It’s not exactly the Curse of the Bambino, but there is an inauspicious trend surfacing in Ivy League football, and it seems this year the Bulldogs will be the center of all the hype.
In the past seven years, only one team, the 2003 Pennsylvania Quakers, has been voted atop the Ancient Eight in the preseason poll and gone on to fulfill the media’s prediction by winning an Ivy crown three months later. So when the media resoundingly selected Yale to finish ahead of the pack in 2007, whispers of the “Poll Curse” could be heard within the Eli nation.
Yale has been selected first in the preseason poll one other time in this young century. Back in 2000, the Bulldogs and the Big Red of Cornell received an equal number of first-place votes. The Big Red finished 5-2, good enough for second place in the Ivy League, and the Elis finished a disappointing 4-3, two games behind champion Penn.
The team has heard the commotion, but doesn’t seem to find much merit in conference preseason polls.
“Preseason polls mean nothing,” linebacker Bobby Abare ’09 said. “I think people just enjoy predicting where a team stacks up against another team. The only one that matters is the postseason poll.”
Head coach Jack Siedlecki, now entering his 11th year at the helm, backed up his star linebacker.
“The poll hasn’t been right very often in the 10 years I have been here,” Siedlecki said. “We were picked fifth last year and eighth in 1999, the last time we won it [outright]. The poll is 16 people’s opinion. The Ivy League Championship will be decided by the players on eight football teams that, year in and year out, are incredibly evenly matched. Repeat champions are rare, and our players are getting ready to take on that challenge.”
As if being this year’s favorite didn’t already single out the Bulldogs, the group is also trying to defend its 2006 Ivy League Championship and win back-to-back championships for the first time since 1979-’80.
Captain Brandt Hollander ’08, an All-Ivy selection last season who finished with 24 tackles and four sacks, said he thinks the additional pressure will make his team better.
“Obviously, coming off the success we had last year does raise the stakes, but I think it’s been a positive thing for us,” the standout defensive lineman said. “As a team, we’ve responded well to the challenge. We had a great summer, and we’re in the middle of the best camp we’ve ever had.”
Coach Siedlecki said he wants to treat last year’s success as an added motivator rather than a burden in the very competitive Ancient Eight.
When Penn bucked the poll trend back in 2003, the team ran the table on their conference schedule, finishing three games ahead of any other Ivy foe. The task may not be so easy for the Bulldogs this season. Though the group returns nine of 11 starters on defense and two prolific offensive threats in running back Mike McLeod ’09 and quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08, the Elis must go on the road late in the season against Penn and Princeton, picked second and fourth, respectively, in the preseason media poll.
Abare, whom many view as the league’s best defensive player after recording 46 solo tackles and picking off four passes last season, said he approaches all games with the same mentality, regardless of an opponent’s record or the importance of the game.
“I feel as though each Saturday is the same,” Abare said. “It’s game day, and the only expectation I have is to give everything I’ve got. That’s what we did last year and we’ll do again this year.”
The Elis were not only viewed favorably in the Ivy League preseason polls, but also in overall Division I-AA polls. Yale was picked as high as 18th in the country in the College Sporting News, though the consensus puts the team somewhere closer to 24th, where it falls in most national rankings including the FCS Coaches Poll.
The Ivy League does not allow its football teams to participate in postseason competition, but it would still be a point of pride for Yale to finish among the best in Division I-AA, which hosts a 16-team playoff through November and December.
Success may come in many different forms for the Bulldogs this season, but year in and year out, some benchmarks remain the same.
“We have the same goals every year,” Hollander said. “[To win] an outright Ivy League championship and to beat Harvard.”