, so by week 3 you can use them if you run out of toilet paper.”

— Stat Boy, PTI

1. Brown

2001 Record: 6-3, 5-2 Ivy

Returning lettermen: 32

Chas Gessner, Chas Gessner, Chas Gessner.

The senior All-American already led the Bears to the top of the league in offense, No. 10 in D I-AA in total offense and No. 13 in scoring offense. He was second in the nation in catches per game (9.2) while racking up 1,182 receiving yards, fifth best in Ivy history, all during an abbreviated season. After finding his name mentioned in every postseason team, Gessner has been selected a preseason first-team All-American. The varsity lacrosse and football player has already caught the eye of many NFL scouts.

Although Gessner is the star of the Brown offense, he has a supporting cast worthy of invoking fear in the most capable of defenses. No one has been able to match the Bears offensively in the Ivies under head coach Phil Estes reign. In fact, Brown also has the best overall record over the last four years at 29-10.

Although it lost first-team All-Ivy running back Mike Malan and quarterback Kyle Rowley, Brown will still be strong with Joe Rackley, who ran for 122 yards against Cornell last year, and most likely Kyle Slager, a junior quarterback transfer from University of Arizona, in the backfield.

What will really help the Bears, though, is its much improved defense. Eight starters return to a unit that was fourth last year in scoring defense, allowing just over 26 points per game. But who needs a brick wall of a defense when your team is scoring almost five touchdowns per game?

S.B.: 2nd — Eight returning starters on D, and plenty of offense to spare. Probably the only team that can contend with Harvard.

2. Harvard

2001 record: 9-0, 7-0 Ivy

Returning lettermen: 29

After posting its first undefeated season since 1912, Harvard’s big three are returning. Quarterback Neil Rose and receiver Carl Morris, the 2001 Ivy League Player of the Year, opted for a fifth year and a final shot at another Ivy title. Linebacker Dante Balestracci is still only a junior, even though he has dominated his position for the last two years.

The bad news for the Crimson is few other starters are returning. The offensive and defensive corps were decimated by last year’s graduation. Six starters on offense and seven on defense are gone — that’s more than half of the Crimson’s first string.

However, the Rose-Morris connection still remains and Nick Palazzo, who led the team in rushing, will start as tailback in his final season in Cambridge. The real question mark on the offense is the linemen. All four of Harvard’s offensive linemen who were selected to All-Ivy teams graduated, leaving a lack of experience up front. The Crimson’s success depends on whether head coach Tim Murphy can close that gap.

The defensive line lost all four of its starters, and the secondary will suffer with the graduation of three All-Ivy candidates. But Harvard’s linebackers are the best in the league, and don’t underestimate its ability to rebuild.

S.B.: 1st — Last year was the first undefeated season in 88 years. This year could make it two in 89.

3. Penn

2001 Record: 8-1, 6-1 Ivy

Returning lettermen: 34

Al Bagnoli may be the best coach in the Ivy League. Ignoring 1997, when the Quakers were forced to forfeit five victories, he has never suffered a losing season. But even Bagnoli won’t be able to recover fully from the loss of quarterback Gavin Hoffman, tailback Kris Ryan, three first-team All-Ivy defensive linemen and the only NFL draft selection from the Ancient Eight, offensive lineman Jeff Hatch, now with the N.Y. Giants.

The Quakers were the second-best team in the Ivies last year, losing only to undefeated Harvard. Yet the Penn defense was by far the strongest in the league, if not the country.

Penn allowed a stingy 58.4 yards per game on the ground, the best in the nation. It also had the No. 3 scoring defense, holding opponents to just over 11.4 points per game. However, 11 letter winners have graduated from that defense and only two starters remain, captains Travis Belden and Chris Pennington.

The offense is in a similar position with only three starters returning. Talented wide receiver Rob Milanese will draw attention from every opposing secondary as he runs after the Red and Blue record for career yards. Milanese is only 123 yards shy of the program record set almost 30 years ago.

Like most other positions, the backfield also suffered from graduation. A senior and a sophomore will vie for the start at quarterback. Hoffman, a transfer from Northwestern who took the Ivy League by storm in 2000, left a big hole for either senior Mike Mitchell or sophomore Jack Phillips. Three running backs willsrc o try to fill the void Ryan left.

Bagnoli has a large pool of lettermen ready to step into starting positions, though. It will take them time to get comfortable, but there is talent on the Penn bench.

S.B.: 4th — Anybody home? Virtually nobody returning from last year’s semi-successful team. If the new QB struggles, the Quakers could drop in a hurry.

4. Princeton

2001 Record: 3-6, 3-4 Ivy

Returning lettermen: 42

Despite their losing record, the Tigers only allowed two more points than they gave up in 2001. With 19 returning starters last year’s record should only improve due to added experience. Princeton is also one of two Ivy League teams to return its quarterback, leading receiver and leading rusher in junior Dave Splithoff, and seniors Chisom Opara and Cameron Atkinson, respectively. Atkinson, Opara and Splithoff also dominated the top three spots in the all-purpose yards statistical category.

