Last season, the Penn football team set out on a ‘Watch the Throne’ tour.
The Quakers were seeking a three-peat of the Ivy League championship, but after opening conference play with two last-second victories over lesser teams, it would have needed a group of Navy SEALs to adequately Watch the Throne.
Penn found a rhythm after outscoring Yale, 27-5, in the final quarter en route to a 37-25 victory, but a week later its 18-game Ivy win streak came to an end at Brown. Harvard encroached on the Throne.
Two games later, the Crimson completely took it over in championship fashion with a 37-20 win in Boston.
Picked first in this year’s Ivy Preseason Media Poll, it’s Harvard that is now watching the Throne.
And the Quakers? They’re perfectly fine with that.
In fact, they’re better than fine.
Coach Al Bagnoli is the first to admit he didn’t keep his squad focused enough last year. Something just wasn’t right.
“It really started with me and worked itself all the way down,” he said. “We probably didn’t do as good a coaching job as we needed to do.”
Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jon McLaughlin pinpointed inconsistency as a weakness.
“We were a very inconsistent team [last season] and that’s something we’re working on,” he said. “We’ve been talking about our approach to practice, our approach to the weight room, our approach to watching film, and … developing our consistency.”
Now, their heads are back in the game.
“We’re much better prepared, we’re much better focused, we have a much better gauge of where we are,” Bagnoli said.
And it shows. At the start of last season, there was a sense of cockiness — not always a bad trait in football — and feeling that they could get through the season relatively unscathed to win a third straight title.
But the task was a difficult one — the team was young and the expectations were high. In this position twice before, Bagnoli had never coached his team to three consecutive championships. Let’s say it wasn’t exactly a recipe for success.
This season the Quakers have a crop of seniors who won championships their freshman and sophomore years, then fell short as juniors. They don’t want to leave on a low note.
“As … veterans going into our senior years,” senior running back Brandon Colavita said of his classmates, “we’re looking to go out with a bang.”
A day-by-day, no-looking-back attitude has been adopted, and it’s present in every member of the program.
“We’re really just concentrating on doing one thing right at a time, taking it day by day and snap by snap … not getting ahead of ourselves and certainly not looking back,” McLaughlin said. “That’s what I like about this team — they’re really focused on each day.”
That focus will pay dividends come opening kickoff Sept. 15 and when the Ivy slate begins at Dartmouth on Sept. 29.
The Red and Blue return four starters to the offensive line, have a healthy corps of running backs and three reliable targets for Billy Ragone: Conner Scott, Ryan Mitchell and Joe Holder.
No longer the defending champs, the Quakers are in a much better position now than they were at this time last year.
Now it’s all about reclaiming that Throne.
MEGAN SOISSON is a senior Health and Societies major from Mechanicsburg, Pa., and is the Senior Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. Her email address is soisson@theDP.com.