Something Exciting This Way Comes: Week Five Power Rankings

The NESCAC schedule this season seems to share a structure with the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo. There is a first half that is somewhat formulaic and drags on forever, and then a second half that blows it all out of the water with incredible drama, despite some dull plot holes . The first half of the season featured good teams playing bad teams, and now the good teams play the good teams and the bad teams play the bad teams. This is obviously the time in which the championship will be decided, so let’s see where the teams stand heading into the “Judy” half of the season (watch the movie folks!)

Kim Novak is all the NESCAC teams at once.

1: Trinity

Until Trinity loses, they have earned the top spot in the rankings. They have the best running back in the league in Max Chipouras ‘18, the third best quarterback in the league in Sonny Puzzo ‘18 (dm us on Twitter, I can defend my claims,) and a defense that seems to have a new MVP every week. Recently, it has been the linebacking corps that has stepped up. The secondary has been impenetrable all year, giving up only 126 passing yards per game, a very impressive stat in the pass-heavy NESCAC. But the rush defense is rounding into shape. Linebackers Shane Libby ‘19 and Dago Picon-Roura ‘19 have stuffed rushing attacks to the tune of 98 rushing yards per game. And it’s a good thing they did, because Williams has a tremendously underrated rushing attack. Stopping Connor Harris ‘18 and freshman weapon Rashad Morrison ‘21 was the key to Trinity surviving a strong upset bid. The season is about to get interesting for the Bantams. They haven’t played any of the upper tier yet, which has contributed to their aura of invincibility. But with Tufts this weekend, that will change. That rush defense will again be tested by Ryan McDonald ‘20. And, through no fault of their own, they have a legitimate challenger in Middlebury, and their matchup with the Panthers in two weeks looms.

2: Middlebury

Speaking of the Panthers, they are starting to look as dominant on offense as Trinity does on defense (and pretty formidable on defense as well.) To continue my quest to compliment Jared Lebowitz ‘18 in every article, he has raised his level of play past even where it was last year. We wrote at the beginning of the season that the key to Middlebury’s title hopes would be taking care of the ball, and Lebowitz only has two interceptions this year after having five at this point last season. Additionally, in Wesleyan and Amherst, Middlebury has played two of the best defenses in the league. Lebowitz has not dominated those games. Against Amherst he only had 205 yards, and against Wesleyan he only completed 50% of his passes. But in those two games he has 6 touchdowns and no interceptions, and, lo and behold, Middlebury has won both games.

Lebowitz not turning the ball over has allowed Middlebury to win games in other ways. Jimmy Martinez ‘19 is a combination of Tyreek Hill and a Power Ranger in the return game. He’s so terrifying that teams would rather squib kicks than give him the chance to run them back. This gives Lebowitz the Panthers excellent starting field position. And the defense, after struggling against Wesleyan in the fourth quarter in Week One, has become one of the most explosive units in the league. They scored two touchdowns against Amherst, including one from LB Wesley Becton ‘18, who is quickly becoming a First Team candidate. The unit leads the league in interceptions, and have done it against elite competition, unlike Trinity.

3: Amherst

The Amherst Football redemption tour bus hit a pothole last weekend when they dropped a key home game to Middlebury. A win against the Panthers would have put them in a great position to at least split the league title; now they’ll need some help from the teams remaining. Defense was not the problem for the Mammoths against Middlebury. They held the vaunted Middlebury offense to just 287 yards, by far their lowest output of the season. And the three passing touchdowns that the Panthers produced were heavily aided by 3 Amherst interceptions. One of those came from starter Ollie Eberth ‘21, but two came from Reece Foy ‘18. Herein lies Amherst’s problem. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Foy is not ready to be the player he was before his injury last off-season. Eberth is a great talent, but the prospect of beating Trinity with a first year QB is not a promising one. Amherst has the best rushing attack in the league, with Jack Hickey ‘19 and Hasani Figueroa ‘18 (189 yards combined against Middlebury.)Amherst should up both of their carries to make up for the inconsistencies at QB, but you can’t beat teams like Middlebury or Trinity without a well-rounded offense.

James O’ Regen ’20 is one of the biggest receivers in the league at 6’4″, and has been using that size to put up even bigger numbers.

