3Wagner Seahawks2-4 TEAMRECORD One of the greatest turnarounds in college athletics is occurring in the media capital of the world, and you probably haven’t heard about it.1Unless you follow Twitter.com/ForecasterEnten. The Columbia Lions football squad sits at 4-0 and on top of the Ivy League heading into homecoming against the University of Pennsylvania Quakers on Saturday. To say its undefeated start is shocking would be an understatement.Just three years ago, I wrote that Columbia was taking part in the worst college football game of the year. The 0-8 Lions were hosting the 0-8 Cornell Big Red in Upper Manhattan. Columbia would lose that game 30-27 and finish the year 0-10. That season was part of a 24-game losing streak, which one might call a baby version of the Lions’ 44-game losing streak in the 1980s.Indeed, Columbia hasn’t won more than four games in a season in more than a decade and hasn’t had a winning season since 1996. In fact, there have only been three seasons since 1982 when the Lions finished .500 or better:Perhaps the strangest thing about what’s happening at the top of Manhattan is this: Columbia is arguably the best college or pro football team in New York City right now. The Giants are 0-5, the Jets are 3-2 (talk about weird), and all the other college teams that play in the five boroughs have worse records. (Though being the best college football team in New York City is like being the most accurate Stormtrooper.) 2New York Jets*3-2 *Technically not New York CitySource: ESPN So how the heck did the constant losers turn it around and make this Lions fan2I went to every home game from 1994 to 2000 and still attend at least one game a year. very happy? It all started when the school hired former Quaker head coach Al Bagnoli in 2015. The team has progressed incrementally since then, and a look at the stats reveals that Columbia has improved in nearly every facet since entering the game against the Big Red three years ago. Simply put, the Lions are scoring a lot more points than they did then. Heading into that game against Cornell, they were dead last (out of 121 teams) in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) with just 8.6 points per game. They had scored more than 7 points only once. But through four games this year, the Lions have scored at least 17 points every game and have put up an average of 30.3 points per game. That ranks 35th out of 123 teams.The main cause of the offensive explosion has been an improvement in the passing game. Three years ago, Columbia ranked 52nd with 221.6 passing yards per game (YPG). This year the Lions have jumped to 21st with 276.8 YPG, thanks in part to the strong play of senior quarterback Anders Hill. Of course, as I pointed out in 2014, Columbia was always so far behind that year that they needed to pass pretty much all the time. In passing efficiency — which takes into account completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown rate and interception rate — Columbia has jumped from 120th to 21st.Although the rushing game hasn’t improved anywhere near as much as the passing game, Columbia has shown it can move the ball on the ground. Heading into their 2014 game against Cornell, the Lions averaged just 51.3 rushing YPG. Again, that was dead last. This year, they’re up to 68th place with 136.0 YPG. As anyone who has ever watched football can tell you, the ability to both pass and run the ball gives you a better opportunity to fool the defense and score more points.On the other side of the field, the Lions put one of the worst defenses in the country on the field just three years ago. They were giving up an average of 273.8 rushing YPG (120th worst in the FCS) and 246.9 YPG (100th worst). It’s tough to win football games when you can stop neither the run nor the pass.This year, Columbia is doing a good job of stopping both. The Lions are giving up only 121.8 rushing YPG (32nd least in the FCS) and 194.8 passing YPG (39th least). In total defense (which combines both of these), Columbia ranks 26th for the least yards by giving up 316.5 YPG. That has allowed them to give up the 17th least points per game overall at just 17.3.The Lions have also excelled at special teams, where their kicking, punting and return games have all improved dramatically.3Three years ago, Columbia made just two field goals in its first eight games and was ranked 111th and 75th in average yards per kickoff and punt return, respectively. This season, the Lions have already made three field goals in four games, and are ranked 23rd in yards per kickoff return (with 23.27) and 13th in yards per punt return (with 13.00). And they have a point differential average of +13.0 points per game, which is 16th best in the country. That’s 44.2 points better per game than when they had a -31.2 point differential that ranked 118th when heading into their game against Cornell in 2014.So can this streak continue?Columbia’s season is not even halfway to completion. The rest of the games are against Ivy League opponents, which will help to determine whether Columbia wins its first league title since 1961.The team has had a little luck on its side. The Lions seem to be doing a little better on third down than their overall offensive and defensive ranking. Such success usually reverts to the mean. I’d also be worried about the fact that they rank 92nd in fewest penalty yards per game. Older Columbia fans may remember that a pivotal Marcellus Wiley penalty hurt the team dearly in its unsuccessful bid for a perfect season in 1996.Even so, Columbia is off to an impressive start. It’s been strong in all facets of the game — offense, defense and special teams. Other New York area football teams (OK, mainly the Giants) could only dream of doing so well. Bizarro New YorkCollege and pro football programs in New York City as of Oct. 13, 2017 5New York Giants*0-5 4Fordham Rams1-5 1Columbia Lions4-0
