September 15, 2006

Harvard, Brown Appear Early Favorites

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Parity is the catchword in collegiate athletics these days — and Ivy League football is no exception. After Brown claimed its first outright Ivy title in 2006, it faces the challenge of another first in its quest for back-to-back titles. Standing between the Bears and the league crown is Harvard, Penn, and the local favorite, Cornell. Left out of the contenders’ battle is Yale and Princeton, who seem headed for the lower half of the standings, joining recent perennial cellar-dwellars Columbia and Dartmouth.

Harvard Crimson
2005: 7-3, 5-2 Ivy
After a second-place finish in 2005, Harvard is the media darling in the preseason polls, with most observers choosing the Crimson to claim the crown for the first time since 2001. Harvard was the only Ancient Eight team to beat Brown during its championship run a year ago, and only a triple-overtime loss to Yale in the last game of the season kept the Crimson from claiming a share of the title. Cornell was the only other conference team to top the Crimson in 2005, as the Red scored 27 points to Harvard’s 14 at Schoellkopf Field for the Red’s first victory over a nationally-ranked Division I-AA team in program history. The showdown between 2005 champs and 2006 favorite will be the first contest on the schedule, as the Crimson face the Bears in Providence, R.I., on Sept. 23.

Key returnee: Senior running back Clifton Dawson is the one to watch this year, as he takes a charge at Ed Marinaro’s ’72 career rushing mark of 4,715 yards, a league record. Dawson was a preseason first-team All-American selection by The Sporting News, and holds every single-season and career rushing record that Harvard keeps. He is also the leader among active Divison I-AA players in career rushing and all-purpose yards.

Brown Bears
2005: 9-1, 7-1
The Bears have the opportunity to repeat as league champions for the first time in school history, but this could prove to be a challenge without the services of Ivy League Player of the Year, running back Nick Hartigan, who was lost to graduation. The Bears were ranked No. 15 in the nation at the end of last season, and led the league in scoring offense with 36.8 points per game. Brown also proved effective at protecting its lead, as the Bears turned over the ball just once per game, the best mark in the league.
Key returnee: While Hartigan paved the way for the Bears by leading the offense last year, this year’s oustanding player will come from the defensive side of the ball. Senior linebacker Zak DeOssie, an All-American and two-time first-team All-Ivy selection, will be the first line of defense as the Bears seek to hold onto their crown. DeOssie is on the watchlist for the Buck Buchanan Award as the nation’s top division I-AA defensive player.

Cornell Big Red
2005: 6-4, 4-3
After two rebuilding years, head coach Jim Knowles ’87 and the Red are ready to challenge for the Ivy title. Cornell had an unprecedented offense in 2005, as Ryan Kuhn ’06 became the first quarterback in school history to rush for over 1,000 yards. The offense will take a different look this year behind the arm of sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford, who completed 14-of-25 passes for 132 yards in his rookie campaign. With four of five starters from the 2005 edition of the offensive line and the defense that has ranked No. 2 in the nation in rush defense for the past two years coming back strong once again, the Red is looking for nothing more but improvement this year.

Key returnee: Junior tailback Luke Siwula complemented Kuhn on offense last year by running for over 100 yards in six games. His total of 1,086 yards on the season ranks 10th all-time at Cornell, and was good enough for first team All-Ivy recognition.

Penn Quakers
2005: 5-5, 3-4
Tragedy took its toll on the Quakers last season, as the October suicide of running back Kyle Ambrogi ’06 delivered a blow to the program from which it could not recover. After reeling off a 5-1 record to start the season, Penn faltered against the trio that finished atop the league in the home stretch — dropping games to eventual champion Brown, second-place Harvard, and third-place Cornell on its home field to end the season. This year, the Quakers will look to rally and reclaim the league crown for the first time since 2003. Under head coach Al Bagnoli, the Quakers have never gone more than three years without a championship, meaning a failed title run this year would match their longest drought ever.

Key returnee: Senior defensive back Scott Williams, an All-Ivy honorable mention last year, returns to anchor the defense. The co-captain had 45 tackles in his junior campaign, as well as two interceptions.

Princeton Tigers
2005: 7-3, 5-2
The Tigers, who finished tied for second in the league with the Crimson last year, look poised to fall in the standings in 2006. It’s not that they’ve suffered a setback in the offseason, it’s just that other teams are that much stronger. Also, the Tigers face a brutal stretch in the middle of their schedule, as they face Brown, Harvard, Cornell, and Penn in four consecutive weekends. However, the only game they’ll have to play on the road is against the Red inside Schoellkopf Stadium, where the Red are 7-3 in the past two years.

Key returnee: Senior quarterback Jeff Terrell brings an experienced pair of hands under center for the Tigers after securing the starting spot with is 2005 performance. He scored five rushing touchdowns last year, but was vulnerable to sacks by opposing defenses.

Yale Bulldogs
2005: 4-6, 4-3
The Bulldogs were on a rollercoaster last year, failing to string together two wins in a row. The schedule this season doesn’t look to be any friendlier, as a team from the top half of last year’s standings looms every other time Yale faces a league opponent.

Key returnee: First-team All-Ivy wide receiver Ashley Wright will return for one more year of terrorizing Ancient Eight defenses. In 2005, he led the Ivy League with 61 catches, 795 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Columbia Lions
2005: 2-8, 0-7
The Lions find themselves in a rebuilding position similar to that of Cornell in 2004, but the Red’s in-state rival could find it difficult to duplicate the same kind of turnaround. Under new coach Norries Wilson, the Lions have found new optimism, scoring more points in the first 19 minutes of a preseason scrimmage against the Crimson than in the two teams’ past two meetings combined.

Key returnee: Columbia didn’t accomplish much in the Ivy League last year, but senior safety Tad Crawford managed to post 111 tackles, the best showing in the conference and the best performance by a Columbia player since 1997.

Dartmouth Green
2005: 2-8, 1-6
Another struggling program, the Green might be the one team the Lions can leapfrog this year — a reversal of fortune from last season, when Dartmouth posted its lone conference win against Columbia.

However, the Green returns 35 letterwinners and has reloaded with 33 freshmen, which help the squad shake things up in the season to come. The end of the road looks rocky, though, with the Green’s final four league games consisting of home contests against Harvard and Brown and showdowns against Cornell and Princeton on the road.

Key returnee: Senior wide receiver Ryan Fuselier adds some spark to the Green’s offense, as he was third in the league with 51 receptions for 501 yards in 2005.