By: Ben Zauzmer
The media has a habit of glancing at last year’s Ivy League standings and calling that the preseason poll. Penn won last year and not many key players graduated, so surely Penn will win this year, right? Trouble is, college football is a lot more complicated and random than that. Were Penn’s wins really all that impressive? Were Harvard’s graduations really that costly?
At WHRB, we follow Ivy League Football year-round, and we’re confident our Power Rankings take all that into account and much, much more. The only thing we’re not confident about? The rankings themselves, which are subject to change due to an unfortunate injury, a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback, a surprising newcomer, or any number of exciting plot twists over the next nine weeks. That’s why they play the games, and that’s why you should tune in all season long to 95.3 FM and www.whrb.org.
(The records in parentheses are each team’s 2012 overall and conference marks.)
1. Harvard (8-2, 5-2)
I am well aware that ranking the Crimson #1 appears seriously biased coming from a student at that school. For what it’s worth, I was all set to rank the Crimson third before the season started. They lost key leaders on defense and even more on offense. But after watching the second half against San Diego, I was sold. Can Hemple replace Chapple, Stanton Jr. replace Scales, and Brate replace Juszcyck? A week ago, I would have said ‘no,’ ‘no,’ and ‘no.’ Now, with the Ivy League season beginning, I say ‘yes,’ ‘yes,’ and ‘yes.’ The title returns to Cambridge this year.
2. Princeton (5-5, 4-3)
Few remember that Princeton, a team that didn’t make the top half of the league, had the second-best offense and the second-best defense in the league. It was a strange offense to be sure, with Connor Michelson handling the passing and fellow quarterback Quinn Epperly doing the running. But it worked, to the tune of 197 points and an amazing come-from-behind win against Harvard. They’re back, along with star running back Will Powers and wide receiver Roman Wilson. The defense held Patriot League power Lehigh to 29 in week one, a relatively good sign as well. Princeton is your official WHRB sleeper pick.
3. Penn (6-4, 6-1)
The media preseason favorite in third?! The thing is, Penn was not a great team last year: they were outscored 241-235 on the season. On the plus side, the core players are back with an extra year of experience: the steady quarterback Billy Ragone, the newly starting running back Spencer Kulcsar, the dominant receiver Conner Scott, the star defensive back Dan Wilk, and many other key defenders are all hungry for the Quakers’ fourth title in the last five years. With a win against either Harvard or Princeton and no conference upsets, they’ll have an outside shot.
4. Brown (7-3, 4-3)
Brown achieved third in the Ivy League last year on the strength of its defense, which allowed only 128 points in conference play, best in the league. In particular, the secondary led by AJ Cruz, Anthony Franciosi, Benjamin Noury, and Emory Polley made the long pass a non-option for opposing offenses. This year, the tables have turned, with all but Polley graduating. The one thing that keeps them above Dartmouth is the return of track star John Spooney who had a monster game at Georgetown last week. The Bears have been top three in the league for six years running, but that streak ends in 2013.
5. Dartmouth (6-4, 4-3)
Dartmouth is in close second for the sleeper-pick title. The team scored the third-most points in the league last year, just four behind Princeton for second, and that was with an inexperienced offense. This year, split-time quarterbacks Alex Park and Dayln Williams return with an above-.500 season under the belts. Their favorite targets, RB Dominick Pierre and WR Ryan McManus, are back as well. And the defense, which was the rough spot for the 2012 Big Green, returns all six of its leading tacklers. That’s a recipe for disaster for Dartmouth opponents, who should not be surprised if the Big Green climb back into the top half of the league.
6. Cornell (4-6, 2-2)
The offense could be scary. Quarterback Jeff Matthews is at least in the conversation for best player in the Ivy League, sophomore running back Luke Hagy returns after a brilliant freshman campaign, and wide receiver Grant Gellatly is a major downfield threat. So why the low ranking? The defense could also be scary, but not in a good way. They allowed a league-worst 220 points last year and there’s no reason to believe things are going to get any better as Matthews watches helplessly from the sidelines.
7. Yale (2-8, 1-6)
Granted, they started off the year with a win at Colgate. But Colgate is 0-4, not exactly a tough standard of competition. I hesitate to say that this year’s Bulldogs could be even worse than last year’s (remember, the 2012 variety went through seven quarterbacks), but with a depleted defense and an already-awful offense, they may not have hit rock bottom yet.
8. Columbia (3-7, 2-5)
Last year, the Lions set all sorts of unfortunate records in their 69-0 loss at Harvard. How did they start fresh in 2013? By losing 52-7 at Fordham. They’re easily bad enough to rank them below Yale. Start spreadin’ the news …