2016 FCS Preview: Columbia Lions

Columbia QB Skyler Mornhinweg (GoColumbiaLions)
Columbia QB Skyler Mornhinweg (GoColumbiaLions)

Columbia Lions

Head Coach: Al Bagnoli, 2nd season at Columbia (2-8), 232-91 overall

Biggest strength in 2016: After a 2014 season that ended with morale at an all-time low, the shock hire of Al Bagnoli after his retirement tour at Penn was a desperately needed jolt of enthusiasm. With the full knowledge that a ground-up rebuild was in the offing, the 2015 season with a young team ended up with the pleasant surprise of a couple of wins. Bagnoli’s biggest strength was clearly to successfully start to fix the toxic atmosphere – and that us-against-the-world message will be a strength as well going into 2016.

In addition, recruiting for the Lions has been eye-opening, with Bagnoli unofficially nabbing the 3rd-best class in all of FCS according to some. It certainly feels like the days of Columbia being a doormat are soon going to be in the rear-view mirror.

Biggest Challenge In 2016: Bagnoli’s biggest challenge will be how he parlays last year’s two win season into more wins in 2017, getting closer to a .500 record. Aside from a late-season tilt against Cornell, home games against Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale, and newly-competitive St. Francis (PA) out of the NEC should see the Lions as underdogs.

There’s also the matter of overall team speed at wideout and defensive back. Columbia has the nucleus of a good front seven on defense, a returning starting QB, and three good returning starters on the offensive line, including 300 lb senior OL Kendall Pace. But everywhere else there are questions.

Biggest Departures: There aren’t a lot of key departures from last year’s young team, but first team all-Ivy RB Cameron Molina (805 all-purpose yards, 5 TDs) was heavily involved in last year’s offense and is the Lions’ biggest name to replace. Other than that Columbia’s biggest area of replacement might be the overall area of “depth”.

Players To Watch: A transfer from Florida last season, QB Skyler Mornhinweg (1,321 yards passing, 9 TDs) certainly has the last name of football royalty, being the son of former NFL head coach Marty Mornhinweg. Can the dual-threat QB build on last year’s uneven season and break out in his senior year to become a star?

Biggest Game: Georgetown, 9/24/2016. The Lions will be headed to the District in one of the games they are circling as a possible win in a schedule filled with landmines. And the Hoyas, who will be breaking in a new offense in 2016, also will be looking at this game as critical in their quest for breakig the .500 barrier. I think a win here by either side will set both teams towards their season trajectory.

Rose-Colored Glasses Say: “We heart Bagnoli! We trust Bagnoli! We have the best recruiting class in all of FCS! With this combination of youth, recruiting and Magical Al, this year’s stop is a .500 or better season – and next season, a run at the Ivy League title!”

Glass Half Empty Says: “Wait! WAIT! Yes, we also heart Bagnoli. Yes, we got a great recruiting class this year. Yes, YES! We know! But we’re only in Year 2 of a ground-up rebuild. And in case you haven’t noticed, the Ivy League is brutally tough up and down the line. We might be better, but is it even realistic to expect better than the two wins we had last season?”

Columbia In Two Sentences: Columbia has some good talent up and down their roster – but so does the rest of the Ivy League. Two wins last year was doable, but will they be able to build on that success to get to, say, four wins?

CSJ Projected Ranking: 7th, Ivy League