Ivy League Football Ramping Up

Ivy League coaches discuss the 2009 football season.


“Cleat,” Harvard Magazine’s canny football
correspondent, will blog about the Crimson’s season this fall on the
magazine’s website. Follow his dispatches at http://harvardmag.com/football.

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For the third time in four years, Harvard emerged as the team favored to win the Ivy League title in the annual Ivy Preseason Media Poll, released August 11.  Last fall, Brown (7-3, 6-1 Ivy) shared the league title with the Crimson (9-1, 6-1 Ivy).  In the poll, the Crimson amassed 129 points, capturing 10 of 17 first-place votes and narrowly leading Penn, which had 117 votes and four first-place tallies. Brown followed with 106 points and the remaining three top votes, while Yale rounded out the top half with 82 points.

The same day, an unprecedented teleconference with all eight Ivy coaches briefed sports media on prospects for the 2009 season. It began with an explanation of a new Ivy rule by Jim Maconaghy, coordinator of football officials for the league. Flagrant personal fouls—“targeting fouls”—will now incur a severe penalty of not only 15 yards lost, but “likely” disqualification of the player from the game. Such fouls are committed against defenseless players and normally involve a blow above the shoulder level. An example would be a late hit of an elbow to the head of a wide receiver who had already had an uncatchable ball thrown over his head. Though such infractions are rare in Ivy play, Maconaghy acknowledged that the new rule was intended to counteract a broad trend toward plays of this sort.

Harvard head coach Tim Murphy noted that one of Harvard’s strengths is its wide receiver corps, where no fewer than five quality pass catchers will line up. Murphy also considers the offensive and defensive lines solid.  Less settled is the linebacker position, which saw four starters from last year’s defense graduate. Several athletes are competing for the quarterback job, including juniors Matt Simpson and Collier Winters, sophomores Devin Saxon and  Alex Sarkisian, and freshmen Colton Chappie, Anthony Russ, and Jordan Nuckolls. Murphy noted that they have “big shoes to fill,” as Harvard’s last two starting quarterbacks, Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 and Chris Pizzotti ’08 (’09), are now with NFL teams.

Crimson running backs include Gino Gordon ’11, who Murphy said had “established himself as one of the top running backs in the Ivies,” and Cheng Ho ’10, who has done “a great job.” The coach’s overall assessment of the running game was that while not “exceptional, it is solid, and I’ll take solid.” Murphy also looks favorably on the Crimson’s defensive secondary, which includes last year’s Ivy Rookie of the Year, Matt Hanson ’12. Murphy added that the University of Pennsylvania (6-4, 5-2 Ivy in 2008) is a team that, every year, offers Harvard “one of the two toughest games on the schedule. We take it for granted that the road to the Ivy championship will go through Penn.”

Pennsylvania coach Al Bagnoli brings the Quakers into the fall with their usual stingy defense, led by senior cornerback Chris Wynn. Talented junior quarterback Keiffer Garton will spearhead an attack that returns all its running backs and wide receivers from last year’s squad.

Coach Phil Estes of Brown expects to field a strong squad of Bears, featuring a dangerous offense led by senior receivers Buddy Farnham and Bobby Sewell.  Estes, like most of his colleagues, has not yet settled on a starting quarterback. For him, the punter is a crucial concern that has not yet been resolved.

Yale, under new coach Tom Williams, will field a young team; 35 players from last year’s squad (6-4, 4-3 Ivy) graduated. Williams nonetheless noted that the Eli had a “nucleus of good football players,” and that four athletes were vying for the quarterback position. Regarding the preseason poll, Williams asserted that he had not “looked at the poll or discussed it. The only thing we care about is how we’re ranked at the end of the season.”

Despite the Crimson’s status as the “team to beat,” at least among sports pundits, Harvard coach Tim Murphy observed that there was a great deal of parity in the league, and that—with no dominant quarterbacks on any of the eight teams this fall—the season was very much “up in the air,” with many contenders capable of a title.


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