The bar may have been set just too high for Penn football in 2011.
After losing 33 seniors and 11 All-Ivy players, the Quakers entered last year as the preseason favorite, but an unprecedented third straight Ivy title eluded the Red and Blue, who finished in a four-way tie for second place.
“I don’t think any of us were really happy with how we played, and maybe we overestimated everything,” coach Al Bagnoli said Monday at Penn football media day. “We probably didn’t do as good a coaching job as we needed to do.”
There’s no doubt the Quakers entered last season as a young team — four of five offensive linemen alone were first-year starters — but the silver lining in their 4-3 league record can be found in the experience gained by the 17 starters who will be returning this year.
Senior Steve Lias comes in after taking the reigns at linebacker last season, where he finished with 34 tackles in six starts. Senior nose guard Taylor Brown will build upon a season in which he started all 10 games and recorded 29 tackles and a sack on the defensive line. Juniors Jake Schwertner and Chris Bush and seniors Mike Pinciotti and Joe Bonadies return on a suddenly veteran offensive line.
“We have just so much more depth because kids were forced to play last year so early,” Bagnoli said. “I think we’re in a much better position at this point than we were last [season].”
In addition to youth, the Quakers had to battle a slew of injuries that started before the opening kickoff and continued throughout the year. Wide out Conner Scott, tailback Lyle Marsh and several key freshmen were lost for more than the majority of the season.
“We not only were young last year, but we incurred so many injuries that we became even younger,” Bagnoli said.
Entering 2012, expectations have been tempered. Harvard was the overwhelming choice for the No. 1 spot in the Ivy League preseason media poll — something Bagnoli expected. Penn ranked second.
“I’m always of the belief that the defending champion should always be picked until someone knocks them off,” Bagnoli said.
At the same time, the head man hopes his players can use it as a motivating factor.
“I don’t mind being picked second or third,” he said. “That’s fine because then you can play with a chip on your shoulder.”
Becker out as backup QB
Junior passer Ryan Becker, who has played in 15 games and started twice in his first two years with the Red and Blue, will not serve as backup to Billy Ragone after getting injured in the offseason.
“He was running around at home back in Florida and he planted … doing passing drills, and he blew out his knee,” Bagnoli said. “He will not be available to us.”
The Florida State transfer has racked up 735 yards and thrown for two touchdowns and four picks since 2010. Senior Andrew Holland will take over the second-string duties.
“He throws the ball better than any of the quarterbacks, so it gives us a real throwing threat,” Bagnoli said. “If we ever really wanted to open it up, we can turn into Cornell if we wanted to.”
Marino, Bailey not playing in 2012
Neither senior Anthony Marino nor sophomore Aaron Bailey will hit the gridiron this fall for the Quakers, but for different reasons.
Marino, a defensive back, has opted not to return to the team while Bailey, a wide receiver, is academically ineligible to begin the year.
“[Bailey] is trying to regain eligibility,” Bagnoli said. “He’ll probably be another semester away. … Hopefully by another semester, spring ball we should get him back.”
Marino played in 10 games and started twice in 2011, recording 25 tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception. Bailey pulled in five receptions for 36 yards but was more effective running the ball. He carried 23 times for 191 yards and a pair of scores.