Yesterday, Penn football went to New York, and played Columbia. Three hours later, the clock hit zero, and the Quakers had won 20-17.
That much is certain; these are facts. Everything else, though, is not.
Some people would think that Penn spent three quarters playing down to inferior competition and making mistakes, before Columbia had a series of defensive miscues in the fourth quarter that let the Quakers leave Manhattan with a narrow win. That's certainly what some people implied to me postgame.
But that's not what I saw at Wien Stadium. Instead, I saw a group of players on the road, in inclement weather, playing their utter hearts out. I saw an offense find itself late in the game — as junior quarterback Aidan Sayin distributed the ball effectively, the offensive line gave him plenty of time in clean pockets, and the skill position players made big plays. I saw a defense make plays all game long, and shine in the biggest moments.
And most of all, I saw a team that has the essential DNA necessary to win its first Ivy League title since 2016.
Don't get me wrong, the Penn football team that took the field yesterday has flaws. Sayin made a costly interception in the first quarter, and the offense stalled out in the red zone twice. But with the 2023 season halfway over and a wide open Ivy League, why can't the Quakers win the Ancient Eight?
Currently, Harvard is the only undefeated team in conference play, and Columbia the only winless one; the other six are all 1-1. And with the bulk of the Ivy season still to go — including three more conference home games — Penn is firmly in control of its own destiny.
That just means Penn can theoretically win the Ivy League; here's why I don't think it's crazy to say that they have a great shot at it.
Firstly, Penn's aerial assault this year has been phenomenal. The Quakers are averaging 291 yards per game, enough for second in the Ivy League. Quarterbacks are completing over 67 percent of their passes, and averaging a respectable 6.4 yards per attempt. Much of this can be due to Sayin and sophomore quarterback Liam O'Brien's excellence, but the offensive line deserves credit here as well. Penn signal callers routinely have plenty of time for receivers to get open, and the Quakers have only surrendered five sacks so far this year.
Let me also address the running game, which is currently last in the Ivy League at under 100 yards per game. It's not ideal, but it can be managed. Plus, the Quakers have been led in rushing for the past two games by freshman running back Malachi Hosley, who is a bona fide star in the making. As the season progresses, he should get more touches, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the overall numbers tick up moving forward.
Moving to the defense, there is little to say besides the fact that it's been excellent. It ranks second in both rushing and passing yards allowed, while forcing five interceptions and 12 sacks so far this year.
Most importantly, this team just has the it factor. Something that I just can't put my finger on, but that I know is there. It was apparent yesterday, as the team walked through drenching rain to the locker room after a win. It's been there in practice, from the scorching days in training camp to the freezing mornings that are sure to come. And it's been there each of the last two weeks, as the Quakers manage to find a way to win.
And it's this intangible aspect of the team — not the stats or the stars, although they certainly help — that is why I think Penn has what it takes to win the Ivy League this season.
CALEB CRAIN is a junior and current sports editor studying European history and statistics from Los Angeles. All comments should be directed to email@example.com.