By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — It seems like something happens every year as a new football season is set to begin to bring focus back to that age old problem in the Ancient Eight.
When will the Ivy League join the rest of the Football Championship Subdivision and allow its teams to play in the postseason?
That question couldn't help but be asked again last week when the NCAA announced news that the Division I Football Championship would be expanded to 24 teams beginning in 2013.
One of the main reasons for moving from the current 20-team bracket to 24 is to allow an automatic bid to the Pioneer Football League. The PFL is the lone conference of the 13 FCS leagues to request an automatic bid and not to receive one yet.
The Southwestern Athletic Conference — which has had auto bids in the past — does not have an auto slot now, because it crowns its champion in a title game between divisional winners in December and several schools, Grambling, Southern and Alabama State, compete in regular-season games the week the playoffs begin.
The Ivy League has never allowed its teams to compete in bowl games, or playoffs since it formalized its charter in 1956.
And though the pressure has mounted from coaches, players, fans and others through the years, the presidential council in the Ivy League has ignored requests to reconsider the hard-to-justify ban.
Should the Ivies reconsider by next year, you could have a tidy set-up with 12 automatic bids and 12 at-large berths.
Everyone in FCS seems to realize what a boost it would be to FCS to have teams like Harvard, Yale, or Penn hosting playoff games in such historic venues as Harvard Stadium, the Yale Bowl, or Franklin Field.
Everyone but those eight presidents.
The move to 24 teams isn't likely to change any of those bureaucratic minds, but we can always hope and pray that sanity will one day reach the highest reaches of these noble institutions.
So once again, the eight teams that make up the Ivy League will have to settle for winning a league championship.
While every other team in every other sport in the Ancient Eight has the realistic dream of postseason play, the eight football teams in the Ivy League will again be utilized as a political statement on the excesses of the grand, old gridiron game.
It isn't just the postseason ban that stays the same in the Ivy League. As a new season approaches, it is Harvard that is again most everyone's pick to win the league title.
The Crimson has captured six titles overall and five outright in the 14 years that coach Tim Murphy has patrolled the sidelines at Harvard Stadium and Harvard was selected to win the championship for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
But the Crimson should get some stiff competition in 2012 from the likes of Penn, Cornell and Brown in what should be a balanced league.
Harvard (9-1 overall, 7-0 in league during the 2011 season) recaptured the top spot in 2011 after ceding it to Penn in 2010. Those two schools shared the crown in 2009.
The Crimson received 13 of 17 first-place votes in voting conducted by a panel of media representatives, with Penn and Cornell splitting the other four first-place votes.
Harvard, which has the second-highest winning percentage to Montana in FCS during the Murphy era, seems to be able to reload, rather than rebuild in most years and 2012 should see a similar trend.
The Crimson have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, including an NFL-caliber tight end in senior Kyle Juszczyk, but the biggest obstacle standing in Harvard's way of another title may be inexperience at quarterback as it tries to replace the graduated passer Collier Winters (1,594 passing yards and 13 TDs).
Colton Chappele was a capable backup last season, piling up 1,019 yards of total offense with 12 TD passes as he made four starts for the injured Winters early in the season. The senior is not the passer Winters was, but has more versatility and can hurt teams with his legs.
Senior Treavor Scales (816 yards, eight TDs) could emerge as the top running back in the Ivy League, while sophomore Will Whitman, senior John Collins and junior Austin Scheufele head up a solid offensive line.
Sophomore Seitu Smith, an All-American kickoff returner, is another threat for the Crimson on special teams.
Harvard's defense always seems to be tough and this season should be no different with Nnamdi Obukwelu and John Lyon up front, Josh Boyd and Alex Norman at linebacker and Brian Owusu manning the secondary.
When the Crimson has to punt, they can rely on the capable foot of Jacob Dombrowski.
Penn (5-5, 4-3) fell short in its dream of winning a share of three consecutive titles, but Al Bagnoli's gritty Quakers should be back in the thick of things again this season with an offense that will control the ball on the ground and a defense that usually is among the most disciplined in FCS.
Dynamic playmaker Billy Ragone (1,816 yards passing, 11 TDs, 11 interceptions) is back for his senior season at quarterback and can hurt teams running, or passing, while senior Brandon Colavita (665 yards, four TDs) heads up a deep group of running backs, led by the blocking of fullback Greg Schuster and linemen Joe Bonadies.
Brandon Copeland will anchor an always good Quaker defensive line, but Penn will need quick development from young players to shore up other areas, particularly the secondary. Graduated linebacker Erik Rask (83 tackles) will be one of the most missed players.
