September 19, 2003

Penn to Dominate Ivies Again

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Harvard was the toast of the Ivy League in 2001, winning the Ancient Eight title and becoming the first Crimson team to go undefeated in 88 years. But just when it seemed like those boys from Cambridge would repeat as champs, Penn, with its 18 All-Ivy performers snatched the crown away. But with several key members of its record-setting defense lost to graduation, does Penn have enough to repeat? And who will become the league’s dominant receiver now that the Class of 2003, which included Carl Morris of Harvard, Chas Gessner of Brown, Rob Milanese of Penn, Chisom Opara of Princeton, and Keith Ferguson ’03 of Cornell, are gone?

1. Penn

2002 Record: 9-1, 7-0 Ivy

Returning Lettermen: 41

Everyone and their mother is picking Penn to repeat as Ivy champion this season, and for good reason. After dominating the Ancient Eight last season, there’s just no reason to think that the Quakers won’t do so again this year.

En route to going a perfect 7-0 in conference play in 2002, the Quakers scored at least 41 points in five of its seven league contests. Its average margin of victory in seven Ivy wins — 30 points.

Penn returns seven offensive starters from a season ago, including the best quarterback in the Ivies last season, senior Mike Mitchell. An All-Ivy first-team selection, Mitchell was a gun-slinger for the Quakers last season completing 241 of his 371 pass attempts for 2,803 yards and 20 touchdowns. Mitchell will be without his favorite target and the most prolific receiver in the school’s history Rob Milanese. Milanese left Penn as the school record holder in career receiving yards, career receptions, receiving yards in a season, and receptions in a season. Who will fill Milanese’s big shoes? The likely suspects are Daniel Castles and Joe Phillips, the third and fourth receivers from a season ago. But they only combined for 43 catches and 635 yards, about half of Milanese’s production.

Running back Michael Recchiuti is slated to start at tailback. But if last year is any indication, it won’t mean too much. Penn wins through the air, not on the ground.

Defense was Penn’s bread and butter last season, and the Quakers return six from that championship defense. The Quakers gave up just 13.2 points per game last year, over five points fewer than the second-best defense, allowed. Penn also allowed just 558 rushing yards and a ridiculous 1.9 yards per carry. It’ll be tough for Penn to duplicate last year’s feats, however, as the five starters it lost to graduation were all first-team All-Ivy performers — including two defensive backs, a pair of linebackers, and one lineman.

2. Harvard

2002 Record: 7-3, 6-1 Ivy

Returning Lettermen: 29

After going a perfect 7-0 in league play in 2001, capturing the Ivy crown, Harvard went into last season as the Ancient Eight favorite. Everything was going according to plan and then, in a battle of the the Ivy’s two undefeated teams in the second-to-last game of the season, Penn annihilated the Crimson by an unexpectedly one-sided 44-9 score. Ouch.

But Harvard’s feeling a different sort of pain at the start of this season. For the first time in four years, the Crimson will be without wide receiver Carl Morris. Morris, who was the 2001 and 2002 Ivy League Player of the Year was one of the most dynamic players in the history of Ivy League football, and was one of 16 finalists for the Walter Payton Award, given annually to the best collegiate player at the Division I-AA level. He’s gone, though, and the other receivers will need to step up for Harvard to regain the Ivy crown.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick heads the Crimson offensive attack after leading Harvard in both passing and rushing in 2002. Pressed into duty after an injury to starter Neil Rose, Fitzpatrick was the total package for Harvard, throwing for 1155 yards while rushing for 517 yards — good for sixth-best in the conference.

On defense, it all begins and ends with senior linebacker Dante Balestracci. If there’s one player in the conference who has a chance to make an impact playing on Sundays next season, it’s Balestracci. He also has the chance to become the first Ivy Leaguer to earn first-team honors four years in a row.

3. Yale

2002 Record: 6-4. 4-3 Ivy

Returning Lettermen: 35

While most teams in the Ancient Eight have been pass-happy in recent years, the Bulldogs look to win by pounding the ball between the tackles. Junior running back Robert Carr, a unanimous first-team All-Ivy pick last year, and the massive offensive line in front of him will be the keys to Yale’s success in 2003. In his first full season starting, Carr led the Ivy League with 1,083 yards and 236 carries. Against Cornell last season, Carr broke a school-record by rushing for 235 yards in a 50-23 Bulldogs win.

Yale knows that Carr is the team’s most valuable commodity. But who’s going to hand the ball off to him?

Senior Alvin Cowan is listed as the Yale starter for its opener against Towson. But he missed most of last season with a broken leg suffered in the second game of the season against Cornell. In the one game he did play, however, he showed his enormous potential, rushing for over 100 yards while throwing for over 200 in a big win over San Diego. In Cowan’s absence, however, junior Jeff Mroz was a steady leader for Yale, throwing for 1,731 yards and 14 touchdowns against just six interceptions.

The Bulldogs return seven starters from the second-best scoring defense in the Ancient Eight. Senior linebacker Ken Estrera and defensive back Barton Simmons, both All-Ivy second-team performers, will lead the Yale charge.

