Rapp, Williams, and Dete...all gone in 2009.
Dartmouth begins its spring football season today, and that makes this day as good as any to begin my quick look back/quick look ahead assessment of the Ivy football teams.
Note that this is not the kind of in-depth preseason predictions and analyses I usually work up every August. This is more of a "where are they right now?" type of thing.
I'll do these in reverse order based on the 2008 standings. So again, let's start with Dartmouth.
1. Looking back, did Dartmouth deserve to go 0-10?
At this time last year, I was super impressed with then rising-senior RB Milan Williams. I thought he could lift the Big Green into the middle of the pack in the Ivies. But he was banged up, (again), a bit this past year, and the offensive line was just obliterated by injury.
Of course, it's hard to say anyone "deserves" to go winless for an entire season. We Columbia fans know how hard that is, and it doesn't get any easier no matter how often it happens to your team.
But for a proud program like Dartmouth to literally hit rock bottom, it must be especially difficult. The Big Green still have the most Ivy titles under their belt since the league was formed in 1956.
However, this is not about what going 0-10 feels like. It's about whether Dartmouth was really that much worse than all of its opponents in 2008.
The rough answer is: yes.
The numbers don't lie. Dartmouth's points allowed total was almost three times as much as the Big Green scored all season. That's something very reminiscent of the losing streak years at Columbia when the Lions' opponents tripled, or almost tripled the Columbia output in '85, '86, and '87—those were all 0-10 seasons.
Compare that to the last 0-10 team in Ivy history, the 1992 Brown Bears, who were "only" outscored by a little more than double their offensive output that year. In other words, this was just a very overmatched Big Green team week in and week out.
Dartmouth's two best chances for 2008 wins actually came on the road. They had a good chance to beat the Lions in Columbia's eventual 21-13 win, (that 8-point final deficit would be the closest loss of the year for the Big Green), and they tested Penn at Franklin Field in what turned out to be a 23-10 defeat to the Quakers.
Other than that, it wasn't even close. And don't bother looking at the stats pages for relief, you won't find it there.
The worst stat? The Big Green averaged less than 44 yards rushing per game. I don't care if you have Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson and Kellen Winslow in your passing attack, you can't win with running like that.
The defense wasn't much better, allowing a whopping 231 rushing yards and 220 passing yards per game.
2. Is there good reason for some optimism?
Some of the freshmen pressed into emergency duty did pretty well last year and they should provide some needed experience for 2009. Rising sophomores Connor Kempe at QB, Austen Fletcher on the O-line, Nick Schwieger at RB, and corner Shawn Abuhoff will be seasoned nicely for 2009.
The incoming freshmen recruits look to be at least a good-sized bunch. Pushing Dartmouth around on the line of scrimmage won't be so easy this year or at least by 2010.
Also, the two opponents Dartmouth came closest to beating in 2008, Columbia and Penn, will both be visiting Hanover in 2009 where home field advantage could tip the scales in the Big Green's favor.
And finally, it does seem like Head Coach Buddy Teevens is fighting for his job. Another 0-10 or 1-9 record and he's probably gone. Teevens is not the kind of guy who takes things lying down. He's a doer, and his enthusiasm should boil over to the rest of the team somehow.
3. Is there a reason to be pessimistic?
There are quite a few.
Freshmen experience is nice, but it doesn't always translate into solid improvements in the following years. If I had to guess, guys like Fletcher and Abuhoff will get better, but I'm not so sure about Schwieger and Kempe, (but I would put Kempe as a better bet than Schwieger right now).
One good thing about youth is that it brings a lot of healthy enthusiasm to the table. The problem is, with the Big Green's murderous early season schedule, the team seems to run out of emotional gas after going 0-5 or 1-4 year after year in the 1st half. Colgate, UNH, Penn, Holy Cross and Yale are still the first five games of the year on 2009 calendar.
While Penn is an early home game, the Quakers seem to be a much better team than they were in early 2008. As for the Lions, they could have easily lost last year's game at home against Dartmouth, but in retrospect it should have been more of a rout. The Big Green's only TD came after a terrible call that should have resulted in a Dartmouth turnover. The battle on the line of scrimmage was really controlled by Columbia, and a gimme field goal attempt or two by the Lions was botched. That 21-13 final score could have easily been more like 27-6.
But more troubling than the schedule is the dearth of real stars at the key positions right now. Rising junior WR/QB Tim McManus, (he's probably going to stay at WR this year for the most part), is the big exception, but none of the other receivers, running backs, QB's, or defenders grab much recognition. Pete Piederman at safety looks like their best returning defender, while guys like Ian Wilson, Andrew Dete, Joe Battaglia, and even Ryan Muttalib are lost to graduation.
I just don't see how 2009 can be anything but another rebuilding year in Hanover.
We'll check back again in August to see if anything's changed.
Tomorrow's "Quick Review/Preview": CORNELL
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