Ivy League spring football primer

Mar 15, 2016 - 4:39 PM (STATS) - One of the bigger stories of the offseason is the news that Ivy League coaches want to eliminate full contact during the regular season - as they already do in spring and preseason practices.

It's a concept the league feels is ahead of the curve, and considering how much concussions have become a major issue, the coaches might be on to something that will grow across the sport.

What the Ivies also understand better than a lot of people outside the league is there's a high level of talent within the Ancient Eight. The non-scholarship league attracts high-school recruits seeking the highest level of education, and many happen to have the talent to play at FCS scholarship programs.

The 2015 Ivy season was one of the better ones in recent years as Dartmouth, Harvard and Penn forged the first three-way tie for the championship in 33 years.

All three teams suffered big senior losses after the season, and that could lead to unpredictable results this year. Brown, Princeton and Yale felt they underachieved last season and are anxious to make the title race much deeper.

Following is a look across the Ivy League with spring practices getting underway in college football:

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BROWN

2015 Records: 5-5 overall, 3-4 Ivy (Tie/4th)

Spring Practices: March 21-April 30

Storyline: With so much success during coach Phil Estes' 18 seasons, the Bears' .500 finish in each of the past two seasons doesn't feel acceptable to them. They may be ready to change it with a veteran team which returns nine offensive starters and seven on defense. Senior Kyle Moreno would seem to be the favorite over sophomore Nicholas Duncan to become the starting quarterback. Both run the read option and will benefit from the return of wide receivers Alex Jette and Troy Doles (who won't participate in spring practices) along with the entire offensive line, but the Bears first need to revive a run game that ranked last in the league. Senior cornerback Jordan Ferguson hopes to mold a secondary which lost three starters. A healthier, deep defensive line, led by end Dewey Jarvis, will provide help up front.

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COLUMBIA

2015 Records: 2-8 overall, 1-6 Ivy (Tie/7th)

Spring Practices: March 22-April 16

Storyline: Six losses of eight or fewer points reflect how close coach Al Bagnoli's encouraging first season was to being so much more than 2-8. Last year's solid senior class departs, including all four Lions who were named to the Ivy League first or second team, so Bagnoli is seeking new leaders. His squad returns 12 starters (seven on offense and five on defense). Quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg, in his second year after transferring from Florida, will command the spotlight, but he will have to improve on his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 6-to-11. With All-Ivy running back Cam Molina gone, opponents will key even more on Mornhinweg. Top receiver Scooter Hollis is back, but the Lions will want to work downfield more often after averaging just 9.2 yards per catch. Bagnoli has to rebuild last year's outstanding defensive line, while five of the team's top six tacklers, including co-leaders Keith Brady and Christian Conway, return to the linebackers unit and secondary.

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CORNELL

2015 Records: 1-9 overall, 1-6 Ivy (Tie/7th)

Spring Practices: April 8-30

Storyline: Coach David Archer has struggled to get his alma mater moving in the right direction, posting 5-25 overall and 4-17 league records over his first three seasons. This spring, the Big Red need to find a running back to succeed standout Luke Hagy (likely sophomore Chris Walker) and ways to improve the run defense. Cornell was ranked last in the league in that category last year, although this year's team will be experienced in the front seven. They return seven starters on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Robert Somborn won the starting job last year and hopes to hold on to it. Junior safety Nick Gesualdi could continue to develop into one of the league's better defenders. Punter Chris Fraser will be going for All-Ivy first-team honors for the fourth time this year, but the Big Red need to improve on field goal and extra points.

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DARTMOUTH

2015 Records: 9-1 overall, 6-1 Ivy (Tie/1st)

Spring Practices: April 12-May 7

Storyline: The Big Green's first Ivy League title since 1996 (and a record 18th) could prove to be a hard act to follow. Last year's senior-driven team returns only five starters (four on offense and one defense), which has coach Buddy Teevens rebuilding the two-deep. Sophomore quarterback Bruce Dixon is the frontrunner to take over for Dalyn Williams. Running back Ryder Stone figures to become a focal point of the offense after splitting carries in the past. The Big Green will be vulnerable on the offensive and defensive lines until the players become more seasoned. The new anchor on the defensive line is senior end Brandon Cooper. While both kickers return, the Big Green are seeking better results in that area. This year's difficult home portion of the schedule sees fellow 2015 co-champs Harvard and Penn as well Brown and CAA Football members New Hampshire and Towson coming to Hanover.

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HARVARD

2015 Records: 9-1 overall, 1-6 Ivy (Tie/1st)

Spring Practices: March 29-April 23

Storyline: Like rival Dartmouth, the Crimson were heavy on seniors last season - and a handful were two- or three-year starters - but coach Tim Murphy's program reloads better than any other in the league. They return five starters on offense and four on defense. The winners of three straight Ivy titles will have a wide-open competition to replace All-Ivy quarterback Scott Hosch. Wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley, the 2015 Ivy rookie of the year and the team's only All-Ivy selection who wasn't a senior (eight others were), and tight end Anthony Firkser will be keys on offense. The Crimson are looking for a fiercer pass rush. End Scott Evans is the team's top returning tackler with 27 stops, but he didn't have a sack.

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PENN

2015 Records: 7-3 overall, 6-1 Ivy (Tie/1st)

Spring Practices: March 15-April 10

Storyline: With 11 returning starters (six on offense and five on defense), Penn has the most among last year's three Ivy champions. Fortunately for second-year coach Ray Priore, his group includes the most explosive pair in the league in quarterback Alex Torgersen and wide receiver Justin Watson. Add in impressive running backs Brian Schoenauer and Tre Solomon and the Quakers return their top four rushers. The defense was good, not great, a year ago and needs to improve in the secondary, where the Quakers have lagged in recent seasons. But the unit returns experienced players, so there should be growth there. It will help the Quakers to have a full season under last year's two coordinators, John Reagan (offensive) and Bob Benson (defensive).

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PRINCETON

2015 Records: 5-5 overall, 2-5 Ivy (6th)

Spring Practices: March 4-April 6

Storyline: Extra attention is being paid to the offensive line and secondary, where the Tigers lost numerous veterans. If there are potential breakout players there, it might be offensive lineman Erik Ramirez and cornerbacks James Gales and Markus Phox. Coach Bob Surace's team is experienced in a lot of other areas, with seven returning starters on both sides of the ball. The quarterback duo of Chad Kanoff and John Lovett should continue to keep opposing defenses off-balance and the skill positions are in good shape. On defense, the top returnees are nose guard Henry Schlossberg, outside linebacker Birk Olson and free safety Dorian Williams. After two straight disappointing seasons, the Tigers hope to jump back into the title race.

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YALE

2015 Records: 6-4 overall, 3-4 Ivy (Tie/4th)

Spring Practices: April 9-29 (spring game is April 23)

Storyline: A poor second half of the season (a 2-3 record) should be enough to motivate coach Tony Reno's squad, which had a breakout 8-2 season in 2014. There will be plenty of competition in the spring, especially at the skill positions, with the Bulldogs having to replace record-setting quarterback Morgan Roberts. Running backs Candler Rich and Deshawn Salter are both deserving of carries and the young receivers are all grown up. The physical defense returns plenty of key players, including two first-team all-league selections in lineman Copache Tyler and cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski. The Bulldogs added a touted recruiting class, which should make contributions this year.






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