Poise in Ivy for Penn

Bagnoli
Bagnoli
Posted: August 09, 2012

IF THE SUBJECT is Ivy League football, chances are you have to start the conversations with either Penn or Harvard.

In the last five seasons, one of those two have won at least a piece of the title. The Quakers were outright champions in 2009 and '10. Harvard shared the top spot with Brown in 2007, and earned solo crowns in 2008 and again last year.

In 20 seasons under Al Bagnoli, Penn has finished first eight times. In 18 seasons under Tim Murphy, Harvard has taken home six trophies. So it should come as no great shocker that the defending champ and Penn have been picked 1-2 in the annual media poll for the fourth consecutive time.

Cornell, which has three titles (all shared), the last coming in 1989, was third. Harvard got 13 first-place votes, while Penn and Cornell had two apiece. The good news for Penn is, the team that was picked second each of the last 3 years has wound up winning the title.

"We have a lot of kids back, at virtually all positions," said Bagnoli, whose squad will open at Lafayette on Sept. 15. "So I think we have a chance to be a pretty solid football team."

As usual, the Quakers get Harvard in the next-to-last game. And this time it's in West Philly, where they've won two of the last three meetings and were in position to take the other at the end. Also keeping with tradition, they then close against Cornell on the road. Last season, the Quakers dropped three of their last four, including a 37-20 loss to Harvard and a 48-38 loss to Cornell, something that hadn't happened since 2006.

In 2011, the Quakers were favored to threepeat, something no Ivy team had done in a quarter-century. For whatever reasons, it didn't work out. But Bagnoli feels this group will be better for having gone through that.

"I mean, our focus is much better, our work ethic, just our attention to detail," he said. "To lose as [many players] as we did [from 2010), and not think we'd go through any snags, was [probably unrealistic]. We just didn't react as well as we should have. It was a learning experience for us. It showed us how fragile it can be, how hard you actually have to work, to do all the things you have to do to be champions. It's one of those great life lessons.

“They really went after the offseason program motivated. I think that'll translate into getting things back on track."

Each of the top three picks has a common denominator: an experienced talent at quarterback. In Penn's case, it's senior Billy Ragone, who made first-team all-Ivy as a sophomore. He was good last year, but it wasn't enough. He can't do it alone. The guys around him need to show more consistency, too. And there were injuries to deal with. But all the components are in place to have a big-time offense.

"Billy wasn't as dynamic running as the year before," Bagnoli acknowledged. "But he's coming off a really good spring. He has a lot of snaps under his belt. His athletic escapability can hurt you. And he has a maturity, a better understanding of his leadership role, and overall improvement in terms of throwing the ball ...

“I think we're all ready to start the process." 


Contact Mike Kern at kernm@phillynews.com.

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