4: Wesleyan

I really wanted to put the Cardinals ahead of Amherst here, but after the outcry against the Stock Report I thought better of it. The Cardinals offense continued to fly high last weekend against Colby, as did the remarkable season of QB Mark Piccirillo ‘18. He is tied with Lebowitz for the league lead in touchdowns and passing yards per game, and has one of the highest completion percentages in the country  at over 70%. He does have a propensity for interceptions (6 already on the year,) and that hurt them in their opening loss to Middlebury. Their rushing attack is coming together nicely as Dario Highsmith ‘20 continues to flash huge potential, and they might even be able to give him more carries and keep some pressure off of First Team Candidates Piccirillo and WR Mike Breuler ’18.

For Wesleyan, the fault is not in their stars, dear Brutus, but in their defense. The stats are solid (between third and fourth in the league in yards and points per game,) but they are not as dangerous as they were last season. The unit has only forced four turnovers on the season, the lowest of the top teams, and that includes none against Middlebury. That may seem like a bit of a nit-picky complaint against a unit that has only given up 15 points per game despite playing Middlebury and Tufts already, but it matters. They simply haven’t been as dangerous on defense as Middlebury and Trinity have, and that is why they’re just outside of the upper echelon.

5: Williams

Rashad Morrison ’21 is another weapon on a Williams offense that is getting scarier by the minute.

I know that Bates’ defense make every team they play look like me in online Madden (that is, unbeatable,) but Williams’ performance last week.was still impressive. They put up 590 yards of total offense, including 289 rushing yards, and 47 points, the second most in the league this year. Bobby Maimeron ‘21 continued his star turn in his freshman year, and Frank Stola ‘21 netted 172 and two touchdowns. The defense tallied four interceptions against the overmatched Bates offense. It was an all around domination that showed just how far Williams has come from being one of the worst teams in the league just last season. Something to watch for out of this game was the emergence of versatile weapon Rashad Morrison ‘21. After not playing in the first three games, the speedy receiver exploded for 85 yards and a touchdown on just five carries. Between him and Connor Harris ‘18, Williams has two explosive backfield options who can break games with their speed. The Ephs are very much here to stay, and have another chance to notch a huge upset this weekend in Middlebury. The Panthers should be very wary.

6: Tufts

Tufts has done nothing to deserve being dropped in the rankings. I’m just getting that out the way now before Rory and Sid text me and call me names. They suffered a tough loss to Wesleyan in Week Two, and since then have beaten up on lower tier teams, just like the teams above them on this list. Ryan McDonald ‘18 is the best dual-threat QB in the league, averaging over 90 rushing yards per game in addition to 220 passing yards. However, he is their entire offense. RB Dom Borelli ‘19 has struggled with injuries and inconsistency all year, and they lack an explosive playmaker outside of swiss army knife WR Jack Dolan ‘18. This is what separates them from the likes of Trinity, Middlebury and Wesleyan. They don’t have enough other weapons to win when they face a team that has the athleticism on defense to stop McDonald. Trinity, Middlebury, Wesleyan, Williams and Amherst all have that.

7: Hamilton

The Continentals have got to be a little frustrated, both in the schedulers and in themselves. For a couple years they’ve been amassing young talent, and it looked as if they, not Williams, would be the team to rise up out of the bottom tier and take on the big dogs. And after a close loss to Tufts in Week One, the “Hamilton is good now” train (on which I was the conductor) took off a little prematurely. Hamilton still hasn’t won a game yet this season, despite exciting young players such as QB Kenny Gray ’20 and WR Joe Schmidt ’20. However, they have also had to play all of those “big dogs” pretty immediately, and right in a row. Hamilton has played, in this order, Tufts, Amherst, Wesleyan and Trinity. So their record and anemic defensive and rushing statistics can be partially attributed to a young team playing very good teams early in the season. In the second half, they still have Middlebury, but they also finally play teams like Bates and Colby, whom they should beat. Look for Hamilton to grab some wins in the next couple weeks.

8: Bowdoin

Nate Richam
In his bio on the Bowdoin football website, Nate lists his favorite food as “linebackers,” which is awesome.

Here we are, the bottom tier. Bowdoin gets the “moral victory” trophy for being at the top of this group on the strength of their surprisingly solid rushing attack, led by Nate Richam ’20, who in his sophomore year is averaging 71 yards per game on five yards per carry. He doesn’t get a lot of red zone chances, as Bowdoin’s quarterback play has been less functional than the Trump White House and just as hard to watch. But in Richam, Bowdoin has the semblance of an identity, a power running team that works hard for every possession. They also have played a very difficult schedule thus far, and should use the second half to work on this identity.

