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Year of the Quarterback in the Ivy League
Ivy League universities, longtime incubators for the country’s top performers in fields like science, law, academics and politics, will showcase their newest class of elite talent this fall: quarterbacks.
Columbia and Pennsylvania return first-team all-Ivy League quarterbacks from last season. Harvard’s quarterback won a notable summer passing competition hosted by the Manning family. There are seniors at the position at Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton. And Cornell and Yale may have the most skilled quarterbacks of all.
The talent, experience and depth of quarterbacks in the league make predicting how the conference’s season will unfold an exercise that almost requires an advanced degree from one of its eight universities.
“The 2011 season has a chance to be the most competitive in a long time,” Harvard Coach Tim Murphy said in a recent conference call with reporters. “I don’t think you can look at a single team in our league that doesn’t have an all-Ivy-caliber quarterback back. That’s something I’ve never seen in my 18 years in the league.”
Still, the preseason news media poll looked familiar, with Penn, Harvard, Yale and Brown occupying the first through fourth places. Each of those teams received at least one first-place vote. Penn, the back-to-back defending champion, received 12 of 17 first-place votes.
The junior quarterback Billy Ragone, a first-team all-Ivy League selection last year, will lead Penn’s offense with his nimble feet as much as his passing arm. He ranked second on the team, and fifth in the league, with 60.9 yards rushing per game last season.
But if the Quakers are the favorites, Brown might be the conference’s most intriguing team. The senior quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero was a first-team all-league selection in 2009, but he was injured last season and played in just two games.
Brown’s offense provides Newhall-Caballero, who broke a bone in his hand in last year’s preseason before breaking his right wrist in his second game after returning, wide latitude to change the plays at the line of scrimmage and adjust the protection schemes.
“For us, it’s going to be how well can I recover, and can I get back to that form and hopefully improve,” Newhall-Caballero said in a telephone interview. “If I can, we definitely have a shot at the Ivy League championship this year.”
The rest of the league’s quarterbacks are no less impressive:
¶ The Harvard senior Collier Winters beat top college quarterbacks, including Andrew Luck of Stanford and Kellen Moore of Boise State, in a passing accuracy contest in July at the Manning Passing Academy, hosted by Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning.
¶ After only two years as Yale’s starter, Patrick Witt is on pace to break all of the program’s major passing records. A Nebraska transfer, Witt had scholarship offers from Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Wisconsin while in high school.
¶ Columbia’s Sean Brackett led the conference with 136.1 passing efficiency last season en route to sharing first-team all-Ivy League honors with Ragone. His 19 touchdown passes led the conference.
¶ The Cornell sophomore Jeff Mathews quickly established himself last season, emerging as the Big Red’s starter by halftime of his first game. Mathews, who stands 6 feet 4 inches, was the unanimous pick for the league’s rookie of the year after he threw for 1,723 yards, a Cornell record for a freshman.
The league’s strength at quarterback could result in more competitive play. Most coaches spoke about their quarterbacks’ ease in their systems, and with other players’ trust in the quarterbacks, which might equate to an offensive boom.
Witt averaged 246.2 yards per game to lead the league in passing last season, with Brackett the only other quarterback averaging more than 200 yards.
The spread of talent also has the potential to balance the league. Over the past five seasons, Penn, Harvard, Yale and Brown are the only teams to finish in the top three of the league standings, except in 2006, when Princeton and Harvard tied for first.
“Everybody seems like they have guys that can play, and some guys have one or two or three people that can play,” Dartmouth Coach Buddy Teevens said of this year’s quarterbacks. “It will be a fun league to watch in that regard. Nobody’s ever out of a ballgame.”
Of course, that could change because of injuries and ineligibility. And those twin perils would render the league’s rich quarterback stock worthless, at least when it comes to the starters.
“A guy slips in the shower and you’re looking at the second-team guy,” Columbia Coach Norries Wilson said in the conference call. “I found last year that probably the most important person on the team is the backup quarterback.”
By MARK VIERA, New York Times