Philadelphia, PA – It's always anybody's game, isn't it?
That's what coaches will typically have you believe, anyway. No coach is willing to come out and say their team is better than the rest, or has the likeliest shot at winning the league title, before the season even starts.
The difference in Tuesday's Ivy League football media day teleconference is that every coach who said the title is up for grabs genuinely meant it.
The league has been at the mercy of the Penn football program for three of the past four years, and on Tuesday, when the preseason media poll was released, the Quakers were selected again to finish on top of the eight-team league.
You have to look back to 2006 to find the last Ivy League winner that wasn't Penn or Harvard. Brown and Harvard split the title in 2008, but the league clearly has been under dominance of the Quakers and Crimson. And, once again in 2013, the two schools were selected to finish one-two in the league.
So what makes coaches so sure this year could end up differently?
Ultimately, it comes down to the level of talent displayed in the student- athletes, which has increased over the years, according to several program heads. And that puts every team in the league on a near-equal playing field. It just comes down to execution.
Cornell coach David Archer said in the teleconference that every Saturday will feel like a bowl game because anyone can come away victorious. It's a testament to how far the league has come talent-wise over the years.
"Top to bottom, this is one of the best, deep, most talented, exciting leagues," Archer said. "And I think every game is going to be like a bowl game, because the teams are talented and very, very well-coached. ... There are a lot of teams in this league that have a chance to win a lot of games. It's going to be a really exciting season."
Of course, this league's history has been built on several teams dominating for years or even decades at a time. The 1960s and '70s were owned by Dartmouth, while even before that the league belonged to Princeton and Yale. The Tigers finished at 5-5 overall last year, while Yale stumbled and won only two games all season (just one in the Ivy League).
That's the nature of sports. It's impossible to be darn near perfect forever.
Princeton coach Bob Surace said his team took an upward turn last season, though, and is getting back to the winning track. The Tigers are projected to finish fifth out of eight teams in 2013.
"We're building," Surace said. "Obviously, you've seen the progress in the past couples of years, and we're playing tremendous teams. It's about how you do things. It's about guys being accountable. If we do those little things well, then we have a chance to compete and meet the challenges that we face week in and week out in this league."
It certainly helps the Tigers to have Caraun Reid, a Buck Buchanan Award candidate, line up on the defensive front. The senior from the Bronx, N.Y., recorded 40 tackles in 2012, including 9.5 for a loss and 5.5 sacks.
Yale brings in a potential secret weapon of their own in sophomore quarterback Morgan Roberts, who transferred from Clemson. Bulldogs coach Tony Reno said Roberts will certainly be in the running for the starting quarterback job, but it's still an open competition.
The Bulldogs had some injury issues at the position last year, fully displayed when wideout Henry Furman moved behind center for a game against Princeton. Furman completed 18-of-28 pass attempts for 184 yards and a touchdown against the Tigers. He enters his senior campaign listed at quarterback.
Sophomore Eric Williams started seven games in 2012 under center for the Bulldogs, and is expected to be healthy to begin 2013. So Reno may have a welcomed conundrum on his hands: which quarterback to start.
"Obviously, having a solid position at quarterback with more guys that we feel are top-of-the-line guys and competing for a position, we definitely want to throw the ball more," Reno said. "It takes some pressure off our offensive line and our running back position."
Dartmouth and Brown have spent the last few years coming within a few games of challenging Harvard and Penn for the league title, only to fall short. Big Green coach Buddy Teevens said Penn and Harvard set the bar very high, and have for the last 10 years.
"We've looked at them as the standard that we need to perform at," Teevens said. "I feel like we're getting closer as time goes on. The critical thing is in those specific ball games is to play our best football. We have to compete at their level in order to have success."
With the closeness that Ivy League coaches feel is imminent this season, it appears every team's strategy is to play up to Penn's level.
After all, if you can't beat them, emulate them.
IVY LEAGUE FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLL
Voted on by Media
1. Penn (11 first-place votes), 129 points
2. Harvard (5), 121
3. Brown (1), 88
4. Dartmouth, 76
5. Princeton, 73
6. Cornell, 57
7. Yale, 46
8. Columbia, 22