Roger Hughes, in his third year as coach, finally has assembled a veteran squad with four starters on the offensive line, all but one of 14 defensive linemen, and most of the secondary returning. Now that the Tigers aren’t questioning their experience, they are questioning their talent.

Individually, the Tigers did not have many performers succeed, and four of five All-Ivy selections including their first-team selections, placekicker Taylor Northrop and linebacker Chris Roser-Jones, graduated. Northrop will be missed, especially if Princeton has close games. Hughes boasted that the kicker would regularly make 65-yarders in practice.

Roser-Jones led the Ivy League in interceptions per game, and along with former captain Bob Farrell, has left a pared down linebacker corps. However, a strong front line and secondary will probably be able to compensate for the loss.

S.B.: 3rd — 3-4 in conference last year, could have been 6-1. Should be better this year, but still will probably lose the close ones. Cool uniforms.

5. Yale

2001 Record: 3-6, 1-6 Ivy

Returning lettermen: 39

Last year the Elis suffered from key injuries throughout the season with significant losses coming to linebackers and running backs. Staying healthy will be paramount to Yale’s ability to be successful.

Yale’s strength this year will be in its defense. The defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs will all be stronger and more experienced with many of last year’s starters entering their junior years. The rushing defense was the second-best in the league after Harvard in 2001 (it allowed 123.6 yards per game), and could move into the No. 1 spot with the veteran squad.

Like Brown, Penn, and Cornell, Yale also lost one of its best quarterbacks to graduation last year. Peter Lee, who shared every start for Yale with another graduate, T.J. Hyland, has opened up the QB position to the Bulldog duet of junior Alvin Cowan and Jeff Mroz. Head coach Jack Siedlecki used Cowan four times in fake punt situations (he completed two of his four attempts).

The Elis boast of their speed on offense. With an experienced offensive line which includes a pair of All-Ivy honorable mentions, David Farrell and Kyle Metzler, they should be able to mount a decent running game, or at least an improvement over their sixth-best rushing offense in the Ivy League.

S.B.: 5th — Could jump a few spots if they gain any momentum with a win in their tough out-of-conference schedule.

6. Cornell

2001 Record: 2-7, 2-5 Ivy

Returning lettermen: 33

S.B.: 6th — Good defense, unproven offense. Sounds like the Patriots last year (but this team doesn’t have Tom Brady).

7. Dartmouth

2001 Record: 1-8, 1-6 Ivy

Returning lettermen: 37

Last year, Dartmouth relied on its running game and special teams to carry it through the season. But with All-Ivy tailback Michael Gratch graduating and taking 916 yards with him, the Green better find some young talent quickly.

The offense will benefit from one of the best offensive lines. Captain Kevin Noone, an All-Ivy selection last year, will provide stability at right guard. Both tackles have years of starting experience. The only question comes at the center position, where both starters last year graduated.

An older and wiser defense (19 lettermen return) should help the Green improve when it doesn’t have the ball, but by how much? Dartmouth had the worst defense in the Ivy League last year, allowing the opposition just shy of 450 yards per game. Yikes! The Green also had the second-worst run defense, worst pass defense and worst turnover margin in the league. With three starting linebackers gone from the roster, it will be tough for Dartmouth to climb up from the bottom.

The Green should be glad to return Steve Jensen, a cornerback and kickoff returner. Jensen averaged just under 25 yards per kickoff return to give Dartmouth one of the best special teams in the league.

S.B.: 7th — What does it mean when your punter is the best player on the team?

8. Columbia

2001 Record: 3-7, 3-4 Ivy

Returning lettermen: 28

The Lions had three Ivy League wins last year, which is the most conference victories for Columbia since 1998 when it had four. But unfortunately the Lions have been put back to square one since it only has 10 starters returning from last year and most of them did not start for the entire season.

Gone are tailback Jonathan Reese, wide receivers Doug Peck and Jarel Cockburn, and with them 2,255 all purpose yards and 112 points. Quarterback Jeff McCall is also gone, leaving the Lions to rebuild. Adding the fact that Columbia was dead last in total offense and scoring offense, 2002 should not be a productive season in Morningside Heights.

Steve Hunsberger is likely to take over the offense. He saw playing time in 2001, completing 65 percent of his passing attempts.

Five returning starters have the responsibility of leading a defense which was the second-worst in the Ivy League in scoring. Free safety Philip Murray is one of the bright spots left for the Lions, but that’s just one.

Kicker/punter Nick Rudd has also been consistent and should help the Lions should their offense get them in field goal position.

S.B.: 8th — The Lions of the Ivy League have more than just a nickname in common with Lions of the NFL. How ’bout wins … 0.

Archived article by Amanda Angel