Michigan redshirt senior quarterback Jake Rudock (15) during a game against Penn State on Nov. 21 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. Credit: Courtesy of TNSThe Ohio State football team lost its first game of the season against then-No. 9 Michigan State last week. But for the Buckeyes, the going is only getting more tough, as they are set to travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to take on archrival Michigan (9-2, 6-1) on Saturday. Under the direction of first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines have solidified their place back in the discussion as an elite program. After finishing just 5-7 a year ago, Harbaugh has changed the culture and turned the Wolverines into one of biggest surprises in college football this season. Here is a look at Harbaugh’s squad.Hot Peppers Coming out of high school, Jabrill Peppers was one of the most sought-after recruits in the country. Peppers, a consensus top-five player, eventually chose to take his many talents to Ann Arbor, but his freshman season was cut short after being injured in September. He appeared in just three games, which allowed him to pick up a medical redshirt. Now, the New Jersey native is healthy and showing why college coaches around the nation did everything in their power to get him on their teams. Although he is technically going to start at safety, that is just a label. It doesn’t restrict him.On defense, he will play nearly everything except defensive lineman. In a base package, he plays as the strong safety, but the former state champion in the 100-meter dash will become a cornerback in the nickel. When defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin sends out the dime package in passing situations, Peppers often will slide over and play linebacker to have extra speed on the field. He’s fourth on the team with 40 total tackles, 5.5 of which have been for a loss, and second in pass breakups with 10. When Michigan’s defense gets a stop on third down — which is often, evidenced by the team ranking second in the country in third-down percentage (.232) — Peppers doesn’t leave the field. Instead, he drops back to return punts. On the season, he is averaging 11.4 yards per return, with a long of 41. Now, increasingly more often, Peppers won’t leave the field after he handles his return duties. To take further advantage of his skillset, Harbaugh has begun to play the redshirt freshman on offense, like Charles Woodson did for the Wolverines during his tenure. Peppers has gotten handoffs out of the backfield and taken direct snaps out of the wildcat while also splitting out wide to catch passes. He doesn’t always touch the ball when he lines up on offense, but the possibility of him getting it requires defenses to know where No. 5 is at all times. In total, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Peppers has 17 offensive touches for 97 yards and two scores. His offensive snaps have increased as the season has progressed, so expect Harbaugh to use him often against the Buckeyes. Incredibly, Peppers is fourth on the team in all-purpose yards with 514. Coaches often talk about players that impact the game in more ways than one. Peppers is the gold-standard of that mantra.Expect him to be all over the field making plays during Saturday’s game. The defense is suffocatingOSU’s offense got smothered by Michigan State’s defense last week. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they’re going to be going up against an even better defense on Saturday. Michigan’s defense ranks second in the country in total defense, allowing just 263.1 yards per game. The Wolverines are allowing just 100.2 yards rushing per contest, while Peppers and the secondary are surrendering only 163 yards through the air. Both marks are good for fourth in the nation. The success in shutting down opponents starts with the defensive line. Senior defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow had been anchoring the unit, but he was lost for the season against Rutgers. Despite the loss, junior Maurice Hurst has filled in nicely at nose tackle. Flanking him on both sides are seniors Willie Henry and Chris Wormley.The trio does an incredible job occupying blockers, creating opportunities for the linebacking corps to crowd the line of scrimmage and pile up tackles. Two linebackers — senior Joe Bolden and redshirt senior Desmond Morgan — lead the Wolverines in tackles with 67 and 64, respectively. When teams get the ball on the perimeter, like Utah did against Michigan in the season opener, the linebackers get exposed a little bit because they’re not necessarily elite athletes. They’re an instinctive, hard-nose group, but that is their one weakness. Alongside Peppers in the secondary, juniors Chandler Stribbling, a physical 6-foot-2 cornerback, and Jourdan Lewis, are fundamentally sound. Durkin, who was a graduate assistant at Bowling Green under OSU coach Urban Meyer from 2001-02, will be creative in his blitz and coverage packages to try and confuse the Buckeye offense. The Scarlet and Gray offense will be motivated to get back its high-powered ways, but to do so, it will have to navigate its way past the talented Wolverine defense. Trending upFrom the season opener to now, the Michigan offense is different like night and day.The unit started slow, but as redshirt senior Jake Rudock, a graduate transfer from Iowa in his first year with the program, started to become more confident in Harbaugh’s scheme, the offense started to click. After scoring just 17 points against Utah in Week 1, the Wolverines have not scored fewer than 23 points in any game. Michigan, arguably, has the most talented group of pass catchers that OSU has faced at any point this season. Redshirt junior wide receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson — who have combined for 1160 receiving yards and 12 scores — will test the Buckeyes’ secondary with their top-end speed and precise route running. Complementing the duo is 6-foot-6 junior tight end Jake Butt. The Pickerington, Ohio, native uses his size to his advantage and is one of Rudock’s favorite targets on third down. Beyond those three, a strong group consisting of senior tight end A.J. Williams, freshman wide receiver Grant Perry and junior running back De’Veon Smith provide Rudock additional hands to throw to. Smith is also the leading rusher, carrying the ball 145 times for 621 yards and six touchdowns. The Warren, Ohio, native is a serviceable player, but this Michigan offense relies heavily on Rudock’s play. But as of late, Rudock’s play has been as good as any quarterback in the Big Ten. In the past three games, he’s thrown for over 344 yards and three touchdowns per game. As long as he continues that level of play, the Michigan offense will test the OSU defense on Saturday. Beyond the Buckeyes If Michigan beats OSU, and Michigan State loses to Penn State, then the Wolverines will be traveling to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec 5. If the said scenario does not happen, then Harbaugh and his team will wait patiently for its undecided bowl game.