The results of last weekend’s Ancient Eight football games might have fans wondering if the term “Ivy Madness” should be extended from the hardwood to the gridiron. Backed by stringent defense and a strong running game — its two anchors all season — Yale beat Columbia 23-6 in one of the most important games played in New Haven in the past several years. Cornell, picked to finish dead last in the Ivy League preseason media poll, knocked off defending co-champion Princeton on the road with a last-minute field goal. Now, the Big Red sits tied atop the Ivy standings with the Bulldogs and Lions, and only three weeks remain in the season. While it’s anyone’s guess what’ll happen in the ensuing weeks, we are using the Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group, or YUSAG, football prediction model to break down the drama and detail the likeliest championship scenarios.
If any of the three teams currently tied for first wins out, it is guaranteed to secure at least a share of the Ancient Eight title (there is no tiebreaker between teams with identical records; the league names any team that tied for first an Ivy League Champion.) Yale currently sits in the driver’s seat for the Ivy League title, with a 66 percent chance to win its first crown since 2006. In Friday’s game against Brown, our model favors the Elis by nearly 4 touchdowns, giving them more than a 90 percent chance of victory. Yale’s toughest remaining game will undoubtedly come in two weeks at Princeton. Despite their two conference losses, our model says the Tigers are the best Ancient Eight team — roughly 2.5 points better than Yale. Coupled with the fact that Team 145 will be hitting the road for this contest, that differential means the Bulldogs will be about 4–5 point underdogs, with a roughly 40 percent chance to win. No Yale fan needs reminding of the significance of the Elis’ season finale against Harvard, and our model favors them to replicate last year’s success by a 10-point margin (70 percent win probability).
Overall, Yale has about a 26 percent chance to win all of its remaining games and guarantee itself an Ivy title regardless of other results around the league. While it would be ideal for Yale to take care of business and not have to worry about the outcomes of other games, it’s far more likely that Bulldog fans will need to be glued to the Ancient Eight scoreboard for the next three weeks. The Bulldog’s biggest threat will likely come from Columbia; the Lions possess a 53 percent chance to win a share of the Ivy League title, and a 21 percent chance of winning out. Meanwhile, according to the YUSAG prediction model, Cornell stands as an underdog in each of its remaining games, with just a 23 percent chance to clinch an Ivy championship and a meager 5 percent chance of winning out. In fact, our model has been quite pessimistic on “the Cs” all year, evaluating Columbia and Cornell to be the sixth and seventh best teams in the Ivy League, respectively. This negative assessment results from the fact that our model is score-based, and neither Columbia nor Cornell has recorded a decisive win, relying on squeaking out nail-biters. That sequence of results speaks to some of the luck involved in winning games in the final minute and overtime, a formula for success that isn’t sustainable in the long run.
Think that title picture is crazy? We haven’t even considered the fact that Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth are just one game back and sit waiting to pounce should the three front-runners slip. While Harvard and Dartmouth each have around 10 percent title odds, Princeton’s championship hopes sit at a respectable 22 percent, meaning that the Yale-Princeton “Game before the Game” will likely be the most important matchup all season in terms of its impact on the title race. While Yale (22 percent) and Columbia (15 percent) possess the best chances of winning the title outright, our simulations indicate that there is a 56% chance the title is shared by at least two teams. In all this madness, the only thing to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the show!
Luke Benz | firstname.lastname@example.org