Connor Loftus, one of the most highly recruited kickers in the country as a prep player had his ups and downs as a freshman, but could be a huge weapon for the Quakers this fall.
Cornell (5-5, 3-4) could be the most intriguing team in the Ivy League this fall. The Big Red will feature one of the top passing attacks in FCS, led by quarterback Jeff Mathews (3,274 yards passing, 25 TDs in just 10 games), a legitimate pro prospect as a junior.
Mathews has a top-flight group of receivers to throw to with fifth-year senior Shane Savage, Kurt Ondash and Luke Tasker combining for 177 catches, 2,768 yards and 21 TDs last season. J.C. Tretter and Robert Bullington provide protection for Mathews.
The key for the Big Red's title chances might rest in how much the defense improves. This unit ranked 97th in FCS last season, giving up 407 yards and 28.7 points per game.
The leader of the defense is Josh Barut in the secondary, while Tre' Minor is a sparkplug on the line and Brett Buchler is solid at linebacker.
Brown (7-3, 4-3) also seems to have plenty of firepower through the air, but with the graduation of Kyle Newhall-Cabale at quarterback, Mark Kachmer (569 yards rushing) and John Spooney (375 yards) will be more important in the backfield.
Tellef Lundevall is the best of the returning receivers, while Jack Templeton heads up the offensive line.
On defense, the Bears hope to keep up the work they turned in last season when they were 21st nationally in yards allowed and 11th in scoring (18.6 points per game). AJ Cruz is one of the top defensive backs in the league and is also an All-American returnman.
There was a time when Brown struggled in its kicking game, but Alexander Norrocea could be the top place kicker in the league this season for the Phil Estes-coached team.
Yale (5-5, 4-3) should obviously regret the firing of Jack Siedlecki, who won a pair of Ivy League titles before being unceremoniously forced out in 2008 with a 70-49 record, largely because of his record against Harvard.
But the Bulldogs made a disastrous hire in Tom Williams, who was fired after a lie was found on his resume after last season. The Williams era was notorious for questionable in-game decisions that repeatedly backfired.
Yale is trying to regroup under new coach Tony Reno, who comes in, ironically from Harvard.
Reno has gotten the attention of his players in a hurry by suspending the captaincy of the team — a huge honor at Yale — from senior linebacker Will McHale after an altercation with another student.
Nick Okano keys the pass defense, while Chris Dooley is the Bulldogs' top pass rusher for a unit that needs to show improvement this season for Yale to compete.
The athletic Chris Smith is a pro prospect at receiver, but he will be catching passes from a new quarterback with Patrick Witt having graduated. Mordecai Cargill rushed for 530 yards and five TDs and will be even more important as the team's featured back this season.
Deon Randall at receiver and Elijah Thomas at fullback are two other offensive threats, while Smith and Randall also excel on returns.
Dartmouth (5-5, 4-3) had its best season yet in 2011 since the return of coach Buddy Teavens and hopes to continue building on that momentum.
The Big Green lost a good chunk of talent on offense with running back Nick Schwieger (1,310 yards rushing, 10 TDs) and quarterback Connor Kempe among the graduates. Dominick Pierre will be looked upon to replace Schwieger, while Bo Patterson showed promise as a receiver in his freshman season.
Dartmouth needs to continue its improvement on the defensive side and will build around linebacker Branson Green.
Columbia (1-9, 1-6) is embarking on still another rebuilding plan with a new coach, Nick Mangurian, after firing Norries Wilson. Wilson, 17-43 in six years, had been the first African-American head football coach in Ivy League history. The Lions haven't posted a winning season since 1996.
Strong-armed Sean Brackett is a quarterback with tons of potential, but he doesn't have a lot of playmakers around him. Scott Ward is one of the top pass blockers for Brackett.
Wilson left some good tools on defense with the likes of Seyi Adebayo on the line, Josh Martin and Zach Olinger at linebacker and Marquel Carter in the secondary. But the Lions ranked 103rd overall on defense last season, so there is a lot of work to do.
Princeton (1-9, 1-6) won an Ivy League crown in 2006, but the Tigers have been headed mostly in the wrong direction since then.
The Tigers took another hit last week when it was announced that Ivy League rookie of the year Chuck Dibliio (1,068 yards rushing, six TDs) would not return to the offensive backfield this season. Dibilio is still recovering from a stroke he suffered after his freshman season.
Coach Bob Surace is slowly making strides, but there is still much work to do on offense. Joe Goss is one of the top offensive linemen in the Ivy League, but the Tigers must not only fill in for Dibilio, but also find a quarterback to replace graduated Tommy Wornham.
