When the football team scrimmages Princeton Saturday, the Elis hope to begin their march back to the top of the Ivy League.

In 1999, the Bulldogs won the Ivy League championship with a 6-1 conference mark. The following year, the Elis relapsed to finish in the middle of the pack at 4-3. The 2001 season saw the Elis defeat only Cornell en route to a 1-6 league mark.

The Bulldog program began to show life again in 2002, finishing once again with a 4-3 mark in the middle of the league. This year’s team believes this could be the year that Yale — picked to finish third behind the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard in the preseason media poll — vaults back to Ivy prominence.

“The team’s expectation for this upcoming season is flat-out to win the Ivy League title and go undefeated,” said defensive lineman Bryant Dieffenbacher ’04, who returns to anchor the defense after missing last season with a knee injury.

The 2003 edition of Yale football does not officially begin its quest for another two weeks. When the Elis meet Towson in the opener, the Tigers will be playing their fourth game. It will be the first ever matchup between the two teams. The Elis were scheduled to play Towson in 2001 before the September 11, 2001 tragedy resulted in the game’s cancellation.

The Elis could not scrimmage a Division I-AA team outside the Ivy League; every other conference has begun its regular season. For the first time in over a decade, the Elis will scrimmage another Ivy League team, even though the Elis will face Princeton in their penultimate game in November.

Last year, the Elis scrimmaged Division III Union, but coach Jack Siedlecki said the Dutchmen did not want to play again this preseason.

Tomorrow’s scrimmage will begin with one-on-one drills and include situational scrimmages including goal-line and short yardage possessions. In the first half, both teams will feature their starting lineups. In the second half, the reserves will see action, and the fourth quarter will be shortened from the standard 15 minutes.

This weekend, the rest of the Ivy League will be scrimmaging as well. Brown will meet Dartmouth, Columbia will take on Division III Hobart and Cornell will play Division III Ithaca. Harvard scheduled the only Division I-AA team without a regular season game Saturday against Stony Brook, but, as Siedlecki noted, the Crimson must travel five hours each way in one day.

Siedlecki said the Ivy League football coaches voted unanimously to scrap the annual scrimmage and add an 11th regular season game, but the vote was tabled by the Ivy League Policy Committee.

“Princeton will provide a final evaluation for our coaches so that we can fine tune the areas that need work,” said linebacker Ken Estrera ’04.

This fall the Elis have thus far avoided major injuries, but a big loss came in the spring season when safety Barton Simmons ’04 blew his knee. He is expected to miss the entire season.

The Elis remain buoyed, though, by the return of quarterback Alvin Cowan ’04, the team captain. In an intra-squad scrimmage last Friday, Cowan passed 12-17 for 150 yards. Jeff Mroz ’05, who started the final eight games of last season because of Cowan’s injury, went 6-11 for 100 yards.

“Both are playing well,” Siedlecki said. “Both are capable of starting, and I am looking forward to seeing them against outside competition this Saturday.”

Although Cowan typically does not talk about himself — opting instead to deflect praise to his teammates — he admits that his injury will not be a factor this season.

“My leg is better than it has ever been,” Cowan said. “I’m not concerned at all about my leg.”

Cowan’s strong leg is a big reason the Elis are not just spewing typical preseason braggadocio when they speak of their hopes for a league title.

“Since that season two years ago, there has been a complete change in attitude with the players and coaches,” Estrera said. “We expect nothing short of beating Harvard and winning the Ivy League Championship.”