9: Colby

These bottom two teams are both here for opposite, and historically bad reasons. For Colby, it is their offense. They don’t seem to have one. Colby has only scored 20 points all season, for an average of five per game. They only have 786 total yards, or to phrase it differently, nearly five hundred fewer than Jared Lebowitz has on his own. These numbers are bad no matter who they’ve played, and doesn’t bode well for even the easier games in the second half.

10: Bates

Three out of the five highest scoring games this season have come against the Bobcats. The Bobcats just gave up 590 yards to Williams, which is the equivalent of giving up 985 yards to Trinity. Bates recently gave up 75 yards on the ground and a touchdown to the dog from Air Bud, who died several years ago (sorry.) Bates’ defense hasn’t gotten much help from the offense, which has ten turnovers. I do like the direction Bates is trending in, as they have entirely given their season over to building up young QBs Matt Golden ’20 and Brendan Costa ’21. This second half should be about auditioning those two for the QB of the future role. Bates has no hope of winning any games this year if their defense doesn’t approach mediocrity real soon.

The Ninth Games: Weekend Preview 9/16

Here we are, NESCAC football fans. Not only is this opening weekend (always exciting) but it is also the first opening weekend of the Ninth Game era, something that fans and players have wanted for a while. I would caution you to take your excitement with a grain of salt, however. This season starts a week earlier than usual. That means a week less practice time for teams to get ready for game play. I would expect these games to be somewhat sloppy, and potentially fairly low scoring. Some grizzled, older fans like my father would like that “smash-mouth football style,” but I like offense. We will see how well teams have adjusted to this new schedule. However, if it means we get to watch football earlier, I’ll gladly accept some sloppiness.

Bowdoin @ Williams, 12:00 PM, Williamstown, MA

The first kickoff of the season features two teams that are looking to put 2016 in their rearview mirror. This can only happen with a good start in 2017, so both sides should be very motivated. All eyes will be on who starts at quarterback for Williams, although sources are telling us that it will most likely be John Gannon ‘18, who is returning from missing last year with a torn ACL. A fair amount of rust is to be expected (from everyone, not just Gannon,) but if he can get into a rhythm then he has the weapons to really explode. TE Tyler Patterson ‘19 is a beast when healthy, and experienced receivers Adam Regensberg ‘’18 and Kellen Hatheway ‘19 give him a lot of options to throw to. Bowdoin’s defense wasn’t exactly world-beating last year, allowing the most rushing yards AND passing yards per game last year, but they return two stellar linebackers Latif Armiyaw ‘18 and Joe Gowetski ‘18 and will be looking to make a statement. However, I think Williams is ready to start trending upwards, and this game is the start of that.

Final Score Prediction: Williams 27, Bowdoin 10

GAME OF THE WEEK: Wesleyan @ Middlebury, 1:00 PM, Middlebury, VT

Jared Lebowitz ’18 is the most dangerous offensive force in the league, but needs a good o-line performance to top Wesleyan.
(Courtesy of vpr.net)

It’s not every year that a Week One game could have championship implications, but this game might. Wesleyan and Middlebury both have the returning talent to make a run at the championship, but one of them is also starting off the season 0-1. With Trinity’s level of talent and easier opening matchup, one loss might be too many to win the league outright. Therefore, we can expect both teams to be extra-fired up entering this one. Middlebury has been excellent at home over the last few years, but Wesleyan is well equipped to attack the dynamic Panther offense. The only way to beat Middlebury is to get pressure on QB Jared Lebowitz ‘18. If he has enough time, he will pick your defense apart. But when under pressure, he is prone to rushed throws and turnovers. Wesleyan’s defense is certainly athletic enough to get through the young Middlebury offensive line.

However, the Cardinals offense can be inconsistent. They lost two of the major weapons from their running attack last year in WR/RB Devin Carillo and RB Lou Stevens. Therefore, they either have to use Dario Highsmith ‘19, the new starting RB, in a much larger role or reinvent themselves as a more pass-heavy offense. If their offense struggles, Middlebury’s no-huddle offense will wear down the defense, and eventually Lebowitz will get the time he needs. And at that point, it’s game over.

