Ivy League football is not always the most exciting part of the sports calendar. Most of its intrigue stems from tradition—its champion(s) cannot even play past Thanksgiving and thus receive relatively little acclaim. Most Ivy League fans probably would struggle to remember whether it was Penn or Harvard that won the championship each of the last few years.
Oddly enough, though, there might be some excitement added to the league this year from an unexpected source.
Yes, I’m talking about those Columbia Lions. This is not saying that they are going to win the league or even be a .500 team, but they will certainly be more compelling than in years past.
The first reason why the Lions will be fun to watch this season is junior quarterback Brett Nottingham. The transfer from Stanford certainly has the talent to be a top quarterback in the league. Months after his arrival became official, some teammates still sound very excited by his skill set. There’s no guarantee it will all translate into success with the new offensive system. But if nothing else, he represents a new era of Columbia football and a name to attract a larger following this season.
Second, while the recently graduated QB Sean Brackett frequently did not have many offensive weapons, Nottingham will actually have a decent number of skill position players to work with. First and foremost is senior Marcorus Garrett, who ran for 957 yards in 2012—an unbelievable feat for a 10-game season. Nottingham should have targets to throw to as well, including 2012 breakout performer junior Connor Nelligan and senior tight end Hamilton Garner, who was visibly pumped at the team’s Media Day two weekends ago. Sophomore Isaiah Gross could also be an explosive target if he returns to pre-injury form, but until he proves he is fully healthy, his status remains a question mark.
The schedule is the final factor that makes this season captivating—and ironically might represent Columbia’s biggest obstacle toward a good season. There is no Marist-esque soft beginning. This year, the Lions will dive right into the fire in the smoky pits of the Bronx, at Fordham.
Last Saturday, the flame was fully ignited when Fordham (three-touchdown underdogs) beat Temple on a last-second miracle touchdown pass to move to 3-0. The Rams became the first Patriot League squad in nearly a decade to knock off a FBS team and are ranked 21st in the national FCS polls.
On Saturday, Fordham will be looking to celebrate with a homecoming party in the Bronx. The Liberty Cup atmosphere may be the best it has ever been, so it should certainly be a fun challenge for the Lions. Fortunately for Columbia, it has three games’ worth of tape to study on Fordham and the well-established knowledge that they must stop Carlton Koonce, who severely burned the Lions a year ago. Meanwhile, the Rams will just have to guess at what a Nottingham-led Lions attack looks like.
Then again, Fordham is not even the toughest opponent on the schedule—that would be Lehigh. Even though the Mountain Hawks no longer have wide receiver Ryan Spadola (who currently sits on the New York Jets bench, probably wishing he had last year’s quarterback Mike Colvin to throw to him instead of Geno Smith), they are still ranked in the vicinity of Fordham in the FCS poll.
And by the way, last week, they were given a run for their money by Monmouth—the other non-conference opponent on Columbia’s slate. It doesn’t get easier in conference play for the Light Blue, with its home-field advantage negated by the quality of the visitors: mighty Penn, Harvard, and Brown.
Of course there are several flaws on this Lions team, mainly the—gulp—offensive line that will probably hold the key to success this season. But a stellar offensive line would not get me nearly as enthused about the 2013 campaign as I am now. The big-name quarterback, offensive playmakers, and biggest stage for the team in a long time will make my trek up to the Bronx on Saturday worth it for me. Even though the Lions may not rack up the victories, at least Columbia football will be compelling this year.
Ryan Young is a Columbia College junior majoring in economics-statistics. He is a sports broadcaster for WKCR. Roar Ryan Roar runs biweekly.