4. Cornell

2002 Record: 4-6. 3-4 Ivy

Returning Lettermen: 30

See pages 3-10 for a preview of this year’s team.

5. Dartmouth

2002 Record: 3-7, 2-5 Ivy

Returning Lettermen: 38

There’s absolutely no doubt about it, Dartmouth has the best receiving tandem in the Ivy League. Senior tight end Casey Cramer is the best at his position in all of Division I-AA football, and is the only tight end in the preseason Walton Payton Award Watch. A threat either split out wide or lined up at the end of the offensive line, Cramer terrorized linebackers and defensive backs last season, finishing fourth in the league with 1,017 receiving yards en route to a unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection. Classmate Jay Barnard gives Dartmouth a second dangerous receiving threat. A second-team All-Ivy performer as a junior, Barnard was fifth in the league with 899 receiving yards.

The team’s starting backfield from a year ago, running back Mike Giles and fullback Scott Wedum, also returns — so Dartmouth is in great shape at the skill positions.

But someone has to get those weapons the ball, and right now, no one’s sure who that will be. Senior Brian Mann was the biggest offensive force in the conference last season, leading the league with over 3,300 all-purpose yards. Senior Scott Willie will try to lead the talented offense, but he only attempted three passes all of last year.

On defense, the good news is that Dartmouth returns eight starters. The bad news: those eight guys plus three others comprised the worst defense in the league last year, giving up almost 450 yards per game. As good as the team was throwing the ball, it had its difficulties stopping opponents from passing it, giving up a league worst 275 passing yards every contest.

6. Princeton

2002 Record: 6-4, 4-3 Ivy

Returning Lettermen: 38

Unlike Dartmouth, which has the weapons but lacks a quarterback, Princeton has the quarterback but has no one one surrounding him. Quarterback David Splithoff is back after throwing for 1,223 yards and eight touchdowns. Should he falter, Matt Verbit proved himself to be a capable replacement, completing 75 of 150 passes for 935 yards and four touchdowns last year.

But the problem with the offense is everyone else. The school’s all-time leading receiver, Chisom Opara is gone. A second-team All-Ivy player last year, Opara gave the Tigers a legitimate deep threat, hauling in 57 balls for 772 yards. B.J. Szymanski assumes the role as the go-to receiver, but going from No. 2 to No. 1 is a lot to ask.

While the Tigers might have trouble throwing the ball, they might have a harder time running it. First-team performer Cameron Atkinson is gone, and he takes with him his 1,028 rushing yards. Jon Veach, who rushed for just 180 yards last season, will be counted on to replace Atkinson.

Defensively, Princeton returns seven starters. In 2002, the Tigers were the stingiest in the conference against the pass, allowing just 206 yards per game. All-Ivy performers Joe Weiss and Tim Kirby return to the defense, while unanimous first-teamer Zak Keasey is back at linebacker.

7. Brown

2002 Record: 2-8, 2-5 Ivy

Returning Lettermen: 37

Last year, The Sun picked Brown to finish first in the league. The rationale: “Chas Gessner, Chas Gessner, Chas Gessner.” Sure, wide receiver Chas Gessner was fantastic, arguably the best in the league. There was only one problem: the players around him weren’t up to par, as Brown tumbled out of the gates, losing its first eight games before salvaging its final two.

Brown has only nine returning starters — four on offense and five on defense — which might be a good thing. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Slager returns to Brown after a stellar rookie year, in which he threw for 2,609 yards and 19 touchdowns.

But as was the case with Penn, Harvard, Princeton, and Cornell, how will Brown replace a legitimate No. 1 receiver?

Gessner led the entire nation with 114 catches last year, and leaves the Bears’ program with 292 catches. The two men who will be counted on to replace Gessner: Lonnie Hill and Jarrett Schreck. Schreck had just seven catches for 99 yards last year, and Hill is still looking to make his first collegiate reception.

The Bears are a middle-of-the-pack defense, without a single member of the All-Ivy teams returning.

8. Columbia

2002 Record: 1-9, 0-7 Ivy

Returning Lettermen: 37

For the first time in Ivy League history last year, a member of the Ancient Eight went winless in the Ivy League in both men’s basketball and football. The culprit — the Lions. And it all started with an abysmal 0-7 record on the gridiron.

Columbia seemed headed for a good 2002 season after winning its first game, 13-11, on a last second field goal. It didn’t win again.

Quarterback Steve Hunsberger returns at the helm of the Lions’ offense after throwing for 2,023 yards and six touchdowns last year. Columbia also returns its leading rusher, Rashad Biggers. Last season, Biggers gained 442 yards on 110 carries while scoring three touchdowns.

Zach Van Zant and Travis Chmelka, Columbia’s top two receiving threats from a season ago are back again. Van Zant caught 51 balls for 592 yards, while Chmelka hauled in 48 receptions for 500 yards.

Unfortunately for the Lions, their best player is punter Nick Rudd. The sophomore was a second-team All-Ivy pick last year after averaging 39.1 yards per kick.

Archived article by Alex Ip