Bad taste lingers for Penn

Posted: September 14, 2012

IN 2009 AND '10, Penn didn't lose an Ivy League game. Once you've been there, how do you possibly settle for anything less?

Last season, after being picked to three-peat, the Quakers went 5-5, 4-3 in the Ivy. If they'd finished 9-1 and not won another championship, it still wouldn't have been enough.

"We always have high expectations for ourselves," said senior Brandon Colavita, the top returning rusher in a running back corps that also features veterans Jeff Jack and Lyle Marsh. "It's never about being content with rings. Now we know what it feels like not to get it done. The class before us never won anything. That puts it into perspective. So we definitely want more.

"Last year, that final game [at Cornell], we didn't have a shot [at the title]. That was really hollow. It's something none of us ever want to experience again . . .

"Looking back, maybe we were getting used to winning a little too much. Not that we were overconfident, but our work ethic just wasn't where it should've been. It was tough to send those seniors out like that. But if anything, last year has made us more determined to not let the same thing happen. You can see it in the way we approached the whole offseason. But now we have to take that to the field, every single time we go out there. There's just no other way. We've learned that now.

"It was tough, but maybe that's something we needed."

The Quakers open Saturday at 1-0 Lafayette, the first of three nonleague tests against scholarship teams. The Ivy season begins Sept. 29 at Dartmouth. The Quakers have been picked to finish second, behind defending champ Harvard. One of those two have won at least a share of each of the last five titles. They'll meet at Franklin Field on Nov. 10.

"We weren't very happy with what we accomplished last year," said coach Al Bagnoli, who has lifted the trophy eight times in his 20 seasons. "But if you really look at it analytically, we lost so many kids, 33 seniors. It was going to be hard.

"Sometimes, the expectations are more warranted than others. This year, I think it's more warranted."

He has eight starters back on each side of the ball. The skill positions look particularly loaded. And this time he doesn't have to replace almost an entire offensive line. It makes a difference.

"Collectively, we're so much further ahead," Bagnoli said. "We're so much more mature. When you're coming off a disappointing year, it snaps everyone back to reality. So you have better focus, better energy, more resolve. All of those things have to carry over to the games. But it allows us to be reasonably optimistic as we move forward.

"When you're winning, you're always fighting human nature. This team had tasted nothing but good times. Now, last year, for the first time, it wasn't so good. It makes you a little bit more hungry again. The whole dynamics have changed. As a coach, that's never a bad thing. We kind of got knocked. Now we've got to knock back. But honestly, just surviving the early schedule is going to be brutal for us."

That would obviously include the annual grudge match against Villanova (1-1) in Week 2. It rarely gets more physical. And this season there's also another date with a Colonial Athletic Association team, Oct. 6 vs. William & Mary (0-2). They can take a toll. Staying healthy is always part of the equation.

Marsh has played in six games the last 2 years. Wideout Connor Scott missed all of 2011. Backup quarterback Ryan Becker, a 2010 transfer from Florida State, is out for the season with a knee injury. So senior Andrew Holland, who's played some, will caddie for third-year starter Billy Ragone, a proven commodity who mostly has to be more consistent.

Simply put, the pieces are there. But other teams have aspirations, too. It doesn't just happen. You have to make it work. Or else you settle for whatever.

"We're anxious," Colavita said. "You're sitting around on the couch watching all these other teams playing, it puts a little fire in you. I don't know if we're flying under the radar or anything, but not being the favorite maybe gives us a little more of an edge. The only thing I know for sure is if you're not winning it all, you're not winning. If you're second then you might as well be last. That's just the way we're looking at it, since we know how good first is."

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