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Despite returning 10 All-Ivy selections, the most in the conference, Penn football was picked to finish third in the Ancient Eight. 

Credit: Alex Fisher

When the Ivy League football preseason media poll was released on August 8, it picked the Penn football team to place third for the 2017 season behind co-favorites Princeton and Harvard.

Or, as I should rephrase, the back-to-back-defending-champion Penn football team.

One wouldn’t blame anybody affiliated with the Red and Blue for feeling slighted after head coach Ray Priore became just the second coach in Ivy League history to win championships in each of his first two seasons (and he's now vying for a third).

The first opportunity for public comment, the team’s annual media day on Monday, was a few weeks after the release, so perhaps there may have been different answers had the same questions been asked at an earlier time. But if you’re Princeton or Harvard, you’re scared of how the Quakers have taken the news.

Take senior wide receiver and captain Justin Watson for example.

“We’re hungry,” Watson said. “We were picked third after two back-to-back championships. We love that we’re underdogs.”

Let’s not forget that in each of the 2015-16 championship seasons, the Quakers were not the winners of this poll. In 2015, Penn was projected to finish sixth but rallied off six consecutive wins to tie with Harvard and Dartmouth for the crown, thoroughly exceeding expectations and thriving off the underdog identity.

Although they earned nine first-place votes to Harvard’s seven in the 2016 poll, the Quakers were still ranked second. For the second consecutive season, they went 6-1 in the Ivy League, yielding a tie with Princeton for the championship, in part thanks to Penn’s defeat of No. 22 Harvard.

We’ve established that the Quakers can be dangerous when labeled an underdog. So following that logic, the poll did them a favor by making them one again in 2017.

The funny thing about getting worked up about this poll is that if you took the first-place vote from predicted-to-finish-sixth Brown (likely the same deluded voter who picked Brown 1st in 2015 and 2016 despite the consensus projections of fifth and sixth, respectively), and gave it to Penn, the Red and Blue would not be able to claim underdog status.

If the Quakers were co-favorites along with Princeton and Harvard, the case for Penn being the weakest of the three is not hard to make. It hinges almost solely on the quality of play at the quarterback position.

Three-year starter and 2016 first-team All-Ivy quarterback Alek Torgersen is now in the NFL instead of the Ivy League, and a few members of his dominant offensive line have graduated as well. The winner of the three-headed quarterback competition between Ryan Glover, Will Fischer-Colbrie and Nick Robinson will undoubtedly have his hands full following Torgersen, a dual-threat with a cannon for an arm, and it’s unclear if the new signal caller will benefit from the same degree of protection Torgersen enjoyed.

Apart from new starters coming in at those positions, the roster is largely the same as last year’s. According to Penn Athletics, the Red and Blue have eight returning starters on defense and six on offense, including an Ivy-best 10 returning All-Ivy selections. That continuity will be a key factor in the assimilation of new starters.

So instead of being co-favorites with question marks, Penn is the menacing underdog that has proved in the last two seasons that it can wreak havoc upon the Ivy League.

Priore admitted that some members of the team were not pleased with the prediction, but they’ve moved on and have set their sights on preparing for the season, which starts at Franklin Field on September 16 against Ohio Dominican.

As the coach put it, “The only poll that really matters, truthfully, is the one at the end of the season.”