The University of Pennsylvania football team is seeking its third straight Ivy League Championship. It is a driving force for the 2011 team ranked 24th in the Preseaon FCS Coaches Poll. The Quakers will come in as Ivy League favorites by virtue of their experience, balance, and depth.
“If you can go three in a row out-right, that will separate us from everyone else,” Penn Coach Al Bagnoli said. “It’s something that motivates you, something that challenges you, and something very few teams get a chance to do. It will be fun. We’re embracing this more than we are afraid of it. If you have that attitude, you give yourself a reasonable chance to pull it off.”
Penn has won three consecutive titles; 1984-86. In the upcoming campaign, should Penn go through the league unbeaten, it will be historic as it will be the first time Penn took three titles undefeated in league play.
“It’s never been done to win three straight years undefeated,” said Penn Tight End and one of the team captains Luke Nawrocki giving the players perspective on what the Red and Blue can accomplish. “We’re excited that we get the chance to go for that. I am confident in this team. Everyone is working hard, and it will be an exciting year for us.”
The 2011 Quakers have game experience as an ally. Penn is deep in the skill positions. Two Quarterbacks return as Billy Ragone and Ryan Becker guided the offense last year. The skill players on offense and defense have been through the rigors of an Ivy League season.
“I think we have enough experience on both sides of the ball for the first time in a long time,” said Bagnoli. It starts with the quarterback. Once you have experienced quarterbacks with some game experience, you can build on that foundation. Defensively, we have experience at all three levels. The one area that concerns us is the PAT / Field Goal situation. With Andrew Samson graduated we don’t have anyone with meaningful game experience. If we can answer that, we will be in good shape.”
“It’s going to help as we have a senior class that has been through the Ivy title chase these past two years,” said Linebacker and another team captain Eric Rask. “We played a lot of close games, so coming down the stretch that should hep us.”
This will be a balanced team that does not need to rely on the offense or defense. Many returning players have game experience.
“We have depth at the skill positions,” Bagnoli said. “We don’t have that yet on the offensive line. You always want capable back-ps.”
On offense Penn can go three-deep at running back with Brandon Colavita, Lyle Marsh returning from injury, and Jeff Jack. Joe Holder, Ryan Scott, and Nawrocki fortify the receivers. On defense Brandon Copeland, Matt Hamscher, Eric Rask lead a strong and veteran group. This group has veteran leadership which will be important. The present leaders learned from those who came before them to show the way.
“The experience will help us out in the strength of the Ivy Schedule,” said Nawrocki. “The older guys teach the younger guys how to act as an Ivy League player. We’re excited for the year and expect everyone’s best game this Ivy season. Everyone wants to have their picture on the wall. To say in my last year we went out on top. We ask the younger guys to help us seniors leave the program on the right note.”
Penn will need all of these assets as the league is expected to be strong and balanced. Bagnoli knows if Penn get the crown, they will have earned it.
“I think the league will be hard,” Bagnoli said. “All eight teams have returning, veteran quarterbacks. That’s a huge plus for any team. You can build an offense off the strength of those quarterbacks. Not every league can say they have returning quarterbacks who were a starter for games. That dynamic makes everybody dangerous.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian