A season after placing in a tie for fifth in the Ivy League, Harvard football is expected to jump up a few spots, according to the 2018 preseason media poll.
Garnering one first-place vote, the Crimson tallied 99 votes overall, just behind Princeton’s 104 and in a distant third below Yale’s 129. The Bulldogs also accumulated 11 of the 17 first-place votes. Last season, Yale triumphed over Harvard in the 134th playing of The Game, 24-3, to win the Ivy League outright.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, two of the top three spots in the poll went to teams that occupied the bottom half of the league in 2017. Princeton skidded to a 2-5 conference mark last fall and graduates gunslinger Chad Kanoff (3474 yards, 29 touchdowns in 2017), but media members pegged the Tigers for the Ancient Eight’s second-place finish this time around.
The Crimson joins Princeton as a team expected to make a bit of a leap this coming season. In 2017, Harvard finished below .500 in conference play for the first time since 1999. The team’s 3-4 showing in the Ivy League closely mirrored its 3-4 finish nearly two decades ago, the only differences coming in the Brown and Princeton contests.
It was the Crimson’s offense that proved most out of character last fall. Two seasons removed from a unit that scored 36.4 points per game, the 2017 edition mustered just 22.0 per contest, good for sixth in the league. Meanwhile, the defense held its own but was not stifling, finishing just behind Dartmouth for fourth in points conceded.
This season, Harvard fans should anticipate offensive improvements across the board. According to head coach Tim Murphy, senior leadership, a strong offensive line, and continued emergence by a handful of skill position players are some of the Crimson’s keys to success on the offensive end.
Senior center Ben Shoults will “quarterback” the offensive line once again, and he is joined by classmates Larry Allen and Tim O’Brien on a unit that is expected to staunchly protect Harvard’s pass and run attack.
On the passing end, the quarterback competition appears to have boiled down to sophomore Jake Smith and senior Tom Stewart. Stewart, who did not see game action last season due to injuries, will challenge incumbent starter Smith, who had an up-and-down rookie campaign. Smith completed 56.7 percent of his passes for 1154 yards, but he also conceded nine interceptions.
The Crimson has a wealth of wideouts and tight ends that its quarterbacks can target in the aerial attack. Senior Justice Shelton-Mosley—an FCS Preseason All-American for the second consecutive season—will work alongside classmates Adam Scott, Henry Taylor, Brian Dunlap, and a number of underclassman contributors at the wideout position. Murphy has identified about 10 potential players to fill the tight end/halfback position, including familiar faces Ryan Antonellis, Dan Werner, Cecil Williams, and Jack Stansell.
In the backfield, Murphy likewise has a glut of talent he can employ. Seniors Charlie Booker and Semar Smith and sophomore duo Devin Darrington and Aaron Shampklin will provide necessary running depth for the squad.
There is a lot to watch out for when Harvard has the ball, but everything starts with the defense according to Murphy. Up front, veteran standouts Stone Hart, Richie Ryan, John Pirrmann, and Alex White will be crucial. Despite losing a heavy contingent of defenders to graduation, another generation of linebackers and defensive backs will step up to take their place. Charlie Walker, Anthony Camargo, and Joey Goodman will likely anchor the linebacker corps, and the defensive backs are also represented by a contingent of veterans, most notably Tyler Gray and Wes Ogsbury.
The Crimson opens the 2018 campaign at home against San Diego on Sept. 15. The Toreros are a physical team with skilled playmakers, most notably senior quarterback Anthony Lawrence. Per Murphy, San Diego could be one of the top two or three teams Harvard matches up against all season.
—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at email@example.com.