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Now-junior quarterback Aidan Sayin prepares a pass to wide receiver Julien Stokes during last season's game against Princeton on Nov. 19, 2022. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

It has been said that a team is only as good as its quarterback. But if you ask Penn junior signal-caller Aidan Sayin, a quarterback is only as good as his mindset.

“A great college QB knows what to do on every play,” Sayin said. “He’s confident, confident that he’s going to make the right play almost every time. He’s not going into any play nervous.”

The conference that Sayin and the Quakers call home, the Ivy League, is proof of just how pivotal QB play can be for a team’s overall success. Last season, three of the Ancient Eight’s top four teams in the final standings were also top four in passing offense (Penn, Princeton, and Harvard). And as the league prepares for the season ahead, the role that signal-callers will play cannot be overstated.

Coming off an Ivy League honorable mention in his first full season as a starter, Sayin is one of the better quarterbacks in the Ancient Eight. The Quaker offense is designed squarely around him, finishing second in the conference in both completions and passing yards in 2022. But if the Red and Blue want to take the next step toward winning the conference crown, they will need Sayin to be even better.

“I think all the quarterbacks in the Ivy League are at a really high level,” defensive coordinator Bob Benson said. “If you take the All-League guys, you basically go straight through the league [standings]. Yale’s had success offensively because their leader, he’s a gamer. It’s extremely difficult to defend him in terms of keeping him in the pocket and defending the pass.”

Benson is spot on, both in his assessment of Yale quarterback Nolan Grooms and in his attribution of team success to QB success. Grooms led the Bulldogs to an Ivy League title last season en route to a first team All-Ivy selection, doing most of his damage on the ground with the Ivy’s second highest rushing yard total. His style is vastly different from that of the league’s other elite leaders, but the result is the same: each of the league’s top three teams in 2022 saw their quarterback receive All-Ivy honors.

Grooms is back for his senior year, as is Princeton quarterback Blake Stenstrom, who earned the second team All-Ivy nod in 2022. That places the pressure on Sayin to climb the ladder, and importantly, to take the Quakers with him.

“An elite QB makes a great difference in the team,” Sayin said. “I think the QB is a player that a lot of the team looks to for that leadership, that spark. If the offense isn’t playing well, the QB needs to give them that spark to make it go.”

No quarterback in the Ivy League completed more passes than Sayin in 2022, and that is a result of both his excellent efficiency and the way Penn’s offense is designed to run. The Red and Blue run a tremendous amount of short passes, particularly swing routes out of the backfield, which results in an outsized amount of passes for Sayin. His 391 attempts were 41 more than any other Ancient Eight passer, but his 5.99 yards per attempt ranked eighth among starters.

The Red and Blue’s offense will likely take a similar shape in 2023, but if Sayin can continue to improve, that spark could light the fuse for a dynamic Quaker scoring attack. Last season, Princeton’s Stenstrom trailed Sayin from an attempts perspective, but it was the Tigers’ signal-caller who led the conference in yards, completion percentage, and efficiency.

In the Ivy League, as in many other conferences across the nation, the QB wears the crown. It is the most important position on the field, and arguably the most important in all of sports. But the Ancient Eight is notable still for just how linearly a great QB influences great success– if you don’t have a top-of-the-line signal-caller, you’ll never find yourself at the top of the standings.

And yet, even within such a small conference, success at the QB position looks wildly different. From Grooms and his ground-pounding approach to Stensrom and his aerial attack, great quarterbacks come in all shapes and sizes. And that is where Sayin’s opportunity lies — he does not need to fill a prototypical model, he just needs to be the best version of himself.

Sayin is already one of the best the Ancient Eight has to offer. But for Penn to achieve their title aspirations, it is not enough for Sayin to compete for the title of best quarterback in the conference. He needs to own it.