Penn at Cornell: Quakers look to capture back-to-back Ivy titles


Penn at Cornell: Quakers look to capture back-to-back Ivy titles

Penn (6-3, 5-1 Ivy) at Cornell (4-5, 2-4 Ivy)
Schoellkopf Field, Ithaca, N.Y.
Saturday, Noon, Fox College Sports

For the Penn football team, it all comes down to this. After beating Harvard in dramatic fashion last week, the Quakers are one win away from capturing at least a share of their second straight Ivy League championship. Here’s a look at their final game of the 2016 season:

Scouting Penn
After allowing Harvard to come back and tie the game on a deep ball and trick-play two-point conversion in the final minutes of last week’s Ivy League showdown at Franklin Field, Penn responded with a drive for the ages to hand the Crimson their first Ivy League loss of the season and move into a three-way tie for first place in the conference. And to nobody’s surprise, it was the dynamic duo of quarterback Alek Torgersen and wide receiver Justin Watson that led the way and connected for the go-ahead touchdown that sent Penn to a 27-14 win over Harvard — the Quakers’ second straight year upsetting a nationally ranked Crimson team. Perhaps of equal importance was the performance of the defense as the unit scored two touchdowns, including one on the final play of the game to put a cherry on top of the win, and finished with six sacks, with three coming from defensive end Louis Vecchio, who also scored one of the TDs. Penn has now won six of its last seven after two straight losses to the start the year.

Scouting Cornell
The Big Red snapped a five-game losing streak with a dramatic 42-40 win over New York rival Columbia last week. A pair of sophomores led the way with Chris Walker rushing for 179 yards and three touchdowns and Dalton Banks completing 24 of 37 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns while running for a third. But while those two players rank second in the Ivies in rushing and passing, respectively, Cornell’s defense has struggled throughout the year, having allowed 459.1 yards per game, which ranks last in the Ivies and 110th out of 122 teams in the FCS. Still in rebuilding mode under fourth-year head coach David Archer, Cornell’s four wins on the season matched the victory total of the previous two years combined, and the Big Red also finished with a winning road record (3-2) for the first time since 1994. 

Series history
In what is the fifth-most played rivalry in college football, Penn holds a 71-46-5 lead heading into the 123rd all-time meeting. The Quakers are 13-12-1 at Schoellkopf Field but have won eight of their last nine, as well as four straight, up in Ithaca.

Storyline to watch
Although Penn had a win to remember against Harvard last week, it wasn’t because of its rushing game as running back Tre Solomon was bottled up to the tune of 26 yards on 12 carries. And as a team, the Quakers finished with a mere 21 yards while relying on their defense and passing attack to get the job done. They’ll want to correct that and focus on controlling the pace of the game and slowly moving the chains in freezing, unpleasant Ithaca. And they should be primed to do just that against a rushing defense that ranks last in the Ivies, allowing 188.8 yards per game.

What’s at stake?
With one game left in the 2016 season no matter what — Ivy teams are not allowed to go the FCS playoffs due to an archaic rule, and there are no league playoffs if teams finish tied — Penn, Harvard and Princeton are tied for first with 5-1 records. And they all have games against teams with losing records with Harvard playing rival Yale and Princeton facing Dartmouth. The most likely scenario is all three teams winning and sharing a piece of the Ivy League championship. That also means a loss for Penn would very likely end its quest for a title. Meanwhile, the Quakers still have a chance to claim the outright crown, but only if Harvard and Princeton are both upset. 

In their final time playing together, Torgersen and Watson will shred Cornell’s leaky defense and lift the Quakers to a share of their record-tying 18th Ivy League championship and their first back-to-back crowns since 2009-10.

Penn 35, Cornell 14

Villanova, Penn with polar opposite NCAA Tournament draws

Villanova, Penn with polar opposite NCAA Tournament draws

No surprises on the Main Line and well, the Quakers have quite the hill to climb to advance.

Villanova on Sunday night was awarded the 1-seed in the East Region and will face the winner of the LIU Brooklyn/Radford game Thursday in Pittsburgh. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:50 p.m. on TNT.

The Wildcats have been a top-two seed since 2014 and it's the second straight year they're a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was the No. 1 overall seed in last year's tournament.

Penn was named the 16th seed in the Midwest Region and will face the No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks on Thursday at 2 p.m. on TBS in Wichita, Kansas.