Score Prediction: Middlebury 31, Wesleyan 28

Hamilton @ Tufts, 1:00 PM, Medford, MA

This game has by far the highest upset potential of any this weekend, and I’m jumping on it. Hamilton returns a great deal of their much-improved offense from last year, including quarterback Kenny Gray ‘20, who impressed many with his poise as a first year last season. The defense is far newer, but they benefit this week from facing a Tufts team that graduated most of their offense from last year. Of course, that offense came in the form of one man, RB Chance Brady, who dominated the league like Tecmo Bo Jackson last year. It will take a great deal of work for Tufts to adjust to life without Brady. I think they’re up to the task, but the shortened preseason will cost them here in Week One.

Final Score Prediction: Hamilton 17, Tufts 14

Bates @ Amherst, 1:00 PM, Amherst, MA

Jack Hickey ’19 might well be the next star NESCAC running back in Amherst’s renewed offense.
(Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

This game features the return of Amherst QB and POY candidate Reece Foy ‘18, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. And not only do the Mammoths get Foy back, they return red zone weapon Jack Hickey ‘19 at running back. Hickey scored seven touchdowns last year, and seems poised to break out as a star this year in a wide open race for First Team RB. Amherst also returns star WR Bo Berluti ‘20. The Mammoth’s offense is ready to break out after struggling at times last season, and a strong defense puts Amherst back towards the top of the preseason rankings. Bates returns a great deal of talent as well. QB Sandy Plaschkes ‘18 has been solid for years, but has to raise his game in this game, and this season, if Bates wants to compete with teams like Amherst. Bates has the talent to make it a game, but Amherst is back and there’s nothing the Bobcats can do about it.

Final Score Prediction: Amherst 28, Bates 17

Colby @ Trinity, 1:00 PM, Hartford, CT

There are teams that have a chance to take Trinity down this season, and games in which they could struggle. Colby is not that team, and this is not that game. Trinity brings back QB Sonny Puzzo 18, RB Max Chipouras ‘19 and WR Bryan Viera ‘18. In other words, they bring back arguably the best in the league at three skill positions. This bodes well for Trinity’s offense. Colby, on the other hand, lost their biggest weapon in Sebastian Ferrall ‘19. They do return a great deal of talent on defense, especially in the secondary and at linebacker. If everything goes perfectly for the Mules, they put up a great performance on defense and only lose by one touchdown. Unfortunately, the team that beats Trinity this season will have to beat them in a shootout, not a defensive battle.

Final Score Prediction: Trinity 40, Colby 10.

 

Purple (And White) Reign: Will Amherst’s Dominance Continue?

Will the reigning champs feel the losses of some of their stars? Or will they be posing for another picture like this come November? (Courtesy of Clarus Studios, Inc; Amherst Athletics).
Will the reigning champs feel the losses of some of their stars? Or will they be posing yyr another picture like this come November? (Courtesy of Clarus Studios, Inc; Amherst Athletics).

Projected Record: 3- 5 (kidding Amherst parents, please don’t burn down my house) 6-2

Projected Offensive Starters: (*Five Returning)

 QB: Alex Berluti ’17

RB: Jack Hickey ’19

WR: Devin Boehm ’17*

WR: Nick Widen ’17*

WR: Bo Berluti ‘20

TE: Rob Thoma ’17*

OL: Elijah Zabludoff ’18*

OL: Mitch Arthur ’18*

OL: Austin Park ’17

OL: Kevin Sheehan ’18

OL: Jack Carroll ‘19

 Projected Defensive Starters: (*Six Returning)

 DL: Paul Johnson ’17*

DL: Niyi Odewade ’17*

DL: Isaiah Holloway ’17*

OLB: Andrew Yamin ’19

ILB: John Callahan ’18

ILB: Evan Boynton ’17*

OLB: Parker Chapman ’17*

CB: Nate Tyrell ’19*

FS: Jon Rak ’19

SS: Derek Ward ’17

CB: Stephan Soucy ’17

 Projected Specialists: (*Two Returning)

 K/P: Charlie Wall ’18*, Andrew Ferrero ’19

KR/PR: Devin Boehm ’17*/Myles Gaines ’17

 Offensive MVP: Jack Hickey ’19

Amherst certainly has a claim to the worst break of preseason, with starting quarterback and Player of the Year candidate Reece Foy ’18 suffering a torn ACL. Amherst is certainly loaded enough to remain in contention for the NESCAC crown, but those chances rest heavily on the shoulders of sophomore running back Jack Hickey. The Melrose, Massachusetts native shone as the change-of-pace option to senior Kenny Adrinka, averaging 6.8 yards per carry. With Adrinka gone and Foy sidelined, the Purple and White will likely have to rely on Hickey, with assistance from Nick Kelly (’17), for far more carries, positioning him for a breakout season.

