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Penn will be playing for a place in history
It was Penn football media day on Monday at Franklin Field, where the two-time defending Ivy League champion Quakers are priming for a 2011 season that holds the possibility for the program to go undefeated in the Ancient Eight for an unprecedented third straight year.
The Quakers are the preseason favorite to take the title again, though they don’t necessarily have to win every single league outing to accomplish that.
“This group is just as hungry as last year’s group,” said junior quarterback Billy Ragone, who was named first-team all-Ivy last year. “It’s a good pressure to have. You want to be at the top, and have everybody gunning for you. We lost a lot of good people, but we have a lot of experience back.”
Penn’s first game is a nonleague contest against visiting Lafayette on Sept. 17. After meeting Villanova of the Colonial Athletic Association at home the next week, the Quakers will visit Dartmouth on Oct. 1 for their league opener.
Last fall, Penn went 9-1 overall and 7-0 in the Ivy League, where the Quakers’ 15 straight wins are more than any other Football Championship Subdivision team possesses in its own conference.
Penn is tied for 24th in the FCS coaches preseason poll.
Penn coach Al Bagnoli, now in his 20th season, has guided the Quakers through three back-to-back undefeated title runs. No other Ivy League coach has won two consecutively without a loss.
The last time the Quakers finished with two titles in a row was in 2003. Entering last season, Penn was rocked by the tragic death of defensive lineman Owen Thomas in a suicide a couple of weeks after spring drills ended. The players dedicated the season to the senior captain-elect.
“There’s a lot less of a singular focus on trying to keep Owen present, and doing things for Owen,” said Bagnoli, the Ivy League’s career wins leader with a record of 131-57. “I think the motivation has to be a little different. The motivations last year were twofold - try to win back-to-back, and carry the season as a remembrance of Owen. Now, the motivation has to be to do something that’s very historic and very rare.”
Ragone and fellow QB Ryan Becker were key to Penn’s success in ‘10.
Early in the season, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound native of Cheshire, Conn., shared the job with Becker, who is now a sophomore. An offseason injury had taken expected starter Keiffer Garton out of the picture, and put Ragone and Becker in the hot seat.
Becker, who started the last game of the season - a 31-7 victory over Cornell that clinched Penn’s undefeated Ivy season - showed that he’s capable of running the team.
Ragone started eight games and was 70 for 123 passing for 834 yards, with five interceptions and six touchdown throws. The 6-0, 200-pound Becker opened up in two outings, and finished 44 for 76 through the air, with four interceptions and two touchdown passes.
Ragone was second on the team with 548 yards rushing. After sitting out as a freshman due to a collarbone injury, Ragone took big advantage of his opportunity last year and wound up all-league first-team.
“Coming in, you have to be hungry to fight for a spot,” said Ragone. “That’s what I did. I just wanted to get on the field as quick as possible, and show what I can do out there. There’s always somebody going for your spot. You have to keep that spot. I think that’s the type of attitude on the team. We’re a successful program because of that.”
By Kevin Tatum, Philadelphia Inquirer