Let’s just say this up front: The first four games of the Penn football schedule were rough.
They weren’t rough in the sense that the Quakers got steamrolled — Lafayette and William & Mary were both winnable contests — but rough in that the Red and Blue had to open against two tough Patriot League and Colonial Athletic Association teams, then play an Ivy game, then go up against another scholarship team.
Penn’s 1-3 record as a result of that tough opening slate is not indicative of what this team can do. The Quakers mounted nearly successful comebacks against the Leopards and the Tribe, proving they can at least keep those teams on their toes even if they couldn’t overcome them in the end.
But here’s the good news: Columbia and Yale are up next.
With Penn’s final six games all against Ivy opponents, the order in which the Red and Blue play them could not be more perfect: two warm-up games, then Brown, Princeton, Harvard and finally Cornell.
Columbia and Yale are games the Quakers should win — and easily — if they come out and play like the superior team they are. (See Penn’s dominant first half against Dartmouth.) At home against Princeton, a team with just one Ivy win in the previous two seasons combined, the Lions were handed a 33-6 trouncing.
Billy Ragone has found his stride recently and is coming off an excellent performance in which he completed 60 percent of his passes for 207 yards and two scores. A similar showing would Patrick Hulce/Senior Photographer exploit a major hole in the Lions’ defense, which has allowed 245 yards per game through the air this season.
Columbia quarterback Sean Brackett has connected on just 47 percent of his passes for 718 yards, while the tag team of Ragone and Andrew Holland averages a 63 percent completion rate and are responsible for 910 yards of offense — 565 from Ragone, 345 from Holland.
The Yale game, too, should be a contest that will pad up the win column in preparation for an improved Princeton team and a dominant Harvard squad. Other than a 24-21 win in their season opener, the Bulldogs have lost all their other games by at least 20 points, including a 45-6 dismantling at the hands of Cornell.
These aren’t games Penn will necessarily win in a walk. But they are games the Quakers should win if they show up to play.
Unlike in the Dartmouth game, the Quakers can’t get comfortable if they build up a big lead again — even Yale and Columbia are capable of scoring major points against a complacent defense. Princeton and Brown won’t play nice either.
If the Red and Blue can play hard start to finish, these games will be invaluable tune-ups before taking on Princeton, Harvard and Cornell — Penn’s top three competitors for a league title.
ANNA STRONG is a senior English major from Philadelphia and is former sports editor of The Summer Pennsylvanian. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.