Penn Favored to Win Third Straight Ivy League Football Title in Media Poll

The University of Pennsylvania is favored to win its third consecutive Ivy League title, according to a preseason college football poll of media representatives who regularly cover the eight-team conference.

The Philadelphia university received 12 of the 17 first- place votes and 129 total points in the balloting, which was released today on the league’s website. Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is second with 118 points, followed by Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, with 95.

The Quakers, who have competed since 1876, haven’t lost a league game in more than two years, with consecutive 7-0 seasons. Penn’s 15-game conference winning streak is the third longest in the National Collegiate Athletic Conference league’s 55-year history, trailing streaks of 17 and 20, set by the same school.

“We know the challenges will be there, we know the league will be very improved,” Penn coach Al Bagnoli said today on a conference call. “Our kids are focused, they’re anxious, and I think they’re going in with a pretty good attitude.”

Penn (9-1 overall, 7-0 Ivy League) won the Ivy title last year with the league’s best defense and highest-scoring offense. The Quakers return junior running backs Jeff Jack and Brandon Colavita, who led the team to a league-high 243.6 yards rushing per game last year. Quarterback Billy Ragone, who was sixth in the league in passing and fifth in rushing as a sophomore last season, also returns.

Strong Defense

The Penn defense, led by linebacker Erik Rask, had a league-high 31 sacks last season and allowed 14.5 points per game, lowest among the conference’s eight teams. The Quakers allowed 73.1 yards rushing last season, the only Ivy League school to hold opponents under a 100-yard average.

“They were the best defensive team in the league,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy told reporters. “The other thing is they did a great job running the football and understanding their strengths. You would think that with their quarterback becoming a more veteran guy, they should be able to open up the offense, be a little bit more balanced, which I think is going to make it tougher for everybody.”

Harvard (7-3, 5-2) tied with Yale (7-3, 5-2) for second place last season. The Crimson graduated running back Gino Gordon, who finished second in the conference in rushing last season and was co-winner of league’s Player of the Year award. Yale quarterback Patrick Witt led the conference with a 60.4 rating and 246.2 yards passing per game as a junior in 2010.

Quarterbacks Return

All eight teams are returning their starting quarterbacks, creating a talented group that Murphy said he hasn’t seen in his 18 years coaching in the conference. The experience at that position has created an unprecedented competitive equality, Brown University coach Phil Estes said.

“To pick who the All-Ivy quarterback is going to be is a huge toss-up between the eight teams,” Estes said. “There is a lot of parity, I think this year more than any other time, but you have to start with Penn.”

Penn’s 808 victories rank 10th in college football history. The team also plays in the country’s oldest stadium, Franklin Field, which opened in 1895.

Penn’s 2010 title was the eighth championship for Bagnoli, the most of any current Ivy League coach. Penn’s 15 Ivy League titles trail only Dartmouth College’s 17 for most in conference history. The Big Green last won a championship in 1996, and haven’t had a winning conference record since 2003.

No Distraction

Bagnoli said he didn’t want the team’s recent success to become a distraction as it tries to become the first the win three straight Ivy titles since Dartmouth in 1990-92.

“You don’t want to make it seem like it’s a burden that’s on your back every play,” he said. “It’s a different cast, we approach it differently. We want to put the emphasis on knowing that we’re going to take everybody’s best shot, and being prepared to do that.”

Last month, the Ivy League announced it was limiting full- contact practices and adding suspensions for illegal hits in an attempt to reduce head injuries. The conference schedule begins on Sept. 23, when Harvard hosts Brown. The two schools shared the title in 2008.

2010 Ivy League Football Preseason Media Poll
(First-place Votes in Parentheses)

Rank School      Points
1.   Penn (12)    129
2.   Harvard (2)  118
3.   Yale (1)      95
4.   Brown (2)     90
5.   Dartmouth     73
6.   Columbia      45
7.   Princeton     31
7.   Cornell       31

To contact the reporter on this story: Eben Novy-Williams in New York at enovywilliam@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net.

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