Six games into its season, the Yale football team is outperforming virtually all expectations.
After defeating Penn this weekend, the squad’s record now stands at 5–1. Once ranked fifth in the preseason Ivy League media poll, the team has now become a power that no defense, not even Football Bowl Subdivision opponent Army, has been able to completely stop.
What that means for the Bulldogs (5–1, 2–1 Ivy) is that the annual goal of winning the Ancient Eight, which has not been done since 2006, now looks realistic.
But Yale still has four more Ivy opponents to defeat, including Princeton and Harvard. And one pesky 38–31 loss to Dartmouth leaves the Bulldogs with no margin for error in their final games.
What is more, Yale is not entirely in control of its own destiny — other teams’ records will impact the Elis’ chances at the Ivy League title.
FACTORS OUT OF YALE’S CONTROL
Three weeks ago, Dartmouth quarterback Dalyn Williams proved at the Yale Bowl that even if the Elis’ offense cannot be stopped, Yale can be beaten with a similarly explosive offensive attack. Williams led the Big Green to a 38–31 victory with over 400 yards of total offense, and Dartmouth sits in a desirable spot in the standings as a result.
Two squads remain perfect in the Ivy League — Dartmouth and Harvard — and Yale will need both of them to lose a game if it hopes to claim a share of the title. Yale has yet to play Harvard, so a win at Harvard Stadium to close out the 2014 campaign would give the Bulldogs a shot at the title.
The most Yale can do about Dartmouth, however, is hope for a stumble by the Big Green. The northernmost Ivy team has Harvard, Cornell, Brown and Princeton still on its schedule, with Harvard and Princeton providing the best opportunity for a Dartmouth defeat.
Assuming Yale wins out — by no means an easy feat — a Harvard win over Dartmouth would give Yale a two- or three-way share of the title with the Crimson and the Big Green. If Dartmouth beats Harvard, however, Yale would then rely on a Dartmouth loss from either Cornell, Brown or Princeton to share the title with the Big Green.
But if either Dartmouth or Harvard wins out, or if Yale fails to do so, the Elis have effectively no shot at an Ivy title.
RED HOT CRIMSON
For most of this season, while Yale wowed fans, opponents and analysts alike with its offense, its archrival, Harvard, was winning in a quieter fashion.
Until last week, the Crimson maintained an undefeated record through less impressive victories, winning with scores of 22–14 and 24–7 against Brown and Cornell, respectively. Compared to Yale’s 30-point average margin of victory in conference games, this makes Yale’s rival seem not only beatable, but even perhaps the underdog heading into Nov. 22.
But that neglects one factor: Conner Hempel, Harvard’s senior quarterback, missed four games with an injury this season.
Upon his return, Hempel made a strong statement, lighting up a Princeton squad that was ranked first in the preseason poll, passing for 382 yards and three touchdowns en route to the Crimson’s 49–7 destruction of the Tigers.
In an event of symbolic significance, Hempel and Yale quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 shared honors as Ivy League co-offensive players of the week on Monday.
In the only two games Hempel has played in, Harvard has scored over 40 points. He may be the key to overcoming Yale’s offense come The Game.
Although this year’s rendition of college football’s most historic rivalry is shaping up to be closer than last’s, Harvard’s domination of a squad as talented as Princeton assures that there is still reason to be wary of the Crimson this season.
A DIVIDING LINE
As for the rest of Ivy League football, it seems to have split into two clearly defined tiers, save for one team.
Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale all remain contenders for an Ivy League title, with the only two Ivy losses among these four teams being Yale’s loss to Dartmouth and Princeton’s to Harvard.
Princeton was undefeated in the Ivy League until that blowout loss to Harvard. The Tigers also fell 31–30 in a non-conference matchup against Colgate, a team that Yale defeated by two scores a week later.
Penn, Cornell and Columbia, meanwhile, are all in the midst of disappointing seasons. Columbia has not won a game since 2012, Cornell is 0–6 with a 21-point average margin of defeat and Penn’s only victory in its season was against Columbia. Cornell and Columbia are likely waiting eagerly for their matchup on Nov. 15, the only game that either of them seems to have a chance at winning.
Brown, with a 42–16 win over Cornell and fairly close losses to Harvard and Princeton, is an unknown in the middle. The Bulldogs’ contest in Providence on Nov. 8 will be indicative of both squads’ abilities.
Before that test of Yale’s skill, the Bulldogs take a trip to New York to face Columbia on Saturday. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m.