The Yale football team comes into 2018 with high expectations and higher hopes. The defending Ivy League champions are coming off of a stellar 9–1 season that they capped off with six consecutive victories, culminating in the clinching of the outright Ivy League title with a landslide victory in The Game. Led by a stifling defense and a consistent offense that averaged over 450 yards and 34 points per game, Team 145 handily defeated opponents by more than a score in all but three games. With several of the team’s largest contributors returning to the field — including quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 and reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year running back Zane Dudek ’21 — media pundits have picked the Elis as favorites to repeat as 2018 Ivy League champs.

Holy Cross 2017: (4–7, 3–3 Patriot League) 2018: (0–2, 0–1 Patriot League)

Coming off a rough 2017 season that saw the Crusaders eek out a 4–7 record, Holy Cross started the 2018 season with a heart-breaking, nearly completed comeback attempt against Colgate that fell short in a 24–17 defeat. The next week against a talented Boston College team resulted in a 62–14 loss for the Crusaders, where both of Holy Cross’ touchdowns came from blocked punts returned for scores. One crucial matchup to keep an eye on is Yale’s defensive backs and their coverage against the four seniors who make up Holy Cross’ receiving corps, in particular team captain Blaise Bell, who made second team All-Patriot League last fall. On the flip side, an inexperienced Crusader defense may allow a coming out party for Yale’s numerous offensive weapons.

Cornell 2017: (3–7, 3–4 Ivy League)

Starting this fall with a whopping 16 returning starters, Cornell is hoping to build on a 2017 that surpassed expectations. The Big Red started last fall with a strong 3–1 Ancient Eight conference record going into November before ending the season with a disappointing 3–4 conference record and 3–7 finish overall. Despite the late season collapse, Cornell placed fifth in the Ivy League, far surpassing pundits who had predicted a last-place finish. With two All-Ivy League players and another two All-Ivy League Honorable Mention recipients from last season returning, expect a more experienced Big Red to be less prone to a late-year collapse. The school, which has posted just one winning record since the turn of the century, is pinning its hopes on a pair of All-Ivy League Honorable Mention defensive backs in David Jones and DJ Woullard and five returning starters on the offensive line. Expect Yale to commit to a strong ground-and-pound style of attack against the Big Red to avoid the strong secondary and take advantage of Dudek’s skillset.

Maine 2017: (4–6, 3–5 Colonial Athletic Association) 2018: (2–0, 1–0 CAA)

After Maine opened the 2018 season with a dominant performance against then-No. 7 New Hampshire in a 35–7 drubbing, the Black Bears managed to improve yet again in their second week with a 31–28 victory over FBS school Western Kentucky. As a reward for these two impressive outings, Maine has earned a No. 20 ranking. Yale defensive backs must be focused on countering sophomore gunslinger Chris Ferguson, who already has five passing touchdowns on the season; in particular, watch for Yale’s defensive back coverage on Maine’s dual receiving threats Micah Wright and Earnest Edwards, two early candidates for All-CAA Team nods.

Dartmouth 2017: (8–2, 5–2 Ivy)

As the only opponent to topple Yale in the 2017 football campaign, Dartmouth is almost as intent on repeating the feat as the Elis are on making sure it doesn’t happen again. However, with the departure of Jack Heneghan, the Big Green Machine is embroiled in a three-way quarterback battle. Returning wildcat formation quarterback Jared Gerbino is accompanied by a more traditional quarterback in Derek Kyler, and both are threatened by incoming redshirt first-year transfer Jake Allen from the University of Florida. Whichever quarterback wins the starting spot will be accompanied by a stellar supporting cast, headlined by All-Ivy linemen Matt Kaskey and Pat Kilcommons, alongside receiver Hunter Hagdorn. On the defensive side of the ball, Dartmouth is led by first team All-Ivy League linebacker Jack Traynor, who led the Big Green in tackles last fall.

Mercer 2017: (5–6, 4–4 Southern Conference) 2018: (1–1, 0–0 SC)

Mercer’s football program is entering just its fifth year back after a 72-year program hiatus, and although the team found some short-lived success, it had failed to achieve any kind of consistency. Mercer kick-started its 2013 reinauguration with a record-smashing 10-win season, but Mercer has followed it up with several consecutive years of breakeven records. Redshirt sophomore Kaelan Riley and redshirt first-year Robert Riddle have been locked in a quarterback duel since the spring, with no clear winner, but both will be aided by the team’s “thunder-lightning” running back corps of Tyray Devezin and Tee Mitchell throughout the season. It remains to be seen whether the dynamic duo will be able to overcome Yale’s stout defensive front, headlined by team captain and defensive tackle Nicholas Crowle ’19 alongside defensive end J. Hunter Roman ’19.

