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A Characteristically Tumultuous Start to Ancient Eight Football

Yale was listed atop the Ivy League in the preseason poll. However, in the first weekend of Ancient Eight play, Holy Cross downed the division favorite.
Sometimes people wonder why no one trusts polling data. But then the Ivy League releases a preseason poll with Yale at the top. And then Yale loses the first game. The suspicion is either a result of that or the 2016 election. Your guess is as good as mine.

The loss, Yale’s not Hillary Clinton's, while good for my loyalties to my collegiate institution, are bad for any person predicting scores for Ivy League games — so me, last week. The Bulldogs’ falter reminds all of us with an eye on the conference that the Ancient Eight remains as tumultuous as ever.

Like spokes on a wheel, the division’s top teams continuously exchange championship rings from year to year. The proclivity of the division to uphold ties by recognizing every squad with the best record as the “champion” exasperates this flip-flop of Ivy League champions.

In the last three seasons, five of the division’s eight institutions have been able to lay at least partial claim to the title “Ivy League Champion.” Penn is the only team do have done so twice during this time frame, while in 2015, the Quakers, Harvard and Dartmouth shared the title. Penn and Yale both won outright titles in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

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That means the only three teams in the division to not have finished a season at the top are Cornell, Columbia and Brown. Cornell, a team that was eyed toward the beginning of the 2017 season as a potential champion, won three of its first four divisional matches, dropping only a contest to Yale but besting Princeton, Harvard and Brown — which is no small feat for an Ivy League team. The subsequent three games told an opposite tale: losses to Columbia, Dartmouth and Penn.

Columbia did even better. The Lions went a perfect 6-0 through the first six — and three divisional — games of the season. Yale ended this streak in week seven, and Harvard landed the second punch that dropped the Lions into second place for the 2017 season.  

Up until the last two weeks of the 2017 schedule, nearly every team but Brown still had a chance to win the division. Looking game to game drew even less distinction between the teams. Yale won the Ancient Eight but lost to Dartmouth. Dartmouth lost to Harvard. Harvard lost to Princeton. Princeton lost to Dartmouth. Dartmouth lost also to Columbia, which also lost to Harvard, which also lost to Cornell, which beat Princeton but lost to Penn. The only team immune from the mess was Brown, which lost to everybody.

The point of this entire macro evaluation of 2017 is to prove that nearly every team in the Ivy League has a shot at the crown, every year.

This year was thought to have maybe changed that cycle. Yale won its first outright title since 1980 and returned a majority of their mainstay pieces. Junior quarterback Kurt Rawlins passed 2320 yards in the 2017 season and is back with another year of experience. He’ll have a familiar set of hands to throw to with junior JP Shohfi returning to the team as well. Not to mention sophomore running back Zane Dudek.

All in all, Yale is supposed to be scary on offense. All of these pre-season inclinations were shattered by the Bulldogs’ loss last week to Holy Cross. Not just Holy Cross, 0-2 Holy Cross. The Crusaders went into the contest without a win and Yale left still not having one. The only other Ivy League teams to suffer a defeat in opening week were Cornell and Brown, to Delaware and Cal Poly, respectively. The three teams have subsequently fallen to sixth place in the division.

In the two weeks prior, Holy Cross suffered defeats at the hands of Boston College and Colgate. The former of which is a legitimate ACC team, the latter 2-1, having bested New Hampshire by only seven this past weekend. It’s also worth noting that none of this really matters. Ivy League rankings are based on Ivy League games only.

But questions remain: is Holy Cross a good team? Is Yale a bad team? Was the inaugural weekend’s loss a fluke or indicative of an overhyped Bulldog squad? All questions we can’t really answer this early in the season.

Welcome to Ivy League football.

—Staff writer Cade Palmer can be reached at cade.palmer@thecrimson.com.

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