Sophomore Quinn Epperly struggled as a passer, but showed some running ability last season in his brief chances for an attack that ranked 104th in passing and 110th in scoring (17.4 points per game).
Princeton has some strength on the defensive side of the ball with All-American tackle Caraun Reid, end Mike Catapano, linebacker Andrew Stacks and Khamal Brown in the secondary.
Joe Cloud is the top returning punter in the league.
College Sports Journal Predicted Order of Finish
PRESEASON ALL-IVY LEAGUE TEAMS
WR Shane Savage, Cornell, Sr., 5-10, 176
WR Chris Smith, Yale, Sr., 5-11, 190
TE Kyle Juszczyk, Harvard, Sr., 6-3, 240
OL Jack Templeton, Brown, Sr., 6-3, 295
OL J.C. Tretter, Cornell, Sr., 6-4, 276
OL Jack Holuba, Harvard, Sr., 6-2, 275
OL Will Whitman, Harvard, Soph., 6-6, 280
OL Joe Bonadies, Penn, Sr., 6-5, 275
QB Jeff Mathews, Cornell, Jr., 6-4, 210
RB Treavor Scales, Harvard, Sr., 5-10, 195
RB Mordecai Cargill, Yale, Sr., 6-1, 215
FB Greg Schuster, Penn, Sr., 6-1, 230
DL Brandon Copeland, Penn, Sr., 6-3, 260
DL Caraun Reid, Princeton, Sr., 6-2, 290
DL Nnamdi Obukwelu, Harvard, Sr., 6-3, 270
DL Mike Catapano, Princeton, Sr., 6-4, 280
LB Josh Martin, Columbia, Sr., 6-3, 242
LB Andrew Starks, Princeton, Jr., 6-2, 230
LB Will McHale, Yale, Sr., 6-1, 225
LB Bronson Green, Dartmouth, Jr., 6-1, 215
DB A.J. Cruz, Brown, Sr., 5-9, 195
DB Brian Owusu, Harvard, Sr., 5-11, 180
DB Josh Barut, Cornell, Jr., 6-0, 188
DB Nick Okano, Yale, Jr., 5-11, 188
K Alexander Norocea, Brown, Jr., 5-11, 165
P Joe Cloud, Princeton, Sr., 5-10, 195
KR Seitu Smith III, Harvard, Soph., 5-11, 195
PR Chris Smith, Yale, Sr., 6-0, 200
WR Kurt Ondash, Cornell, Sr., 6-0, 188
WR Deon Randall, Yale, Jr., 5-9, 185
TE Cameron Brate, Harvard, Jr., 6-5, 230
OL John Collins, Harvard, Sr., 6-4, 305
OL Robert Bullington, Cornell, Sr., 6-3, 267
OL Joe Goss, Princeton, Jr., 6-2, 260
OL Scott Ward, Columbia, Sr., 6-7, 278
OL Austin Scheufele, Harvard, Jr., 6-4, 290
QB Sean Brackett, Columbia, Sr., 6-1, 201
RB Brandon Colavita, Penn, Sr., 5-9, 220
RB Mark Kachmer, Brown, Sr., 5-11, 195
FB Elijah Thomas, Yale, Jr., 6-2, 235
DL Tre’ Minor, Cornell, Jr., 6-2, 246
DL Chris Dooley, Yale, Sr., 6-2, 278
DL John Lyon, Harvard, Sr., 6-3, 265
DL Seyi Adebayo, Columbia, Sr., 6-3, 255
LB Alexander Norman, Harvard, Sr., 6-2, 200
LB Zach Olinger, Columbia, Jr., 6-1, 220
LB Josh Boyd, Harvard, Sr., 6-1, 230
LB Brett Buehler, Cornell, Jr., 6-1, 211
DB Mike Waller, Columbia, Sr., 6-2, 222
DB Khamal Brown, Princeton, Soph., 6-1, 180
DB Andrew Nelson, Cornell, Soph., 6-1, 194
DB Marquel Carter, Columbia, Jr., 6-0, 215
K Connor Loftus, Penn, Soph., 6-0, 185
P Jacob Dombrowski, Harvard, Sr., 6-1, 190
KR Deon Randall, Yale, Jr., 5-9, 185
PR Luke Tasker, Cornell, Sr., 5-11, 192
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: QB Jeff Mathews, Cornell, Jr., 6-4, 210
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: DT Caraun Reid, Princeton, Sr., 6-2, 290
*The Ivy League preseason all-conference teams are unofficial and chosen by College Sports Journal NFL columnist Josh Buchanan