Penn football will not win the Ivy League championship this year.
That much was made certain after Saturday’s narrow loss to Yale. We know this even though the Quakers have only played three Ancient Eight games (all losses). Feel free to let that sink in for a moment.
For some championship-or-bust fans, it doesn’t even matter how well Penn does in its final four games — this season will be a disappointment. After all, Penn has split the championship the past two seasons, and the team returned most of its key contributors from last season. And even if the Red and Blue were only picked to finish third in the Ivy preseason poll, the players were confident at the start of the season.
“We’re not worried about how the league views us,” senior defensive end Louis Vecchio said in September. “Ever since I’ve been here we’ve always been projected low in the polls, and I don’t think that affects us at all. We know what our goals are.”
What makes the trajectory of this season even more disappointing is just how talented this year’s senior class was. Vecchio, Justin Watson, Tre Solomon, Colton Moskal and Hunter Kelley were all key parts of the Red and Blue’s last two championships, and it’s a true shame their college careers will end without another one. They don’t deserve to go out like this.
But even if Penn’s season will ultimately be a disappointment, these Quakers still have plenty to play for.
It goes without saying, but there’s still a ton of pride on the line. Penn hadn’t lost its first three Ivy games since 1996, and the team lost all of its games that year. It’s too late for this team to make history with another Ivy title, but if the Quakers don’t start winning, they might just manage to find themselves on the wrong side of history.
To be clear, I don’t expect that to happen at all. While the team’s play has left a lot to be desired, Penn has had good chances to win in all three of its losses. If just a couple plays here and there go Penn’s way, this could be a very different kind of column. My thinking on this might change if Penn loses at Brown next weekend, but for now at least, we owe it to the seniors to give them the benefit of the doubt.
On top of pride, you can bet the Red and Blue want revenge for their blowout loss against rival Princeton last year. The Tigers not only embarrassed Penn with their shutout victory, but they also prevented the Quakers from winning the Ivy title outright, as the two teams ended up finishing the season with one Ivy loss apiece.
Penn hosts Princeton for Homecoming Weekend in two weeks, and assuming Princeton takes care of business against Cornell next week, the game could end up having colossal implications in the Ivy championship race. Princeton still needs Columbia to lose to have a chance, but a loss against Penn would all but eliminate the Tigers from contention.
I’m confident that the opportunity to play for pride and as a spoiler will be more than enough motivation for Penn in the final weeks of the season, but if for some reason it isn’t, the Quakers should at least be determined to do everything they can to help superstar receiver Justin Watson improve his NFL draft stock.
Enough has already been said about Penn’s quarterback play this season, but both Nick Robinson and Will Fischer-Colbrie should continue to make targeting Watson a top-priority in the coming weeks. Alek Torgersen’s difficulties landing on a team have shown just how hard it can be for Ivy Leaguers to make it in the NFL, but Watson has as good a chance as any if he can continue to put up the kinds of numbers he’s put up for his entire career.
Watson tied Penn’s all-time record for receiving touchdowns with his 27th Saturday, and his 3,281 receiving yards rank second in school history. I don’t think Watson would ever seek out stats over a victory, but he deserves to be able to continue his football career, and his teammates should do everything short of jeopardizing the team’s chances of winning to make sure Watson gets his shot.
So as discouraging as Ivy play has been so far for the Quakers, they still have a lot to play for. Here’s to hoping Penn can also start to give fans something to root for.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.