Steve Donahue has the Quakers back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007 in his third season as Penn's head coach.

The Quakers are 24-8 and this will be their 24th-ever appearance in the tournament.

'Nova survived a scare from Providence on Saturday night to win its second straight Big East title and its third in the past four years.

If the Wildcats beat LIU Brooklyn/Radford, they'll face the winner of the No. 8-seeded Virginia Tech and No. 9 seed Alabama. Purdue is the No. 2 seed in the East.

Also in the East are No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 4 Wichita State.

Penn aims to end 11-year drought this weekend

USA Today Images

Penn aims to end 11-year drought this weekend

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend's local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. With the regular season ending this weekend, this will be the final Fastbreak Friday column of the season.

Temple (16-13, 8-9 AAC) at Tulsa (18-11, 11-6 AAC), Sunday at 3 p.m.
 It’s been a rough season for the Temple Owls. Yes, there was that win over ranked Wichita State in the middle of a 5-game win streak. But after the stumbles down the stretch, that seems like a distant memory. 

Of course, the bad can be washed away with an AAC tournament run, but first, the Owls need to close out on the road against Tulsa. 

Given their track record on the road, things don’t line up well for Fran Dunphy’s crew. Plus, it’s dollar dog, dollar soda and dollar popcorn night at Tulsa. That’s a delicious trifecta. 

But there is still some fight in this team. Quintin Rose and Shizz Alston have been everything the Owls have needed, and throw in Nate Pierre-Louis and you have a nice core back for next season.

Temple 71,  Tulsa 70

Pennsylvania (21-7, 11-1 Ivy) at Yale (14-14, 7-5 Ivy), Friday at 7 p.m.
Pennsylvania (21-7, 11-1 Ivy) at Brown (11-14, 4-8 Ivy), Saturday at 6 p.m.
Penn enters the final weekend of the regular season in control of its own destiny. If the Quakers beat Yale and Brown on the road they'll win their first Ivy League championship since 2007 and earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, which will be played at the Palestra next weekend. It all adds up to Penn having the inside track to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years.

This seems like an appropriate time to salute the job done by head coach Steve Donahue. In just his third season at Penn, he has the Quakers poised to reclaim top billing in the Ivy League. He inherited a team that finished 9-19 in the 2014-2015 season and promptly began a swift rebuilding project. Penn went 11-17 in Donahue's first season, 13-14 in his second year, and now stand at 21-7 overall and 11-1 in conference play. Look for those winning ways to continue this weekend and for Donahue and company to do some celebrating.

Penn 73, Yale 66
Penn 69, Brown 60

La Salle (13-17, 7-10 A-10) at St. Joseph's (14-15, 9-8 A-10), Saturday at 2 p.m.
La Salle and St. Joe's will each try to keep the good times rolling heading into next week's A-10 Tournament. La Salle has won three of its last four games, including a convincing 18-point win over Dayton earlier this week. St. Joseph's meanwhile has a 5-1 record in its last six games and just recorded arguably one of the most stunning victories of this college basketball season.

The Hawks went on the road and beat No. 18 Rhode Island, 78-48, on Tuesday, spoiling the Rams' senior night in the process. It was the first road win over a ranked team for St. Joseph's since 1979 and it came in shockingly easy fashion. I expect the Hawks to build on that momentum this weekend and avenge a three-point loss to La Salle earlier this season.

St. Joseph's 74, La Salle 68 

Drexel (12-19, 6-12 CAA) at James Madison (10-21, 6-12 CAA), Saturday at 4 p.m. in first round of CAA Tournament
The Dragons' season has been marked with highs and lows. While it may seem like a marginal improvement — with 12 wins to their credit compared to nine last season — they did double their conference win total. 

Also, Drexel beat the top two teams in the CAA this season as well as set an NCAA Division-I record for the largest comeback ever when they erased a 34-point deficit against Delaware. 

But the Dragons did have two separate losing streaks that would cause any coach to lose sleep, one of five straight and the other of four straight losses. 

Drexel begins the quest for its first-ever CAA tournament title against JMU, then Charleston awaits on basically home turf. Go ahead and make it a baker’s dozen, Dragons. 

Drexel 76, JMU 74

Prediction Records
Sean Kane: 30-11
Amy Fadool: 22-21