PRINCETON, N.J. – In a vote of Ivy League football media members, the defending champion Harvard Crimson was picked to claim another Ancient Eight title this season. The media poll was released Tuesday as part of the league's annual football media day.
Harvard received 13 of the 17 first place votes and finished with 132 points while the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell each received two first place votes. Penn compiled 111 total points while Cornell had 100. Brown was fourth with 84, Yale sixth with 66 points, Dartmouth sixth with 52, Columbia seventh with 36 and Princeton eighth with 31.
It marks the fifth time in the last seven years that Harvard has been selected as the preseason favorite by league pundits. The Crimson, undefeated in the Ivy League last year, has registered at least seven wins in each of the last 11 years, making Harvard the only team in the history of Ivy League football to post such a string of successful seasons. In 2007, Harvard became the first Ivy team to post a string of seven such seasons together.
"Like everybody else, we're excited to get going," said Tim Murphy, the Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football. "The way that recruiting has evolved there isn't much in the summer so we might as well get going and tee it up."
Now entering its 139th season of football, Harvard will look for another title despite being significantly younger at most positions than recent Harvard teams and not having as many signature names among its senior class.
Harvard does return some impressive talent however including "twin tower" tight ends Kyle Juszczyk (preseason All-America) and Cameron Brate who pose matchup nightmares for opposing teams. Also, speedy sophomore Seitu Smith II is another preseason All-American at kickoff returner after smashing school records as a freshman in 2011.
Harvard returns 17 starters with eight on offense and seven on defense along with two talented specialists not including Smith II. The biggest difference between this year's edition of the Crimson will be the noticeable loss of Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year and All-American Josue Ortiz.
"We expect to have a very solid team," said Murphy. "We certainly have some questions marks but we always start with defense here. Up front, we have three quality linemen in Nnamdi Obukwelu, Grant Sickle and John Lyon at defensive end. Lyon is a kid who, at 265 pounds, can play inside or outside which gives us tremendous versatility."
It is the same thing at linebacker where we are fortunate to return three of our top four guys (from 2011). We have two guys from Texas in (captain) Bobby Schneider and Alexander Norman in addition to a Massachusetts player in Joshua Boyd. So we think we'll have quality and a good deal of depth.
In the secondary, we love our quality but need more depth. Brian Owusu and D.J. Monroe at cornerback are guys who have really played for three years. (Rey) Kirton is just starting to come into his own at safety."
Murphy turned his attention to the offensive side of the ball where the Crimson will be hard-pressed to duplicate last year's effort that saw Harvard rank second nationally at 37.4 points per game.
"Our biggest concern is at wide receiver where we lost three players who combined for a ton of catches," said Murphy. "At tight end, Kyle Juszczyk and Cam Brate bring tons of versatility, experience and playmaking. We're confident that we have guys who can be good players in guys like Smith II, Andrew Berg and Ricky Zorn. These guys know the system, can really play and just need an opportunity."
We also return all three specialists in punter Jacob Dombrowski place kicker David Mothander and of course Smith II as a returner. He is exciting every time he touches the ball. We add in Treavor Scales at running back – I think he is probably as good as anyone in the league."
Harvard opens its season Sept. 15 with a 12:30 p.m. home game at San Diego.
There are a few notable rules changes for 2012. Most notable, kickoffs will move from the 30 yard line to the 35 and touchbacks on kickoffs only will be advanced to the 25 (touchbacks on punts will remain at the 20). Players on the kicking team will also be limited in the running start they can get in an effort to limit the speed and protect receiving team members.
In another kickoff rule chance, balls that are immediately grounded on kickoffs (in an on-sides fashion) and bounce up high into the air will now offer kick protection for the receiver, who will now be able to motion for a fair catch. Previously any ball that hit the ground was 'live.' The rule hits home for Harvard, which lost a player for a season after being blindsided in one of those situations last year.
In a continued effort to protect players and ensure that they are properly utilizing their equipment, players whose helmets come off during a play will be removed from the game for one play.
Tim Murphy Quotes
On Harvard's tight end/H back versatility with Kyle Juszczyk and Cam Brate:
I think everyone would like to have that level of personnel. It is hard to find two-three guys with that size who are that versatile. In Kyle, we thought he was terrific in high school and he has turned out even better in college. There are very few guys (at that size) who can line up at multiple positions. It is so rare and when we have one of those guys, we'd better use him. To have that luxury (of Juszczyk and Brate) as an up-tempo, no huddle offense puts a lot of pressure on (opposing) teams.
On his coaching style changing over the years:
There are two things, style and philosophy. Philosophically speaking, 18 years ago we were one of the only no-huddle, up-tempo offenses in the country. Now there are a ton of teams doing it. Sometimes those trends or level of success will allow (programs) to develop. In terms of style, I'm not sure it's changed in my 25 years as a head coach. AT some point, you are who you are - I 've already made all the mistakes, I just try not to make them twice! To some extent, I'm sure I've mellowed but if you are going to set the tone for the program, it has to start at the top
On the QB position as a hallmark of Harvard's offensive system:
We've done a very solid job of evaluation and developing QBs. You've got to have success there if you will have success as a program. Colton (Chapple) is one of those guys who has just gotten better and better and if he continues on his trajectory, we expect that he can be one of the best QBS in the league. He was only a solid thrower when he got here - we took him as a tough guy with potential. Clearly it's Colton's team. The (other) kids believe in him, he's a tough guy and an extraordinary hard worker.
I have to give credit to a bunch of good QB coaches that we've had here over the years and Joel lamb is one of those guys. We've been fortunate to recruit some really outstanding kids.
On Kyle Juszczyk and Cam Brate's relationship:
They get along great. They are very close friends and interact very well together. The hard thing is getting two great tight ends together (at the same time). It's so hard to find those guys. We want a majority of our athletes on defense but when you can get guys who are athletic and can do multiple things offensively, it is a great weapon.
Regarding their personalities, Cam more happy, go lucky than is "Juice" (Juszczyk). Juice is very intense; he really wants to play in the NFL and I think he can accomplish that. They push each other and complement each other very well.
On Cornell's offensive ability with Jeff Matthews at QB:
First of all, coach Austin and his staff have done a great job. There's no question they will be a real player in the league and challenge for the championship. (Jeff) Matthews is a difference-maker. When we had (Buffalo Bills' QB) Ryan Fitzpatrick here, reporters would ask what he did for me and I say, 'well, he makes me an outstanding coach.' He is worth two-to-three wins a year. Fitz (Fitzpatrick) did some things you just can't coach and that is Jeff Matthews. If Matthews remains on that curve, I believe he will be drafted in the top three rounds (of the NFL draft). He is really special. The anticipation that he has and the ability to make every single throw… he makes those throws and makes it look absolutely simple. He is a great kid and tough.
1. Harvard (13) 132
2. Penn (2) 111
3. Cornell (2) 100
4. Brown 84
5. Yale 66
6. Dartmouth 52
7. Columbia 36
8. Princeton 31