The University of Pennsylvania football team has been picked to repeat as league champions in the Ivy League's preseason media poll.
Returning 40 letter-winners, 15 starters and 12 All-Ivy players from the 2002 banner squad that went 7-0 in League play and 9-1 overall, the Quakers hope to continue their dominance this year.
The Red and Blue received 12 of a possible 16 first-place votes (123 total points) in a preseason media poll. Harvard came in a distant second with just three first-place votes and 108 total points.
Penn has captured three of the last five Ivy League crowns. The 2003 Quakers will attempt to become the first team to repeat as Ivy League champions since Penn did it in 1993 and 1994.
Harvard finished second in the Ivy League a year ago with a 6-1 conference mark and 7-3 record overall. The Crimson were picked second in the preseason Ivy League poll behind Penn.
Harvard figures to be the toughest challenge in the Ivies for the Red and Blue this season. With sights firmly set on its second Ivy League crown in three seasons, Tim Murphy's squad will look to return to its form of just two years ago, when Harvard recorded a perfect 9-0 campaign and captured the 10th Ivy title in program history.
The Crimson are 13-1 in their last two seasons of Ancient Eight competition, losing only to Penn, 44-9, last Nov. 16.
Although talented, Murphy's team will have to plug some key holes in order to compete with its traditional Ivy League rivals. The loss of twelve starters, including two-time Ivy League Player of the Year Carl Morris at wide receiver, leaves some doubt about the Crimson's prospects this season.
"Their ability to replace a Carl Morris is going to go a long way to determine what they do," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said.
In addition to Morris, Harvard's offensive line has taken a major blow.
"They have lost some good players, but they also have quite a few kids back," Bagnoli said.
Linebacker Dante Balestracci, a 2002 Buchanan finalist as the top defensive player in Division I-AA, headlines a veteran defensive cast. Last season the Crimson allowed only seven rushing touchdowns en route to being the 23rd best rushing defense in the nation.
Balestracci is on the defensive player "Watch List" for the Buchanan Award again this year. He is also a preseason All-American and is looking to become the first to earn first-team All-Ivy honors all four years of his career.
"Harvard always is strong," Bagnoli said. "They are very tough for us to recruit against, so you know they are always going to get talented players."
Yale earned one first-place vote in the preseason poll, finishing third overall with a total of 103 points. The Elis return its key players from a team that went 4-3 in Ivy play last year.
Although the Elis bring a strong offensive unit to the table, their defensive is not expected to be as effective as Harvard's.
The Elis have their top three rushers from 2002 back, including junior and team MVP Robert Carr, who rushed for 1,083 yards last year, averaging 4.6 per carry.
In addition to a strong ground game, the Elis come into the 2003 season with a formidable passing option.
Quarterback Alvin Cowan missed the season's final eight games due to an injury he suffered against Cornell in the second week of the season. Cowan set the modern Yale record for touchdowns in a single game with six against San Diego last season in his debut as a starter, throwing and rushing for three scores.
However, like every Ivy squad this year, Yale fails to put together a complete team.
The Elis' defensive line will mourn the loss of all four starters from a year ago.
"Yale has graduated quite a few defensive starters, so their ability to replace some of the down [linemen] kids and secondary kids is going to factor into how well they do," Bagnoli said.
Last year, Penn beat Yale, 41-20, on Oct. 26.
Dartmouth narrowly edged Princeton in the preseason poll, 69-65, to capture the No. 4 spot.
"Dartmouth arguably has the best offensive skill kids coming back," Bagnoli said.
Two of the "skill kids" that Bagnoli refers to are senior tight end Casey Cramer and senior wide receiver Jay Barnard.
Cramer is the only tight end among 16 players on the "Watch List" for the Walter Payton Award, an honor given annually to the top player in Division I-AA.
The tight end was a first-team All-Ivy selection for the second straight season last fall. He caught 72 passes for 1,017 yards and seven touchdowns. Cramer was named first-team All-America by the American Football Coaches Association and the Sports Network and second-team by The Associated Press.
Barnard is the school's all-time leader in receptions with 146.
So where is the chink in the Big Green's armor? Quarterback.
The loss of standout quarterback Brian Mann leaves a big void at this position that could make or break this talented team's season.
Senior Scott Wille, a transfer from the University of Wisconsin, will look to pick up where Mann left off. Forced into a backup role last season after Mann developed into a second-team All-Ivy quarterback, Wille only completed two of three passes for 18 yards.
Dartmouth fell to Penn, 49-14, last season on Oct. 5.
Princeton finished fifth in the preseason poll with 65 total points.
The Tigers finished 2002 with a 6-4 overall record and were 4-3 in Ivy League play. Princeton fell to Penn last season at home, 44-13, on Nov. 9.
This season, the Tigers return 12 starters from a team that finished third in the Ancient Eight.
Only nine returning Division I quarterbacks had a passing efficiency rating of at least 144.0 last year, and Princeton senior David Splithoff was one of them.
Splithoff -- who has been starting since his freshman season -- is a skilled passer and scrambler.
However, injuries have cut two of his seasons short. If he can remain healthy, he could become just the 10th Ivy League player -- and second Tiger -- to register 6,000 total career yards.
Cornell finished sixth in the poll with 46 points. The Big Red was 4-6 overall last season and 3-4 in the Ivies. Cornell was shut out last season by the Quakers at home, 31-0, on Nov. 23.
This season, while Keith Ferguson graduated from Cornell as its all-time top receiver, Big Red coach Tim Pendergast looks around and sees an ample supply of talent back in Ithaca, N.Y., this fall.
Senior quarterback Mick Razzano was granted a fifth year of eligibility. His return should make for a storybook ending to his career in the position that he grew into late in the 2002 season. Razzano, in his first year as a starter, led the Big Red offense to four wins in the final two minutes of play or in overtime. Cornell defeated Towson, Brown, Dartmouth and Columbia by a total of 11 points last year.
Brown was seventh in the preseason poll with 41 total points. The Bears were 2-8 overall last season and 2-5 in the Ivy League. Brown fell to Penn last season at Franklin Field, 31-7, Nov. 2.
This season, sophomore Jarrett Schreck, who had just seven catches a year ago, will look to have a breakout season. He will have a prolific passer throwing his way.
Senior quarterback Kyle Slager threw 44 completions for 497 yards and three touchdowns against Rhode Island. Slager ended the season with 230 completions, the fifth-highest total in the nation, and the eighth best season in Ivy history. He also had 2,609 yards passing last year.
Columbia finished last in the preseason poll with just 21 total points. The Lions were 1-9 last season and were winless in Ivy League play. Columbia fell to Penn last year at Franklin Field, 44-10, on Oct. 19.
This season, senior quarterback Steve Hunsberger will look to turn things around for the Lions. Last year, Hunsberger became the second quarterback in Columbia history to throw more than 200 pass completions in a single season, ending up with 212. He also became the first Columbia quarterback to throw for more than 2,000 yards since 1994 while leading the team with six rushing touchdowns.Comments powered by Disqus
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