2016 FCS Preview: Yale Bulldogs

Matthew Oplinger, Jason Alessi. (photo by Jack Warhola c/o Yale Athletics)

Matthew Oplinger, Jason Alessi. (photo by Jack Warhola c/o Yale Athletics)

Yale Bulldogs

Head Coach: Tony Reno, 4th season (21-19)

Biggest strength in 2016: When the Bulldogs really buckled down and played clean football, they had stretches of dominance that showed the rest of the Ivy League that they can compete with the best. Behind by two scores to Colgate, the Eli scored two late touchdowns and a two point conversion to stun the Raiders 29-28. On their trip to Maine, their first meeting in 78 years against the CAA squad, the Eli won a thrilling 21-10 victory. Up by only 3 at half vs. Brown, Yale forced 3 turnovers and put the hammer down against the Bears to end with a dominating 41-14 win. Stretches like this were inspired…

Biggest Challenge In 2016: …but there were also plenty of uninspired, head-scratching stretches where Yale, admittedly a fairly young team except for its QB, really laid eggs. Not scoring an offensive touchdown against Columbia in a 17-7 defeat is not something Ivy League champions do. Neither is yielding 592 yards of offense to Dartmouth in a 35-3 spanking, no matter how many starters were injured. Can Reno have his team avoid these lapses this season?

Biggest Departures: QB Morgan Roberts statistically was one of the best QBs the Eli have ever had. A transfer from Clemson, he concluded his career at Yale as their career leader in passing yards (6,182), total offense (6,494) and completion percentage (.610). Yale will have to rely on a new leader in 2016 to replace him.

Players To Watch: All the spring revealed in terms of the new starting QB is that it is still a battle between junior QB Rafe Chapple (the brother of former Harvard QB Colton Chapple) and sophomore QB Tre Moore for the top spot so far. Whomever wins the battle, their development will be closely watched in the early going.

One thing that the winner will have going for them is a veteran team around him. RB Deshawn Salter (561 yards rushing, 7 TDs) figured prominently in some of Yale’s best games in 2015, and the junior from Syracuse, New York could be a very valuable piece of the Bulldog offense.

But it’s Yale’s defense, which returns five all-Ivy League selections, that could really take a step in the right direction. DB Matthew Oplinger, one of the better rovers in FCS, had a breakout season last year with 65 tackles and 6 sacks, and should only get better with another year under his belt.

Biggest Game: at Harvard, 11/19/2016. They call it “The Game”, but for Yale folks more than ever it is the be-all and end-all of the season because the Eli have lost nine straight to Harvard and are more desperate than ever to end the Crimson’s stranglehold. Last year, as ever, Harvard rolled to a 38-19 victory – and, as ever, Yale’s hopes at an Ivy League title go through Cambridge.

Rose-Colored Glasses Say: “We have to replace our quarterback, but I am sensing a Ewing Theory situation with Roberts’ departure. A lot of our inconsistency came behind Roberts – when he was on, we could beat anybody, but when he wasn’t, it could get ugly. Now, after his graduation, we should have an intriguing, home-grown QB under center – and a load of players that have a lot of experience to help lift him up. We have nine games to get Chapple or Moore ready. We have a very good defense returning most of the key ingredients. I think this is the year we break Harvard’s run.”

Glass Half Empty Says: “We have to replace our quarterback. How is that a good thing? Roberts held several school records and was such a huge part of the offense, how could we not miss that in 2016? Sure, we have some good talent at WR, RB and on defense returning. But I can’t do anything crazy like guarantee a win vs. Harvard unless Chapple or Moore is the second coming of QB Brian Dowling.

Yale In Two Sentences: The Bulldogs going into 2016 are like a cake without leavening. If they find the yeast or baking powder that they need – in the form of a new QB and a few other position players – they could find themselves challenging for some Ivy League title cake.

CSJ Projected Ranking: 3rd, Ivy League

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