Change is coming for Penn football.
After four successful years at quarterback for the Red and Blue, Billy Ragone is gone. And after 22 years coaching Penn football, Al Bagnoli is set to retire at season’s end and hand over the reins to current defensive coordinator Ray Priore.
To top it off, the Quakers fell under .500 last season despite being the favorites to claim the Ivy League title for a second consecutive year.
But don’t think for a second that the Red and Blue are going to take another step back in 2014.
Sure, Princeton has been crowned as the favorites for this year, picking up nine votes in the Ivy League Preseason Media Poll. Heck, I voted Princeton first myself.
Yet that doesn’t mean that this Penn team isn’t set to improve on last season’s finish — four straight losses — and compete for an Ivy crown.
It was just last year when Penn was picked to finish first after winning the title the year before, and Bagnoli said that it was often a kiss of death to be chosen first in the preseason. He was definitely right.
This year, Princeton coach Bob Surace dismissed the preseason poll when asked about it.
“Chip Kelly talked about how boring and unimportant the NFL combine is,” he said. “Times it by a gazillion and that’s how I feel about preseason honors and awards.”
Surace is definitely right in that regard: The preseason pick to win it all doesn’t mean anything. In fact, the rankings are mostly based off of the previous year’s finish for each squad, since none of the schools had begun practice when the vote was announced.
Based on last year’s finish, one might expect Penn to nosedive into the bottom half of the Ivy League, but that is simply not something that this team is poised to do.
In fact, the Quakers might just be the team best positioned to compete with Princeton for that Ivy crown.
Just look at their roster. The Red and Blue return all of their running backs, their top receivers and tight ends and almost their entire back seven on defense. The team will be filled to the brim with experience at key positions, flanking the quarterback with All-Ivy wideout Conner Scott and attacking the opposing QB with players like captain and All-Ivy linebacker Dan Davis.
Yet the team certainly has question marks, particularly at and under center. Sophomore quarterback Alek Torgersen steps into his second year with just 10 career passes — all in the second half of last year’s season finale against Cornell — while being expected to fill Billy Ragone’s shoes as the man leading the Red and Blue’s passing attack.
But when asked about Torgersen, Bagnoli sees him as a strong successor to Ragone.
“We’ve got a real diamond in the rough. He acquitted himself really well in the final quarter of the Cornell game, and I think he took that momentum into spring football,” Bagnoli said. “He’s a kid that can do anything you want him to do. He is a big, strong, strapping kid.”
While Torgersen has some strong players around him to throw and hand off to, the team’s other main question mark comes right in front of him on the offensive line. Ragone dealt with injuries during much of his time at Penn, and it will be important for the O-line to keep his successor upright for most of the season.
Outside of an inexperienced O-line, the strength returning all around Torgersen, from the coaching staff on down, puts Penn in a solid place to succeed.