Harvard football, now in its 139th season, has been tabbed by local and national media as the odds-on favorite to claim a second-straight Ivy League title. After winning three titles in the past five years, the Crimson will count on depth instead of its usual cluster of big-name talent to fend off the usual suspects as well as emerging programs within the Ancient Eight.
In the preseason media poll, 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.
Tim Murphy, the Thomas Stephenson Head Coach for Harvard Football, is in his 19th year at the helm of the Crimson. He brings an impressive 92-27 (.773) record over the past 12 years – a span with success nearly unrivaled at the FCS level. Last year, Harvard secured its11th consecutive season with at least seven victories as a program – a figure unmatched by a wide margin within the Ivy League. No other program has even a stretch of seven such years.
In the last 10 years, Harvard owns the sixth-best winning percentage (.798) in all of Division I football, ahead of power programs such as LSU, TCU, Ohio State and Florida and just behind USC and Texas.
The Crimson will be tested early in Ivy games against usually-tough Brown and pass-happy Cornell with reigning Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Jeff Matthews. The Brown game on Sept. 22 will be on national TV (NBC Sports Network) at 4:30 p.m. as part of four games currently being carried nationally (others are Bucknell, Penn and Yale.)
One thing is certain – Harvard is famously known as everyone's biggest game of the year. This season will bring formidable challenges despite the team playing six home games this season including all three nonleague contests.
Harvard is in an interesting position at quarterback, having graduated one of the most accomplished signal callers in program history in Collier Winters '11-12, whose name appears prominently in the record books. What the Crimson does have however, is a proven commodity in Colton Chapple '13 – all he did last year was throw for 12 touchdowns against just two interceptions in four starts.
While Chapple (Alpharetta, Ga.) certainly did not have the completion percentage that Winters enjoyed, he was nonetheless one of the nation's most efficient passers. In consecutive starts at Cornell and against Bucknell he shredded those respective teams with 414 yards and four touchdowns on just 23 completions (at Cornell) and five touchdowns on just 13 completions (Bucknell.)
Harvard's best asset is its offensive line provided injuries don't factor. Sophomore Will Whitman '15, a finalist for national freshman of the year honors last seasons, is joined by All-Ivy caliber players Jack Holuba at center, John Collins '13 at left guard and Austin Scheufele '14 at right guard.
The line will be bolstered by bruising tight ends Kyle Juszczyk '13 and Cam Brate '14 who are regarded as the two premier tight ends in the Ivy League. Juszczyk, a preseason All-American in every national publication, caught 37 passes for 512 yards and seven TDs a year ago while Brate made notable highlight catches en route to 25 receptions for 386 yards and seven scores. Those two players create huge matchup problems for opposing teams and will be relied upon heavily with a young and relatively inexperienced wide receiver corps.
Harvard returns all-league tailback and former league rookie of the year Treavor Scales '13, who will be the featured back after rushing for 816 yards on 170 carries (4.8 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns a year ago.
The defense should also absorb the loss of a dynamic player in graduated league defensive player of the year Josue Ortiz '12. The front line could be one of the team's deepest in recent years with John Lyon '13 (15 tackles, 2.5 for a loss), Nnamdi Obukwelu '13 (24 tackles, 4.5 for a loss), Matt Lunati '13 (12 tackles, 2.5 sacks), Grant Sickle '13 (21 tackles, 2.5 for a loss) and Zach Hodges '15 (20 tackles, 3.5 for a loss) leading the way.
In the secondary, Brian Owusu '13 has battled hamstring injuries during his career but, when healthy, is one of the league's shutdown cornerbacks. D.J. Monroe '13, Colton Lynch '14 and Norman Hayes '15 all provide athleticism on the corners while safeties Reynaldo Kirton '14 and Chris Splinter '14 are also both extremely talented and athletic.
Hard-hitting safety Jonathan Mason '12-13(2.5 tackles for a loss, forced fumble) has been shifted to linebacker but has also battled persistent injuries. Luckily, talent abounds at this position as well. Senior captain Bobby Schneider '13 (40 tackles) is joined by one of the league's most physical run-stopppers in middle linebacker Josh Boyd '13 (64 tackles). At the "Sam" linebacker position, Alexander Norman'13 (40 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, two turnovers) has shown athleticism and play-making ability in each of the past two seasons.
At this position too, Harvard expects to excel. Jacob Dombrowski '13 is a three-year starter at punter who performed very well in adverse weather conditions last year while averaging over 40 yards per punt. Placekicker David Mothander '14 was 6-of-8 on placements with a strong leg and was 48-of-50 on extra points. At returner, Harvard hopes that opposing teams will kick the ball to Seitu Smith II '15, who set numerous program records a year ago with 658 kick return yards, an average of 29.9 yards per return and a touchdown.
All home games will be shown live on GoCrimson.com (pending TV blackouts and delays) and are available on mobile devises including iPhones and iPads. For ticket information, please visit GoCrimson.com.