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When Napoleon was asked what troops he considered the best, he replied, "Those which are victorious." "...They're stretching [the rules] as if they're plastic," Steve Tosches, coach of the arch-rival Princeton Tigers and head of the unofficial 'smear Penn with innuendo' committee, told Sports Illustrated last year. "When does the plastic break?" But for anyone who actually watched that Penn class compile its 26 victories knows it was not due to overwhelming talent. Indeed, many of the games were of the nail-biting variety -- seven of the games during the streak were decided by four points or less. Like plastic, you could bend the Quakers, but they did not break. But that magic touch waned midway through last year. First, Columbia made the Quakers wobbly with a 24-14 victory, snapping Penn's 24-game winning streak. And then Princeton delivered the wallop -- 22-9, on Penn's homecoming day, no less. The Quakers tied Cornell for second place in the league. The Tigers, suddenly mum about the compatibility between victories and academics, took the top prize. The plastic for the Quakers indeed broke. And to add to Bagnoli's challenge this year is the fact that he can no longer rely on his two aces -- his All-American wide receiver Miles Macik, whose hands are as sure as his smile, and his gifted if erratic quarterback, Mark DeRosa, who would have been perhaps the greatest of Penn's throwers, save for his habit of passing the ball to the other team. The eternally optimistic Macik overcame the odds and made the Detroit Lions opening day roster despite not being drafted. It did not take long for Lions coach Wayne Fontes to notice the abilities of Macik, as well as the alliteration of his name. "Miles Macik -- what a great name for a player, a movie star maybe, " Fontes told The Detroit Free Press. Coaching football, fortunately for Wayne, is not rocket science. DeRosa, on the other hand, who doubled at Penn as a shortstop on the baseball team, gave up his remaining football eligibility after signing with the Atlanta Braves, who drafted hin in the seventh round. The Braves sent him to Class A ball in Oregon, where the curves are tougher than in Wharton classes; he batted a respectable .242. But on the bright side for Bagnoli, he fields a trio of talented runners -- the speedy Jasen Scott, the rough-and-tumble Aman Abye and the green but ready Jason McGee. Penn will replace DeRosa with the forever-in-waiting Steve Teodecki, who will get to prove he is more than just a backup, or not. But the fact that Bagnoli never deigned to replace DeRosa with Teodecki, despite DeRosa's struggles last year, gives the Penn partisan some pause. The defense loses some too, especially in their secondary. Gone are all-Ivy selections Tom McGarrity, Kevin Allen, Nick Morris and Dana Lyons. But Mitch Marrow, arguably Ivy League football's best athlete, along with the wrestler-cum-gridder Joey Allen and co-captain Tim Gage, leads a still-strong defensive front seven. But the most important returnee is Bagnoli himself, who took over a 2-8 team four years ago and has won 33 out of 39 as the Quakers' commander-in-chief. A record like that breeds optimism in any season. And this year, Bagnoli will get to prove that he's a great general, and not merely a cheerleader for some very winning troops.

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