Harvard Football’s 2019 Season Outlook
The 2019 Harvard football season—the school’s 146th—will begin in the same place the 1919 season ended: Southern California. (See Anniversaries, below.) One hundred years ago, Harvard was a postseason victor and was proclaimed national champion; this season, rest assured that November will not bring a bowl bid.
Much has transpired since last November 17, when Harvard concluded a solid 6-4 season by beating Yale 45-27 at Fenway Park. Here are a few things to catch up on before the 2019 kickoff.
THE OPENER. The first game will be at San Diego’s Torero Stadium on Saturday, September 21. Kickoff: 4 p.m. (EST). The game will be broadcast on WRCA 1330 AM/106.1 FM and 92.9 FM/HD2. The Crimson is 3-0 in the series against its Pioneer League rivals, including a 36-14 victory over the Toreros last year at Harvard Stadium. San Diego will go into the game 0-2, having dropped shootouts to Cal Poly (52-34) and UC Davis (38-35).
THE HOME OPENER. The first Harvard Stadium and Ivy League game of 2019 will be against Brown on Friday, September 27. Kickoff: 7 p.m. The game will be telecast on ESPN News, streamed on ESPN+, and broadcast on WRCA 1330 AM/106.1 FM and 92.9 FM/HD2, and on WHRB 95.3 FM. The Crimson leads the series 86-30-2, including last year’s 31-17 triumph in Providence. This is the only Friday Night Lights game on this season’s schedule.
THE GAME. The 136th Playing will be at the Yale Bowl on Saturday, November 23 (kickoff time TBA). The Crimson trails the series 60-67-8. Last November’s victory broke a two-year skid. This year the 105-year-old Bowl has joined the twenty-first century by being fitted out with artificial turf. We’ll see if traffic and parking are similarly upgraded.
THE PROSPECTS. The happy days of Harvard gridiron hegemony, which lasted for roughly the first 15 years of the twenty-first century, are past. Beginning his twenty-sixth season on the Harvard sideline, coach Tim Murphy has not seen his team win or share a title in an increasingly balanced conference since 2015. Every player recruited during Murphy’s tenure has been on a team that won or shared at least one championship. For this year’s seniors, that streak is in severe jeopardy.
In the Ivy League’s preseason media poll, the Crimson was picked fourth, behind Yale, Dartmouth, and Princeton. This seems about right, if only on paper. The Elis and the Big Green have two battle-tested quarterbacks apiece. The defending champion Tigers bring back the core of last season’s unbeaten juggernaut.
The Crimson (4-3 in the league in 2018, good for third place) must replace the guts of last season’s powerhouse offensive and defensive lines, and must settle on a quarterback from a group that includes junior (and onetime starter) Jake Smith and several promising newcomers. But Harvard has considerable strengths. Senior defensive back and captain Wes Ogsbury and junior linebacker Jordan Hill are among the league’s best at their positions. On offense, the junior running back tandem of Aaron Shampklin and Devin Darrington are threats to break a long one on any down. The wideouts—senior Jack Cook and juniors Tyler Adams and B.J. Watson—also can take it to the house.
Likewise, the Crimson boasts two of the league’s best kickers: sophomore punter Jon Sot (41.1-yard average in 2018) and senior placekicker Jake McIntyre (successful on 13 of 15 field-goal attempts in ’18; see Milestones, below).
RULES TWEAKS. One involves overtime. This season, if a game lasts longer than four overtimes, subsequent extra periods will consist of the teams going directly to an exchange of two-point conversion attempts (from the three-yard line) until there is a winner. The idea is to minimize exhaustion for the players (and coronaries for the fans).
Another rules revision concerns targeting—the foul resulting from an intentional hit with the helmet to the ball-carrier’s or pass receiver’s head or neck. In essence, targeting will no longer be a judgment call. After it is flagged by an official on the field, it will be re-evaluated on video to make sure the play qualifies as targeting and was not just a rattling legal tackle. If the hit is not deemed targeting, the call on the field will be overturned.
Hypothetically, this could have forestalled some misery last November for Harvard against Yale, when Crimson defensive back Wes Ogsbury was ejected for targeting Eli runner Zane Dudek, an official’s call that seemed highly questionable. (Many of us used earthier language.)
