The title defense begins more than a month from now, but the expectations are mounting for Harvard's football team. The Crimson were picked Tuesday as the Ivy League preseason favorite.
Harvard went 7-0 last season in the Ivy League and 9-1 overall, capturing its sixth conference title and second undefeated season. The Crimson received 13 of 17 first-place votes, their fourth preseason No. 1 ranking in the past five seasons.
"We expect to have a very solid team," Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. "How much better than that? I’m not sure, because we certainly have some question marks."
On offense, Murphy said, his biggest concern figures to be at wide receiver, where the Crimson lost their top three players to graduation. But pass-catching shouldn't be a problem. Tight end Kyle Juszczyk, a preseason All-America selection, is back, and he and fellow tight end Cameron Brate combined for 14 touchdowns last season.
"I think everyone would like to have that level of personnel," Murphy said. "It is hard to find two-three guys with that size who are that versatile. In Kyle, we thought he was terrific in high school and he has turned out even better in college.
"There are very few guys who can line up at multiple positions. It is so rare and when we have one of those guys, we'd better use him. To have that luxury as an up-tempo, no huddle offense puts a lot of pressure on teams."
But the pressure of repeating begins on Sept. 15, when Harvard hosts San Diego in its season-opener at 12:30 p.m.
Ivy League talks about multiple rule changes
Of note from Tuesday's media teleconference, the Ivy League commented on a few rule changes for the upcoming season:
- Kickoffs will move from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line, and touchbacks on kickoffs will be advanced to the 25-yard line. Those on the kicking team will be limited in the running start they can get.
- On balls that are grounded and subsequently bounce high into the air for onside kicks, the receiver will be able to call for a fair catch.
- Players cannot block others below the waist while facing their own goal line. For instance, if a player runs downfield, then turns around to block an opponent below the waist, it will be ruled a foul. "We’ve had some major injuries and some issues there in terms of teams taking advantage of that," said Jim Maconaghy, the Ivy League Coordinator of Football Officials.
- If a player's helmet comes completely off, the play will stop and the offending player will be removed for one play. Maconaghy said the Ivy averaged three removed helmets per game last season, primarily because players did not buckle their chinstraps tight enough. "We need to try to correct this," Maconaghy said.
- Michael Vega
- Mark Blaudschun
- Nancy Marrapese-Burrell