Defensive MVP: Evan Boynton ’17

Like Hickey on offense, Boynton has been elevated to the top of Amherst’s defense by nature of graduated seniors. Amherst boasted a stellar corps of linebackers in 2015, with Tom Kleyn ’16 making First Team, and Boynton himself making Second Team. However, Kleyn and Jack Drew ’16, are off to wherever Amherst Football graduates go (Goldman Sachs, I assume), leaving Boynton as the senior leader of the unit. Additionally, Defensive Player of the Year Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16 graduated from the defensive backs, leaving a gaping hole for Boynton to fill, both for Amherst and possibly for DPOY accolades.

 Biggest Surprise of Camp: LB Andrew Yamin ’19

Defense has long been one of the calling cards of Amherst’s success. Offense as well, and special teams, but defense is certainly one of their three best units. Unfortunately, many of their toughest losses personnel-wise came on the defensive end, making new talent crucial to maintaining their dominance. Enter Andrew Yamin. The sophomore linebacker from Cheshire, Connecticut didn’t play much his freshman year, only garnering six tackles. But in a testament to how crucial an offseason can be in college football, Amherst lost two linebackers in Tom Kleyn and Jack Drew, allowing Yamin to work his way into a starting role. It’s these kind of stories that keep Amherst dominant year after year, they don’t rebuild after stars graduate, they reload.

 Biggest Game: November 5 @ Trinity

 Entering 2016 with a 19 game winning streak, the Artists Formerly known as the Lord Jeffs have to be considered the preseason favorite. However, the injury to Foy and the graduation of stand-outs like Fairfield-Sonn, Kleyn and Adrinka has Amherst looking considerably more fallible than they have in the last few years. And if you had to pick a co-favorite, the Bantams (and their FRESH new helmets) would have to occupy that spot. These two teams have dominated the league for much of the 2000’s, and this game offers Trinity the chance to fire a laser into the Death Star, so to speak.

Best Tweet:

 I know this guy power cleans a lot of weight, but he’s actually best known on campus for his poetry.

 

 Summary:

 I want to preface this, and every other article I write for the rest of the year, by saying that none of this matters. Brangelina is over and love is dead, and pretending that anything else is the case is ultimately a futile endeavor.

All right, back to football. Amherst has been the class of the league for much of the century thus far, but they’ve been particularly unbeatable in the last two seasons. In 2015, they led the league in scoring at 27.6 points per game AND in scoring defense at 9.9 points per game. They have won 19 games in a row, and back-to-back outright league titles.

But the Purple and White have more than a few obstacles to overcome if they want to continue their reign of terror. Even if Foy hadn’t gotten hurt, they lose six First or Second Team All-NESCAC performers. In addition to Adrinka, Fairfield-Sonn and Kleyn, they lose receiver Jackson “Professor” McGonagle ’16 (my nickname, not his), offensive lineman Sam Hart ’16 and defensive back Jaymie Spears ’16. These losses, in conjunction with Foy’s injury, make for a distinctly less intimidating Amherst lineup than last season.

Of course, the other side of that coin is that Amherst also returns six First or Second Teamers. Boynton returns to lead the defense as a DPOY candidate, as do senior defensive linemen Niyi Odewade ’17 and Paul Johnson ’17. On the offensive end, receiver Devin Boehm ’17 averaged over 100 all-purpose yards per game last season and seems poised for an incredible all-around season. Furthermore, running back Jack Hickey was stellar in small doses last season and might well be the best back in the league come November.

Amherst has a long way to go to continue their winning streak, but anyone counting them out hasn’t been watching NESCAC football over the last two years. At this point, the rest of the league feels about Amherst the way that Wes Mantooth feels about Ron Burgundy: they cold, dead hate them, but gosh darn it do they respect them.