Penn football picked to win Ivy League

For the third time in four years, Penn is the outright Ivy League champion. (Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania)

Penn's football team has been picked first in the Ivy League preseason poll, which was released Tuesday morning.

The Quakers are going for their third consecutive outright conference title, and their fourth in five years. The former feat has only been accomplished once (Penn from 1984-86), and the latter has never happened.

It helps to have quarterback Billy Ragone back for another season, as well as running backs Brandon Colavita and Lyle Marsh.

"We're cautiously optimstic," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said during the Ivy League's preseason coaches conference call. "Realistically, we have multiple teams with opportunities to win the championship. So I don't put a lot of credence [in the poll] - I like it better when we're picked second or third."

Ragone will be in the biggest spotlight as a fifth-year senior. He played a huge role in helping Penn stage a surprising run to last year's title, but his season ended prematurely with a gruesome injury in the title-defining win over Harvard.

Bagnoli conceded that Ragone "still has to overcome some psychological trauma off that ankle injury," but added that Ragone has made great progress recovering in the offseason.

"He's been such a key component of our success that it's a great foundation to start with," Bagnoli said. "We know we are going to have to take things slow, to integrate him back at different pace than he normally would. But we also think ultimately he is going to be fine, and we just have to do a really good job in preseason and those early games of getting him confortable, and having confidence that the ankle can withstand the rigors of football."

Penn will have to go to Harvard for what is always the game of the season. But Crimson coach Tim Murphy lost last season's Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Colton Chapple, as well as star running back Treavor Scales. Murphy's current quarterback crop is very inexperienced.

Murphy conceded that there are "quite a few question marks on offense" for his team.

"If you look around the league, we're probably the only team that has that big a question mark at quarterback," he said.

Connor Hempel, a 6-foot-3 junior from Kentucky, is expected to be the starter. Given his lack of game experience, I asked Murphy if he felt being picked to finish second was accurate.

"Whether you're two through four really doesn't matter," he replied, "The media has gotten into a groove of putting Harvard and Penn at 1 and 2... We take pride in that, but I think there's more parity, there's more competition, there's more outstanding quarterbacks that can be difference-makers in the league."

Here are the poll numbers in full.

1. Penn, 129 points (11 first-place votes)

2. Harvard, 121 points (5 first-place votes)

3. Brown, 88 points (1 first-place vote)

4. Dartmouth, 76 points

5. Princeton, 73 points

6. Cornell, 57 points

7. Yale, 46 points

8. Columbia, 22 points