That’s what will be important to keep in mind this fall: Penn football may have won the Ivy League title last season in an unexpected comeback, but they only won a third of it.
That means that there are two other teams who have just as much a claim to it this year as the Quakers do.
Harvard and Dartmouth are both still strong teams — despite some key player graduations — who will be tough matches for the Red and Blue as they seek to win the title outright this year. And it is worth keeping that in mind throughout the season as we get hyped up for our school: Although we have a title-contending team, we have just that — we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves.
The Ivy League preseason media poll ranked Penn at second, behind Harvard, of course, but with a caveat: the former received more votes for first place, while the latter was placed in first because it received more votes on aggregate.
Not to mention that the team’s star wide receiver, junior Justin Watson, was a name on the nationwide FCS Offensive Player of the Year watchlist. His chemistry with senior quarterback Alek Torgersen should generate a decent number of touchdowns this year, but the two can only get their team so far. A team effort is necessary to win games and have a go at the title.
So the Quakers are ranked second in the preseason media poll, but last year, they fared much worse. They were ranked sixth, and the lack of pressure along with a chip on their shoulders likely helped them surge to the title. This year, it will be interesting to see how they handle the pressure of being one of the favorites.
“We keep talking about how we’re not trying to defend a title,” Watson said. “It’s our same goal as last year — we’re trying to go out and win the title. This year, we’re trying to do it outright. One-third was great, it was great to send the seniors out with a ring on their finger, but we want the whole thing this year.”
In a way, this could be the best situation for the Quakers. Having won a third of the title in 2015, they got to enjoy the glory of topping the Ivy League, while avoiding the complacency, or perhaps relaxation, associated with finishing clear first. Just look at the last two seasons of Premier League soccer in England, and it’s plain to see the effects total victory can have on the minds of the defending champions. It’s easier to play with a chip on the shoulder rather than to defend a title, and you could say that Penn will do that in 2016.
“It’s all how you handle it,” coach Ray Priore said. “You look to the seniors and to the staff to keep people grounded.”
Priore continued to mention the tough losses dealt to the team last year, arguing that keeping them fresh in memory should help give the team something to prove.
“Remember how you got there,” he said. “It’s all about building the house from the foundation up, laying brick by brick.”
That last phrase is one that Priore has been using frequently in recent weeks, in several different contexts. Here, he summed up perfectly what will be needed for his team’s success this season — taking one task at a time, brick by brick. Focusing on the little things, the fundamentals, and not getting carried away with last year’s glory. Start with the little things, and end up with the big prize.
In a way, that’s what has happened to the team over time. Two years ago, they had a poor season. Last year, they got a third of what they wanted. And if Priore’s plan comes to fruition, just as he’s saying, the little things will add up.
A third can become a half, or a whole — but only one brick at a time.
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