ANNIVERSARIES. New Year’s Day will mark the 100th anniversary of Harvard’s only postseason appearance—a 7-6 win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl. For those of you who couldn’t make it out to Pasadena that day, the Harvard Athletic Association has published a splendid remembrance by John Powers ’70. At this season’s game against Dartmouth at the Stadium on November 2, the Harvard Varsity Club will celebrate the centennial as teams from eight Crimson sports will be in action. (During the season, in our weekly postgame wrap-ups, we plan to trace the 1919 Crimson’s road to the Rose Bowl.)
And November 6 will be the 150th anniversary of the birth of football, when the Rutgers Queensmen (as today’s Scarlet Knights were called) beat the Princeton Tigers 6-4. (In 2069, on the 200th anniversary, will there still be football?)
MILESTONES. If Harvard wins or shares the Ivy title, it will be coach Tim Murphy’s tenth championship, tying him with vaunted Yale coach Carmen Cozza for most titles.
With six more wins, Murphy (profiled here) will have 180 overall at Harvard, putting him one ahead of Cozza in this category among Ivy coaches.
The first field goal this season by senior Jake McIntyre will be the thirty-first of his career, vaulting him past Matt Schindel ’08 for most all-time by a Crimson kicker.
FAMILIAR FACES IN DIFFERENT PLACES. Eight former Harvard players (the most from any Ivy or Football Championship Subdivision school) began the season on NFL rosters: Cameron Brate ’14 (tight end, Tampa Bay Buccaneers); Ben Braunecker ’16 (tight end, Chicago Bears); Nick Easton ’14 (center, New Orleans Saints); Anthony Firkser ’17 (tight end, Tennessee Titans); Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 (quarterback, Miami Dolphins); Kyle Juszczyk ’13 (fullback, San Francisco 49ers); Tyler Ott ’14 (long snapper, Seattle Seahawks); and Adam Redmond ’16 (center, Dallas Cowboys). The venerable Fitzpatrick is in his fifteenth pro season.
But perhaps more intriguingly, three players from last year’s Harvard roster, all of whom are from the class of ’19 with football eligibility remaining, are continuing their football careers for other college teams as so-called graduate transfers. Wideout and punt returner Justice Shelton-Mosley, healed from leg injuries suffered against Cornell that cut short his brilliant Harvard tenure, is playing for Vanderbilt in the rugged Southeastern Conference. In the Commodores’ first two games he caught five passes for 37 yards and reeled off a 23-yard run. Meantime, two one-time members of the Crimson backfield, both Texans, have landed at Rice. Last week, in the Owls’ 41-21 loss to Wake Forest, quarterback Tom Stewart, from Dallas, appeared in relief. Unsheathing the arm strength he showcased last season for Harvard, he completed 19 of 30 pass attempts for 185 yards and a touchdown; he also scored on a one-yard plunge. Former Crimson fullback Charlie Booker, from Houston, also made an appearance against the Demon Deacons, rushing five times for 13 yards.
MOST HEARTENING NEWS. The return to school of Ben Abercrombie ’21 (’23). In the first game of the 2017 season, the rookie Crimson defensive back suffered neck and spinal cord injuries that have left him paralyzed him from the neck down. This fall he has re-entered as a freshman. He is living in a specially outfitted room in Weld Hall and taking two courses as he reimmerses himself. Abercrombie’s injury prompted the Harvard Varsity Club to establish The Benson M. Abercrombie ’21 Fund to provide support to the Abercrombie family and any future Harvard undergraduate student-athlete who incurs a severe or catastrophic injury while competing for the Crimson and enrolled in Harvard College.
The Abercrombie Fund may be receiving a possible windfall cooked up by Nick DiGiovanni ’19, a former member of the Harvard sailing team. This spring DiGiovanni, who graduated with the special concentration of Food and Climate, entered the competition on the Fox TV show Master Chef. His pledge: If he won the $250,000 first prize, he would donate $10,000 to the fund. The series already has finished shooting but the results remain under wraps. As of this writing, in the episodes that have been telecast (Wednesdays, 8 p.m. [EST]; check local listings), DiGiovanni has made it to the final four. The finale is scheduled to air on Wednesday, September 18. Fry fiercely, Nick!!
MOST DEVASTATING NEWS. The death of Samantha Lin ’16, former editor and football beat writer for The Harvard Crimson. A rising fourth-year student at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Lin, 25, was killed on August 5 in a traffic accident in Napa, California. Sam’s knowledge of football, which was prodigious, was exceeded only by her press box collegiality and effervescent spirit.