By Mike Bell
Let’s get this straight. Last season, the University of Pennsylvania won another the Ivy League title. Nothing new there. In recent years the Quakers have contended just about every year and have won seven titles in the last fifteen seasons.
It was how they did it that raised so many eyebrows. Consider these facts about 2012:
- In a year where each Ivy League team enjoyed a winning record for at least one week during the season (even if it was 1-0 to start the year), Penn was the last team in the league to reach that standard, not reaching the .500 mark until week nine.
- The Quakers were cumulatively outscored by their opponents, the only FCS league/conference champion to have that distinction.
- The final four games of the season were elimination games. Lose the game and lose the Ivy League title. (They won all four, not in textbook fashion, but won them none the less.)
- Penn’s lone league defeat came at the hands of Yale, the league’s last place team.
- All of the Quakers’ six wins were by ten points or less
And the list goes on.
In a nutshell, based on the facts, the Penn Quakers were not supposed to win the 2012 Ivy League title, and easily could have finished 1-6 in the league if the breaks had fallen the other way.
Forget whether it was sheer luck from a struggling team or numerous strikes of good fortune by a team that was a year away from greatness. The bottom line is that Penn did what it had to do. They won when they had to and did it on the road and at home. When heavily favored and nationally ranked Harvard came into Franklin Field, it left in defeat. When the dust settled at the end of the season, the 6-1 record put Pennsylvania at the head of the pack and garnered the Quakers another Ivy League title. Now, how can they do it again?
Perennial powers have a formula. A consistent offense or stingy defense might work. Perhaps it’s the work ethic or maybe larger and faster players or maybe a decided coaching advantage. While the 2012 championship result was typical of Penn football, the road the Quakers traveled was not.
To win another Ivy crown the 2013 edition of the Quakers will likely have to follow a different route than last year’s team did,
But here’s a four step outline on how they can do it:
Step One, and the most important, is sticking to the Al Bagnoli system that has worked in the past. A look back at his career at Penn shows that he has instilled the will to win. His teams are scrappy and have done one thing consistently, win games and Ivy League titles. Never do his teams get run off the field and show up to play each and every game. In 2013 he’ll have 40 returning letter winners and a large group of starters, in addition to a solid group of newcomers. The system works, (though maybe not perfectly in 2012) and will continue to work this season.
Step Two is playing through the challenging non-league schedule. Again this year, Penn and crosstown rival Villanova will square off in week two. In addition, Lafayette and William & Mary are also on the slate. The lessons learned in the early going will pay off as the year progresses.
Step Three centers on returning quarterback Billy Ragone. If the fifth year senior can stay healthy (he missed the final game of the 2012 campaign with a fractured leg) he will add to his already impressive set of numbers. A quick look back at last season shows how instrumental he was in the nine games he started. His numbers for 2012 include 118 of 210 (56.2%) for 1,288 yards. He contributed 1,764 total yards last season. Overall, his career numbers put him slightly over 5,500 total yards. Adding to them will mean big things for the 2013 Quakers. A solid group of returning starters, including center Christopher Bush, wide receiver Connor Scott and running back Lyle Marsh, will help Ragone work his magic.
Step Four is a solid defense. Last season the defense had periods of greatness, but rarely played with consistency. A good example of this flash of great defense was against Harvard last season. The Quakers held the Crimson to 18 points less than they averaged throughout the season. More often than not, the Penn defense finds a way to force opponents to do things that they normally don’t do. A combination of brains and toughness means that opposing offenses will have to earn everything, since the Quakers make few mistakes. Consider that during the championship seasons of 2009 and 2010, the Quaker defense surrendered 9.5 and 14.5 points per game, considerably less than the 24.1 points per game total given up last season. Returning senior defensive back Sebastian Jaskowski and junior linebacker Daniel Davis, both All-Ivy first-teamers from 2012, head up a solid group of returning starters intent on retaining the league crown. Look for the experience of last year spark a return the Quakers to the stingy ways of the past.
Except for the ultimate championship result, the 2012 season was an aberration. But the lessons learned last fall will serve the Quakers well in 2013. The ability to come back when defeat seems certain, to respond positively after a 2-4 start, to win four straight and the Ivy title, and to win tight games on a consistent basis all will serve the team well. If the Quakers can stay healthy and focused, another Ivy League championship banner, the 17th in school history, should wave above Franklin Field.