Ivy League offseason glance

By CRAIG HALEY

Stats Perform FCS Senior Editor

(Stats Perform) - The 2020 Ivy League season is expected to be highly competitive after top teams suffered key losses and second-tier programs appear to be on the move upward.

Dartmouth and Yale shared the title last season, and it took perhaps the most surprising upset of the FCS season - Cornell handing Dartmouth its only loss in the second-to-last week of the regular season - to make it happen.

Expect more great games, and likely surprises, this year.

Following is an offseason glance at the Ivy League. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted activities across college campuses, shutting many down to help address the worldwide emergency. The Ivies were pro-active in canceling their offseason practices.

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BROWN

HEAD COACH: James Perry (2-8, one season; 14-18 overall)

2019 RECORD: 2-8, 1-6 Ivy (8th)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 15 (7 offense/8 defense)

PRIORITIES: Develop the wide receivers unit to offset key senior losses. Improve in pass defense after allowing an FCS-worst 342.8 yards per game and 32 touchdowns.

NOTABLE: A jump toward .500 would be a big step given the Bears have lost 21 of their last 22 league games, yet a lot seemed to change when they became competitive in the second half of last season. The next step is finishing off close games. Rising senior quarterback E.J. Perry set the Ivy single-season record with 3,678 yards of total offense and accounted for 30 TDs. There will be an influx of talent simply from the return of wide receiver Jaelon Blandburg, inside linebacker Kingsley Ejiogy-Dike and strong safety Clay Perrin from injuries.

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COLUMBIA

HEAD COACH: Al Bagnoli (22-28, five seasons; 256-127 overall)

2019 RECORD: 3-7, 2-5 Ivy (Tie/6th)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)

PRIORITIES: Get better at quarterback and running back. Lowering the number of big plays surrendered defensively.

NOTABLE: The Lions have to solve offensive shortcomings to get back to their 2017 (8-2, 5-2) and 2018 (6-4, 3-4) levels. Quarterback Ty Lenhart and running back Ryan Young figure to be improved as juniors; plus, having wide receiver Josh Wainwright (170 catches, 2,133 yards, 18 TDs) back for a fifth season is huge. Better health at offensive line and linebacker will make for improved units as well. The special teams have plenty of standouts, led by return specialist Mike Roussos.

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CORNELL

HEAD COACH: David Archer (19-51, seven seasons)

2019 RECORD: 4-6, 3-4 Ivy (Tie/4th)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)

PRIORITIES: Develop a primary running back, most likely SK Howard. Rebuild the secondary, which lost starters Jelani Taylor, David Jones and Jake Watkins.

NOTABLE: The Big Red were quite competitive last season, including the 20-17 upset at Dartmouth, but close defeats kept them from posting their first winning season since 2005. Senior quarterback Richie Kenney has to cut down on the interceptions, and it's highly possible considering he will be protected by experience linemen and will have veteran receivers, led by Phazione McClurge. The Big Red ranked second in the league in total defense and third in scoring defense. Linebacker Jake Stebbins is coming off an impressive freshman season and will keep developing into a defensive leader.

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DARTMOUTH

HEAD COACH: Buddy Teevens (105-93-2, 20 seasons; 139-170-2 overall)

2019 RECORD: 9-1, 6-1 Ivy (Tie/1st)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 7 (4 offense/3 defense)

PRIORITIES: Develop new starters on the offensive and defensive lines. Find playmakers at wide receiver.

NOTABLE: The Big Green have finished 8-2 or better (5-2 Ivy or better) in five of the last six seasons, but with the fewest returning starters in the league, they're at risk of dropping lower following their league-record 19th Ivy title. Quarterback Derek Kyler returns, but is no longer paired with running-style signal caller Jared Gerbino. The defense lacked a consistent pass rush a year ago despite dominating overall. Cornerback Isaiah Johnson was the starter ahead of Darren Stanley, who flourished while Johnson missed the last eight games with an injury, and now they'll be paired together. The Big Green seek stronger punting.

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HARVARD

HEAD COACH: Tim Murphy (178-81, 26 seasons; 210-126-1 overall)

2019 RECORD: 4-6, 2-5 Ivy (Tie/6th)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)

PRIORITIES: Improve the passing offense and defense. Learn to finish out games after suffering all six losses by eight or fewer points.

NOTABLE: Few foresaw the Crimson's drop-off since 2017 (15-15 overall, 9-12 Ivy), and they still have to break out of the slump. While the offensive line seeks improvement, the running backs unit is outstanding (Aaron Shampklin, Devin Darrington and Ivy rookie of the year Aidan Borguet). That will take pressure off senior quarterback Jake Smith while he develops chemistry with some new receivers. The defense led the FCS in sacks per game (4.3). It boasts first-team all-league selections Jordan Hill at linebacker and Isaiah Wingfield at defensive back.

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PENN

HEAD COACH: Ray Priore (31-19, five seasons)

2019 RECORD: 5-5, 3-4 Ivy (Tie/4th)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 11 (6 offense/5 defense)

PRIORITIES: Replacing Karekin Brooks, the league's lone 1,000-yard rusher. Restocking the production of graduating defensive linemen.

NOTABLE: Like Harvard, Penn is seeking a return to past glory after having three straight pedestrian seasons by program standards. The Quakers defense will be strong with pass rusher Prince Emili returning for a fifth season to work again with linebacker Zach Evans, the team's leading tackler, and cornerback Mohammed Diakite, who was limited to two games by a wrist injury. Former No. 1 quarterback Ryan Glover seeks to win the top job back, and he will be happy to work with wide receivers Ryan Cragun and Rory Starkey Jr., who had strong sophomore campaigns last year.

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PRINCETON

HEAD COACH: Bob Surace (56-44, 10 seasons; 74-47 overall)

2019 RECORD: 8-2, 5-2 Ivy (3rd)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (6 offense/8 defense)

PRIORITIES: Identify the new starting quarterback while getting adjusted to the Tigers' third different offensive coordinator in three years. Replace two starters on the defensive line.

NOTABLE: The Tigers opened last season with seven straight wins, but didn't duplicate their perfect season like a year earlier. This year, they'll play Army on Oct. 10 for their first FBS game since 1986. By then, they'll hope to have the QB spot settled, and it helps to return three starters plus 2018 standout Reily Radosevich on the offensive line, leading rusher Collin Eaddy and top receiver Jacob Birmelin. The defense has a lot of experience at linebacker and defensive back, led by first-team all-league picks Jeremiah Tyler (linebacker) and Delan Stallworth (cornerback).

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YALE

HEAD COACH: Tony Reno (47-33, eight seasons)

2019 RECORD: 9-1, 6-1 Ivy (Tie/1st)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 11 (5 offense/6 defense)

PRIORITIES: Replacing the center and two guards in the middle of the offensive line. Replacing 1,000-yard wide receivers JP Shohfi and Reed Klubnik (rising sophomore Mason Tipton is the top returnee).

NOTABLE: Yale will challenge for the Ivy title despite losing a terrific senior class. The Bulldogs have the perfect replacement for quarterback Kurt Rawlings, the 2019 Ivy offensive player of the year, in rising junior Griffin O'Connor, who was the league's top freshman in 2018. Running back Zane Dudek enters his senior season with 2,267 career rushing yards. The defense was quite balanced last season with no player collecting more than 44 tackles. Linebacker Rodney Thomas II and cornerback Melvin Rouse II are key returnees.

Updated March 16, 2020

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