By Phil Stemler

contributing reporter

While Harvard (8-0, 5-0 Ivy) and Penn (7-1, 5-0) are battling for the Ivy League crown, Cornell (3-5, 3-2) sits alone in third place, chased by Brown (5-3, 2-3), Yale (4-4, 2-3) and Princeton (4-4, 2-3), all in the fourth spot. Columbia (1-7, 1-4) and Dartmouth (0-8, 0-5) trail the pack. This weekend’s games could go far in determining the league’s final standings, with Yale-Princeton and Harvard-Penn figuring in as especially crucial games.

Harvard is currently undefeated, boasting a No. 15 ranking in the USA Today Division I-AA Top 25 poll. They are driven by a particularly high-powered offense, leading the league in scoring with 34.1 points per game and rushing, with an astounding 205.8 yards per game. The Cantabs’ leading rusher, Clifton Dawson, broke the Harvard record for most rushing touchdowns in one season in the team’s win over Princeton Oct. 23. He is on track to beat his mark from last year of 1,177 yards rushing.

The Crimson passing game is also noteworthy. Senior quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has the highest passer rating and third-highest passing yard total in the Ivy League. Harvard’s top threat, wideout Corey Mazza, has 650 yards receiving and six touchdowns to his name.

The University of Pennsylvania is also undefeated against non-league opponents and sports a No. 17 ranking. Penn has a potent offense led by signal-caller Patrick McDermott and top receiver Daniel Castles. McDermott leads the league with 1,978 yards passing, and Castles is third, with receptions totalling 780 yards. Castles is coming off of a 2003 season in which he amassed an impressive 1,067 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns. He only has seven scores thus far this season.

The Penn defense is also a formidable part of the team. All told, the Quakers have managed to hold all Ivy League opponents to under seven points a game with the exceptions of Brown, which got 16 in a meeting Oct. 30, and Princeton, which scored 15 points last weekend.

Cornell entered the season picked to finish last in the Ivy League pre-season media poll. But the Big Red has managed to post impressive wins against Yale and Princeton, dealing heavy blows to the two teams’ title hopes. In their 21-20 victory over Princeton Oct. 30, Cornell’s primarily passing-centered offense seemed efficient, with two touchdown receptions of more than 50 yards. On the other hand, the Big Red did not put any more points on the board after 10 minutes had elapsed in the second half. Cornell won only thanks to their defense, punctuated by clutch special teams play; Cornell blocked a critical extra point attempt by Princeton late in the third quarter to maintain its lead.

Brown is a team in an interesting position. Winless against all Ivy League teams except Cornell, whom the Bears beat 21-17, Brown has a chance to claw its way back into contention for third, with games against Columbia and Dartmouth coming up.

Characteristic of most Ivy teams, Brown has a powerhouse offense, with running back Nick Hartigan second in points scored and second in total rushing yards with 1,019. The Bears are able to put points on the board. They racked up 34 points against Harvard Sept. 25 in what has been the Crimson’s closest game of the season. If the Bears can overcome their defensive liabilities — the defense has given up 19.4 points per game in 2004 — Brown may rack up crucial wins down the stretch.

Columbia has struggled offensively all year long, having lost by an average of 13.4 points per game. This year, the Lions lost wide receivers Travis Chmelka and Zach Van Zant to graduation. These two did most of the receiving for the Lions last year, recording a combined 262 career receptions. Rashad Biggers is a bright spot for the Lions’ offense. He returned after missing the 2003 season due to injury. In the team’s game against Yale Oct. 30, Biggers rushed for 129 yards.

Dartmouth has its own offensive woes. The Big Green has been shut out in two games so far, averaging a paltry 10.1 points a game, and they have been outscored by an average of 12.9 points per game. Although quarterback Charlie Ritters has thrown for 1,584 yards, he has been sacked 17 times and has been intercepted on 12 occasions. He has made only six touchdown passes.

In a 13-12 loss to Harvard Oct. 30, Dartmouth held Clifton Dawson to 69 yards rushing, but could not stop Ryan Fitzpatrick from going 25-for-41 passing for 300 yards. This tough loss was the Big Green’s seventh in a row, the first time Dartmouth has dropped seven straight since the beginning of the football program in 1881.