Harvard was the Ivy League co-favorite in the preseason poll. The vote was conducted before Princeton, the other co-favorite, lost quarterback John Lovett, the league's 2016 Outstanding Offensive Player, because of a shoulder injury.
Last season, the Crimson didn't get at least a share of the title for the first time in four years. In this century, they've finished first eight times. As has Penn. There have been only two years when neither managed to get a ring. And that happened more than a decade ago.
Harvard will host Penn on Nov. 11. The Crimson have reached seven wins in each of the last 16 seasons, an Ivy record. Still …
"The big message for our team is … we're not entitled to anything," Harvard coach Tim Murphy said.
The Crimson lost their last two games last year, at Penn and at home against Yale. It was their second straight loss to the Quakers and their first to the dreaded Bulldogs since 2006, which ended the longest winning streak by either team in that series. Last season was the first time since 2010 that they lost more than twice.
Harvard has 12 starters back, six on each side of the ball. It also will get Princeton at home on Oct. 21. It beat the Tigers on the road last season in overtime.
Senior quarterback Joe Viviano (Conestoga High School) returns. As does Justice Shelton-Mosley, who had 48 receptions for 568 yards but only one touchdown. The offense wasn't as proficient as it had been in the recent past. Now it will have to make do without lineman Larry Allen III, a pro prospect and son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Allen Jr., who did not enroll for the fall semester.
No reason was given, although he's expected back next season.
Princeton tied with Penn last year. In the Ivies, of course, there is no tie-breaker. But the Tigers did beat the Quakers at home, 28-0. And Lovett was a big part of the reason. We'll have to see how much difference his absence makes.
The Tigers have only nine starters back, three on defense. One of them is tackle Kurt Holuba, the runner-up for the Defensive Player of the Year award. A number of guys who didn't start saw plenty of action. Their other QB, Chad Kanoff, does good things, too. Leading rusher Charlie Volker is only a junior. They'll both get to operate behind a line that returns nine of the top 10 on the depth chart. Which means this remains a very dangerous team, even though it does have to travel to Harvard and Penn.
Yale won just three times in 2016, but obviously what counted was that one of them was the last game. Sometimes it seems as if that's all anyone remembers in New England. The Bulldogs are 24-26 in Tony Reno's five seasons. But 16 starters return. And the defense also welcomes back cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski and tackle Copache Tyler, both of whom missed last season after making first-team all-Ivy the year before. Defensive back Hayden Carlson has 187 tackles the last two seasons, and last year's leading passer (Kurt Rawlings), rusher (Alan Lamar) and receiver (Reed Klubnik) are all sophomores.
Brown has gone 3-4 in the league the last four seasons. But the youngsters the Bears have been playing a lot the last two years are experienced upperclassmen. That should mean something. How much is the question. QB T.J. Linta did lose two of his better targets, in Alex Jette and Troy Doles. Defensive end Richard Jarvis had 18.5 tackles for losses with 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. In a scheduling note, the Nov. 10 home finale against Dartmouth will be held in Fenway Park.
Dartmouth shared the title with Penn and Harvard two years ago. Last year, it went 4-6, 1-6. So this year figures to be somewhere in between. The Big Green did beat FCS playoff fixture New Hampshire. It also lost by two points to Harvard, three to Brown and two to Columbia. Hunter Hagdorn was the Ivy Rookie of the Year after catching 56 passes for 706 yards. Cornerback Isiah Swann had an impressive freshman season, as well. But the Big Green don't have big-time linebacker Folarin Orimolade any more. Or five other defensive starters. Jack Heneghan threw three more interceptions (14) than TDs.
Former Penn coach Al Bagnoli is entering his third season at Columbia, which hasn't had a winning record since 1996. The Lions have only had two winning seasons since 1971. And they're just two years removed from a 24-game losing streak. But they did win twice in the league (three overall) for the first time since 2012.
One was at Brown in the finale, 31-13. Freshmen Josh Wainwright and Ronald Smith combined for 857 receiving yards and nine TDs. Oren Milstein converted 12 of 13 field goals as a frosh. The lines have veterans, but the top four tacklers have to be replaced. They haven't won more than three games since 2010. Or more than two in the Ivies since 2009.