Fourteen days. A fortnight.
Call it whatever you want, but that’s how long Penn football has to figure out who the team is and how it will compete for Ivy League glory this season.
As someone who has closely followed countless teams over the years, I’ve never had more questions about one going into a season than I do about these Quakers.
The last time we saw this team, it was mired in a quarterback controversy between Nick Robinson and Ryan Glover amid another middling Ivy League season. Both of those players are long gone now, but we still don’t have an answer at the quarterback position. How many of the five quarterbacks on Penn’s roster will we see in game action this season, and who will they be?
In recent years, head coach Ray Priore giving freshman any playing time has been exceptionally rare. Consequently, almost three-quarters of the football team has never played a college snap. Will these players be ready?
To shake up the situation even more, the Quakers — for the first time ever — will be trotting out graduate students as the Ivy League extended their eligibility due to COVID-19. While this gives Penn some returning star power with names such as Prince Emili and Brian O’Neill, it raises some questions too. Will these players be the same guys after all this time off, and how will these grad students compare to those on the field at Harvard and Dartmouth?
Despite all of this uncertainty, I think there is room for optimism, too. In addition to these graduate students, who should be boons to Penn both on and off the field, the Quakers return breakout wide receivers Ryan Cragun and Rory Starkey, Jr. The Red and Blue should have an exciting mix in the backfield as well. Couple that with the returning defenders and you could have a team that contends.
But to contend, you have to be perfect. Or close to it. Every year since 1983, the Ivy League champion has lost no more than one league game. Since 2017, the Quakers have lost at least three every year they’ve played.
On Oct. 1 at Franklin Field, Penn gets its first chance to prove itself against reigning champions Dartmouth, who stomped the Quakers in 2019. To say the stakes will be high would be an understatement.
Between now and then, Penn will be on the road at Bucknell and Lafayette for some non-conference competition. And while these games don’t count in the standings, they’ll be as important as ever.
As an outsider, I have a lot of questions about how Penn’s football season will go. If I had to guess, I’d say the team and coaching staff themselves aren’t quite sure how the squad will shape up either. And that’s fine. But the next two weeks will be critical for Penn as it looks to find the answers to its questions to get back to the top of the Ivy League.
BRANDON PRIDE is a Wharton junior from Morgan Hill, Calif. studying finance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.