PRINCETON, N.J. – In a vote of Ivy League football media members, Harvard was picked to finish second behind reigning champion, University of Pennsylvania. The media poll was released Tuesday as part of the league's annual football media day.
Harvard received two of the 17 first place votes and finished with 118 points while Penn received 12 first place votes and 129 points. Yale was third in the voting with 95 points and one first place vote while Brown had two first place votes and finished fourth overall with 90 points.
It marks just the second time in the last six years that Harvard has not been selected as the preseason favorite by the league pundits. The Crimson has registered at least seven wins in each of the last 10 years, making Harvard the first 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.
In a rarity among many leagues, all eight Ivy schools return their starting quarterback from a year ago. Rounding out the selections, media members agreed that Dartmouth is close to competing for an upper division finish as the Big Green earned 73 points. Columbia came in sixth with 45 and Cornell and Princeton tied with 31 points apiece.
"The 2011 season really has a chance to be one of the most competitive top-to-bottom in a long time with everyone having a starting quarterback back," said Tim Murphy, the Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football. "It's not as simple as everyone having a quarterback back however - every team has an All-Ivy caliber QB – something I haven't seen before."
I look at teams that struggled at time last year, (Cornell and Princeton) I think those teams could be some of the most improved teams this year. I will predict right here that those teams will be vastly improved. Our goal is to win the Ivy championship every year and we didn't do that last year."
Now entering its 138th season of football, Harvard will look for its first championship in three years. Despite being significantly younger at most positions that recent Harvard teams, the Crimson is still considered among the nation's best with a 24th-place ranking in the College Sporting News preseason top 25.
Harvard returns 16 starters with six on offense and eight on defense – although those numbers are bolstered by the return of several players who missed all or part of 2010 with injuries. The real indicator might reside in Harvard's 12 graduated starters from a year ago with seven on offense and five on defense.
"Defense will be where our strength initially will be," said Murphy. "Our defensive line, we've got two outstanding players in Josue Ortiz and John Lyons. Josue could have been an MVP selection last year; John is a physical kid with a great motor who was injured."
Murphy pointed to senior captain Alex Gedeon as one of four returning letterwinners at the linebacker position who will play a factor in the Crimson's defense in 2011. In a secondary that lost Dallas Cowboys' signee Collin Zych, Murphy pointed to Matthew Hanson, D. J. Monroe and Brian Owusu as all-league caliber players. Monroe was injured early in the season while Owusu saw his season come to an end on the first day of training camp with a leg injury.
Turning his attention to the offense, Murphy started at quarterback and his senior signal caller Collier Winters, who recently won a contest among the nation's top QBs at the Manning Passing Academy.
"Obviously having Collier back for a fifth year is a big help. We were down to our third string QB last year by our third game and I'm proud of the way we responded – but having Collier be healthy this year will be an asset."
Harvard did lose league Player of the Year Gino Gordon to graduation but returns another All-Ivy League running back in Treavor Scales. Scales is, in fact, a two-time all-league honoree as well as a former Rookie of the Year despite being in a backup role for his first two seasons.
Scales and Winters will be protected in part by what Murphy refers to as Harvard's best pro prospect since Pro Bowler Matt Birk.
Back to the skill positions, Murphy referenced four players in wide receivers Chris Lorditch, Adam Chrissis, Matt Brown and tight end Kyle Juszczyk. Lorditch, Chrissis and men's basketball player Matt Brown are all 200-pound guys that can run," said Murphy. "We also have the best tight end that we've had in a long time in Juszczyk."
Tim Murphy Quotes
On all Ivy teams returning star QBs and the importance of a strong offensive line
It's critical. You look at a team like Cornell last year who was a very young team in the offensive line. Looking at their QB in Matthews, if you put an experienced OL in front of that kid, they're going to have a lot of fun.
On parity within the league this year
I don't think there is any question about that. In addition to Penn, I think Brown is going to have a tremendous team - as good as anyone in the league with the skill guys and veteran defense; Yale may have one of the better teams they've had in a long time; Dartmouth obviously with the best teams its had in a long time. Those teams are certainly capable of winning a championship.
On the increasing number of night games for Ivy League teams
We've been doing it for four years now and we're going to have two games this year. There's no question in that it increases attendance. For our games, we've drawn in excess of 20,000 and that's a great take at an Ivy League school. The players like it, fans like it and alumni like it. The combination of those things, when weather is not an issue, makes it a no-brainer.
On the potential for any academic downside to playing more night games
I don't think there is really a challenge because in the context of what other athletes in Ivy sports do – athletes that are playing a heck of a lot more games, traveling a heck of a lot more – it's almost not even a factor.
On Collier Winters
Collier probably knows our offense better than any QB we've had at his stage. He's an accurate passer, he makes good decisions and he's a tough, confident kid who can make plays with his feet. If he can play 10 games, that will make us a tough team. When Collier came back in the last half of the year (in 2010), I thought we played very well down the stretch
On the Ivy League champion not being allowed to compete in the FCS playoffs
First of all, I will go on record that if we were to vote for this, I would vote for it in a heartbeat because it is the best thing for the league and best thing for our student-athletes. I will also be the first to admit that in our situation, ending the season with what is essentially a bowl game (against Yale), for me it doesn't get any better than that. I've coached in the then-I-AA playoffs at Maine and I think it would be a great thing for the league and for the teams but it's not going to be bigger than the Harvard-Yale game. That one is a packed house against a bitter rival and for the last 10 plus years, there is always an Ivy championship on the line.
Harvard opens its season Sept. 17 with a 1 p.m. game at Holy Cross.
2011 Ivy League Football Preseason Media Poll
1. Penn (12) 129
2. Harvard (2) 118
3. Yale (1) 95
4. Brown (2) 90
5. Dartmouth 73
6. Columbia 45
7. Cornell 31