2016 FCS Preview: Harvard Crimson

Harvard’s Justice Shelton-Mosley (GREGORY PAYAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Harvard’s Justice Shelton-Mosley (GREGORY PAYAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Harvard Crimson

Head Coach: Tim Murphy, 22nd season (156-63-0)

Biggest Strength in 2016: You could pencil in Harvard’s biggest strength every single year as “despite losing N talented, all-Ivy League players, their depth is so great that they’ll simply plug in the next round of talented, all-Ivy players, and they’ll finish over .500 and compete for the Ivy League title yet again.” This year is no different: Harvard loses some players, but returns some very good ones…

Biggest Challenge In 2016::.. yet even so, they lose an awful lot of senior leadership from last season. Their starting quarterback. Their leading rusher. Their leading all-purpose yardage leader. Their leading red zone target. Three all-Ivy League offensive linemen. And, if that weren’t enough, their top three leading tacklers. Even for Harvard, that’s… quite a lot.

Biggest Departures: Of the many, many Harvard athletes graduating, possibly the biggest loss is RB Paul Stanton, Jr., who was a consensus all-Ivy League pick and led all Crimson non-kickers in scoring last season with 9 touchdowns. With 872 all-purpose yards, including 809 on the ground, he was a big weapon for Harvard last season with no obvious heir apparent on the current roster.

Players To Watch: It wouldn’t be Harvard without some budding young pro prospects to watch, and a sophomore, WR Justice Shelton-Mosley is certainly one. The exciting wideout from Sacramento, California had 589 yards receiving to go with his 521 return yards for the Crimson, giving him 1,140 all-purpose yards on the season. He also torched Yale in last year’s Game for 3 touchdowns, delighting Crimson fans.

The bigger question is, though: will Shelton-Mosley be able to put up the same numbers with a brand-new QB? All that’s known for sure is that the Shelton-Mosley, who had a 28 yard TD pass to go with his amazing freshman season, will have more experience throwing touchdowns than whomever wins the starting nod at QB for Harvard. Nobody returning at QB has any experience throwing a touchdown pass in a game.

On defense, the lack of experience is even more striking, but a good place to look in regards to returning players might be DB Sean Ahern (34 tackles, 5 pass break-ups).

Biggest Game: at Dartmouth, 10/29/2016. Sure, everyone suspects Harvard will be great. But with an early schedule that features a couple sub-.500 teams coming to Harvard Stadium in Rhode Island and Georgetown, alongside an away game at Brown and a home slot vs Cornell, the Crimson could go 3-1 or 4-0 in those games and still not be able to be sure that Harvard is an Ivy League championship-caliber team.

A challenge against expected Patriot League title contender Holy Cross should be interesting, but the trip to Hanover on October 29th will be the first game that could truly be seen as a litmus test game in regards to Harvard’s title hopes. Adding juice to this year’s matchup is the result of last year’s battle in Harvard Stadium, an incredible come-from-behind 14-13 win that will go down as a classic.

Rose-Colored Glasses Say: “Graduating running backs? Losing all-Ivy linemen? Replacing top tacklers? No problem – in Murphy we trust! Every season we wonder who the heck Tim Murphy will get to plug the gaps, and every year we discover that – yes! – more all-Ivy League players will rise and win!”

Glass Half Empty Says: “We certainly love Murphy, but… if this were any other team but Harvard, wouldn’t we be calling this a serious rebuilding year? We literally don’t have any quarterback with significant game experience. We don’t have an obvious stud running back returning. We need to replace offensive linemen that are in NFL camps. And we are graduating our entire linebacking corps. Murphy makes magic, but can he make magic in all of these places?”

Harvard In Two Sentences: Harvard’s abilty to simply reload will sorely be tested this season. But building behind a budding superstar in Shelton-Mosley will certainly help in Murphy’s bid to beat Yale again and compete for an Ivy League title again.

CSJ Projected Ranking: 2nd, Ivy League