Penn Quakers 2017: (6–4, 4–3 Ivy)

When Yale made the trip to Philadelphia last fall, a fourth-quarter connection from Eli quarterback Rawlings to wide receiver Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18 sealed a 24–19 Yale win in a tightly contested game that featured five lead changes. After its loss to Yale, the Quakers found themselves 0–3 in conference play, but the Quakers rallied behind strong play from receiver Justin Watson, and the team managed to turn around its season with four straight wins to end the year. Watson ultimately accumulated 1,083 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns for the Quakers — more than twice as many scores as the other Penn receivers combined, before departing for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Karekin Brooks joins Dudek — last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year and an FCS preseason All-American — as the only running backs on the preseason All-Ivy First-Team. Meanwhile, Quaker linebacker Nick Miller, who tallied 104 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions in 2017, and fellow seniors linebacker Jay Cammon Jr. and safety Sam Philippi figure prominently on the defensive preseason first team.

Columbia Lions 2017: (8–2, 5–2 Ivy)

Columbia finished last season tied for second in the Ivy League, capitalizing on a 6–0 start to the year for its best overall finish since 1996. A coaches’ vote named Al Bagnoli, in his third season at the helm, Ivy League Coach of the Year, and a program record 12 players were elected to All-Ivy teams. Columbia had amassed a total of only four wins in the four years prior to Bagnoli’s arrival. This season, Coach Bagnoli returns, but several important players do not. Save receiver Josh Wainwright, all of the Lions’ 2017 first team selections graduated last spring — defensive lineman Lord Hyeamang, defensive back Cameron Roane and punter Parker Thome. Columbia also graduated quarterback Anders Hill, two-time team MVP and a Second-Team All-Ivy selection last year. Hill was instrumental to the Lions’ success, throwing for 2,407 yards and 16 touchdowns in 10 games, and his departure creates uncertainty at the helm of the Lion offense.

Brown Bears 2017: (2–8, 0–7 Ivy)

Yale’s thrashing of the Bears in 2017 encapsulated how Brown fared last fall. The Bulldogs cruised to a 27–0 lead at halftime, eventually winning 34–7. Dudek rushed for three touchdowns, and Rawlings found wide receiver JP Shohfi ’20 for two more. Despite squeaking out single-digit wins over local opponents Bryant and Rhode Island for their lone pair of victories, Brown did not manage to defeat an Ivy League competitor, or even stay within single digits. Wide receiver Jakob Prall and Connecticut native lineman Christian Montano are the only returning Bears who made an All-Ivy team last year. The Bears also lost unanimous All-Ivy first-team selection, Ivy League Defensive player-of-the-year finalist and linebacker Richard Jarvis, who recorded 69 tackles, eight sacks and six forced fumbles in 2017. This season looms as a transitional year for Brown and the Bears will struggle to stay competitive against Yale.

Princeton Tigers 2017: (5–5, 2–5 Ivy)

Princeton’s poor 2017 Ivy record belied the team’s quality. Despite finishing seventh in the Ancient Eight standings, the Tigers placed four players on All-Ivy first teams, including two unanimous selections in returning receiver Jesper Horsted and quarterback Chad Kanoff, who graduated last year. Kanoff was also named Ivy League offensive player of the year, having thrown for an Ivy League single-season record 3,474 yards. The Tigers showed signs of brilliance in 2017, blanking Brown 53–0 and defeating Harvard by 35 six days later, but four of their five Ivy League losses were by just four points or less, including a 35–31 loss to the Elis last November. The Princeton offense posted more than 20 points every game and its high-powered offense should remain a strength in 2018. Despite Kanoff’s graduation, Princeton returns quarterback John Lovett, the 2016 Ivy League offensive player of the year. The team’s other preseason All-American, Lovett missed all of 2017 after undergoing shoulder surgery, but he accounted for 31 touchdowns in 2017, more than five Ivy League teams scored all season. The Ivy’s Preseason Poll puts Princeton in second place.

Harvard Crimson 2017: (5–5, 3–4 Ivy)

Last year’s .500 record was somewhat of an anomaly for the Crimson, a program that has captured five Ivy League championships in the past 10 years. The team’s 3–4 conference record was its first losing one since 1999. Even more interesting was how Harvard fared against teams in the top half of the league. Against Yale, Harvard fell 24–3 in the 134th playing of The Game at the Yale Bowl. But the Crimson collected wins over Dartmouth and Columbia, who both finished tied for second. Against two of the three teams with the worst Ivy records last year — Cornell and Princeton — Harvard lost by a combined 38 points. Head coach Tim Murphy begins his 25th year in charge, and Harvard’s 2018 team returns two senior FCS preseason All-Americans — lineman Larry Allen III and returner and receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley. Harvard’s offensive line will be one of its assets, and Allen is joined by experienced classmates Ben Shoults and Tim O’Brien up front. Also returning is 2017 First-Team All-Ivy running back Charlie Booker III, who rushed for 733 yards and six touchdowns in 2017. However a big hole remains a quarterback, where sophomore Jake Smith and senior Tom Stewart will compete for the starting quarterback role.

Bentley Long | bentley.long@yale.edu

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu