Optimistic Outlook for 2015
In what is one of the most highly anticipated seasons of the past two decades, the Dartmouth Big Green football team finally kicks off the campaign with the second-ever meeting with the Georgetown Hoyas. The last time these two squared off on the gridiron, Georgetown got the better of the Green, 10-0. Granted, that was 99 years ago, but don’t think Dartmouth folks have a short memory …

The Big Green are expected to challenge for the Ivy League crown, which they have won more than any other school in the conference despite not taking home the title since 1996. With an offense that averaged over 30 points a game and returns its quarterback, top three running backs and top two receivers, and with a defense that was second-stingiest Ivy team in points allowed and features 10 senior starters, it isn’t hard to see why.

The catalyst for this Dartmouth squad is undeniably senior tri-captain and QB Dalyn Williams, a finalist for the Bushnell Cup (Ivy League MVP) a year ago after throwing for 2,119 yards at a school-record completion percentage of 67.5 with 21 touchdowns and just three picks. He is also the Big Green’s all-time rushing leader among quarterbacks with 1,269 yards.

Speaking of rushing, All-Ivy Second Team selection Kyle Bramble returns for one more season, but is coming off knee surgery from an injury he suffered in the penultimate game last year. But Dartmouth is blessed with depth at the position with senior Brian Grove, junior Abrm McQuarters and sophomore Ryder Stone all more than simply capable runners. That doesn’t even include freshmen Vito Penza and Rashaad Cooper who have impressed during preseason camp.

The Big Green feature another captain in fifth-year senior Ryan McManus, a first-team All-Ivy pick at two positions in 2014, and senior Victor Williams at wide receiver to give Williams reliable targets at which to throw. Plus all of the veteran running backs have proven to be adept receivers, combining for over 500 yards and six TDs last year.

If there is a question mark on offense, it would be the offensive line. Four of the five starters graduated from 2014, including two All-Ivy First Team performers. Yet the projected starting line is quite formidable at an average of close to 6-5 and over 300 pounds, anchored by senior Jacob Flores at center after earning second-team All-Ivy honors at left tackle.

On the other side of the ball, veterans dominate the landscape with nine starters back, led by senior tri-captain Will McNamara, the reigning tackle leader in the league and unanimous first-team All-Ivy linebacker. Three other defenders also were on the first team last year in fifth-year senior safety Troy Donahue (led the loop in interceptions), senior cornerback Vernon Harris (four-year starter) and senior defensive tackle A.J. Zuttah.

The star power doesn’t end there for the defense, however, with senior defensive end Cody Fulleton (a two-time, second-team All-Ivy honoree), senior linebacker Zach Slafsky (honorable mention) and the lone junior in the starting lineup, linebacker Folarin Orimolade, who led Dartmouth in sacks.

Special teams have been a source of pride in recent seasons as well. The kicking game is in good shape with a pair of All-Ivy Second Teamers — and former high school teammates — in juniors Alex Gakenheimer and Ben Kepley. Gakenheimer converted 12-of-15 field goals and led the Big Green in scoring with 73 points last year, while Kepley averaged close to 39 yards with great hang time (nearly 40 percent of his boots were fair caught). And with McManus returning punts once again and his younger brother, Danny McManus, set to return kickoffs, expect some excitement when the Big Green field kicks.

Scouting the Hoyas
Georgetown is off to a 1-1 start this season with both games decided by four touchdowns — a 48-20 road loss at St. Francis (Pa.) followed by a 34-7 triumph over Marist in the Hoyas’ home opener last weekend.

The scoring output by the Hoyas last weekend was their most in over two years. Guiding the offense is quarterback Kyle Nolan, who was named the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week for completing 21-of-34 passes for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the victory over Marist. The veteran has started 21 games in his career, amassing 3,627 yards while completing 362-of-677 (.535) of his tosses with 19 TDs and 15 interceptions.

Jake DeCicco is his favorite target thus far as the senior wideout has 10 catches for 87 yards. But it was another wide receiver, Justin Hill, that was on the scoring end of Nolan’s two scoring strikes last weekend. Nolan likes to spread it around having already connected with 10 different receivers.

The running game is paced by Jo’el Kimpela, a second-team All-Patriot League pick last year after rushing for 838 yards with a 5.3-yard average. The Hoyas will change things up a bit in the backfield by alternating with Isaac Ellsworth, a 5-6, 160-pound dart who has averaged over six yards on his 10 carries this year. And Nolan has enough mobility to be a threat having scored twice and run as far as 17 yards.

The defense that yielded 520 yards in the opener buckled down against the Red Foxes to surrender just almost exactly half that (263) while forcing three turnovers (two INT, one fumble). Senior linebacker Matthew Satchell is the team leader with 17 tackles while sophomore safety David Akere has 16 stops as well as one of the Hoyas’ four picks. Six different players have contributed to the six sacks.

The kicking game has been solid with Henry Darmstadter converting each of his eight kicks — two field goals of 31 and 33 yards as well as six PATs. Punter Harry McCollum averages 39.5 yards on punts, but has had one partially blocked. The return game has been very good with DeCicco bringing punts back (10.3-yd. avg.) and Ellsworth returning kickoffs (26.0-yd. avg.).

Head coach Rob Sgarlata, a 1994 graduate of Georgetown, is in his second season at the helm of the Hoyas. In his first campaign, he guided his alma mater to a 3-8 record with wins over Marist, Brown and Holy Cross.

Big Green on Opening Day Under Teevens
Date   Opponent Score W/L
Sept. 16, 1987 H Princeton 3-34 L
Sept. 15, 1988 H Penn 27-33 L
Sept. 21, 1989 H Princeton 14-20 L
Sept. 19, 1990 H Penn 6-16 L
Sept. 18, 1991 A Penn 21-15 W
Sept. 17, 2005 H Colgate 26-21 W
Sept. 16, 2006 A Colgate 7-28 L
Sept. 15, 2007 H Colgate 28-31 L
Sept. 20, 2008 A Colgate 20-34 L
Sept. 19, 2009 H Colgate 15-34 L
Sept. 18, 2010 A Bucknell 43-20 W
Sept. 17, 2011 H Colgate 37-20 W
Sept. 15, 2012 H Butler 35-7 W
Sept. 21, 2013 A Butler 30-23 W
Sept. 20, 2014 H Central Conn. St. 35-25 W

Season Openers
• While this is just the second meeting ever between Dartmouth and Georgetown, it is the 134th season opener for the Big Green since the varsity program began in 1881. In the first 133, Dartmouth sports a stellar record of 88-42-3 (.673 win percentage.).
• From 1895 through 1943, Dartmouth won every opening game — 49 in a row — outscoring its opposition by a total of 1,562-52 (average score of 32-1) with 39 shutouts.
• The Big Green had a more modest 13-game winning streak on opening day from 1960-72.
• Over the past 30 seasons, Dartmouth is just 9-21, but has won its last five while scoring at least 30 points in each of those five victories.
• Under the guidance of Buddy Teevens, the Big Green are 7-8 on opening day. His game-by-game record is listed below:

Preseason Poll
In each of the last four seasons, the Big Green have outperformed their expected finish before the season began. Back in 2011, Dartmouth was picked by the media to finish fifth, yet ended the year in a tie for second. The following season the Big Green were picked to place sixth in the final league standings, yet when the final bell sounded, there they were in a tie for third. In 2013, Dartmouth turned a fourth-place prognostication into a third-place finish, just one game behind the co-champions. The Big Green were then slotted for third in 2014 yet finished alone in second.

So the good news this year is that Dartmouth was picked to finish second, although it did receive four of the 17 first-place votes. I think you see where I’m going with this. One other good sign for the Green is that since Dartmouth last won the Ivy crown in 1996, the media has correctly picked the champion twice — Penn in 2003 and Harvard in 2008.

Preseason All-Americans
Two Dartmouth defenders earned spots on the FCS Preseason All-America Third Team as selected by College Sports Madness — seniors Will McNamara and A.J. Zuttah. McNamara is the Ivy League’s reigning tackling leader after making 87 stops from his linebacking position in 2014 and was a unanimous first-team All-Ivy pick last year. Zuttah, an All-Ivy and All-New England first-team performer, is the keystone of the defensive line and was third among the conference linemen with 48 tackles.

Williams on Watch Lists
Senior quarterback Dalyn Williams is one of the premiere FCS players in the nation, and the media has noticed. Both STATS and the College Football Performance Awards have named the dynamic playmaker to their preseason Offensive Player of the Year Watch Lists. Last year, Williams was a finalist for the Bushnell Cup, which is given to the Ivy League’s top offensive and defensive players. All he did was lead the league and rank in the top five nationally in completion percentage (school-record 67.5), passing efficiency (157.57) and points responsible per game (18.0). Overall he threw for 2,119 yards and 21 touchdowns with just three interceptions.

First Among the Last
The Ivy League football schedule always starts a couple of weeks after the rest of Division I. In each of the last three seasons, Dartmouth ended up being the last team to kick off its season, but thanks to the noon start at Georgetown, that streak comes to an end as every other Ancient Eight team is slated to start later in the day.

Returning All-Ivy Performers
Last year, the Big Green claimed a total of 16 players who earned All-Ivy honors, nine of which made the first team at a school-record 10 positions. Of those 16 players, 12 return to the field for Dartmouth this fall.

Among the first-teamers back in the fold in 2015 are seniors Troy Donahue (SS), Vernon Harris (CB), Ryan McManus (WR and RS), Will McNamara (LB), Dalyn Williams (QB) and A.J. Zuttah (DL). The second-teamers came from both sides of the ball and special teams in seniors Kyle Bramble (RB), Jacob Flores (OL) and Cody Fulleton (DL), plus juniors Alex Gakenheimer (PK) and Ben Kepley (P). Rounding out the honorees is senior Zach Slafsky (LB) who earned honorable mention.
 
Still All-Time Ivy Champs
Dartmouth has won at least a share of the Ivy League crown 17 times since the league played its first season in 1956, more than any other school. The lead is shrinking, however, as the Big Green are currently in their longest title drought, having last finished atop the standings in 1996. Harvard is threatening to equal Dartmouth, however, having won its 16th championship last year and being picked to win the league again this year. Penn also has 16 crowns in the trophy cabinet, the most recent coming in 2012. But unlike the Crimson, the Quakers are not predicted to finish in the top half of the league.

Record Book Watch
Entering his senior season, Dalyn Williams is threatening to become Dartmouth’s career leader in several statistical categories. The native of Corinth, Texas, opens the year third in the Big Green annals in both passing yardage (4,866) and total offense (6,135). Both records are currently held by former NFL quarterback Jay Fiedler ’94. To catch Fiedler’s passing mark, Williams will need to throw for 1,819 yards, or exactly 300 less than he accumulated last year in nine games. The total yardage is in closer reach thanks to being Dartmouth’s all-time leading rusher among QBs with 1,269 yards on the ground. Williams needs just 1,115 total yards to surpass Fielder’s record of 7,249.

One player benefitting from Williams’ passing prowess is wide receiver Ryan McManus. The fifth-year senior ranks among the Big Green’s top 10 in both career receptions (125, 8th) and receiving yardage (1,670, 7th). In order to break the receptions record held by Jay Barnard ’04, McManus will need to have the most prolific season a receiver has ever had at Dartmouth with 92 catches. To break the yardage record held by Craig Morton ’89, he needs “just” 936 yards, a total bested by only five players in program history.

Bramble Milestone Watch
Dalyn Williams and Ryan McManus isn’t the only player chasing numbers this year. Senior running back Kyle Bramble is a mere eight yards shy of becoming the 27th player in Dartmouth history to rush for 1,000 in a career.

Getting a Kick Out of It
Last year, Alex Gakenheimer quietly had one of the most prolific seasons ever for a Big Green placekicker. He led the squad with 73 points — the second-most ever by a Dartmouth kicker — and his 12 field goals are tied for fourth most on the single-season charts.

The Experience Factor
Although Dartmouth graduated some key players from last year’s 8-2 squad, the Big Green have experience littered throughout the skill positions. Joining quarterback Dalyn Williams on offense are the Green’s top four rushers (and five of the top six) and top three receivers (and 10 of the top 11). Of the 1,685 rushing yards Dartmouth amassed in 2014, 92.2 percent are back on the roster this year. And exactly 2,000 of the 2,481 receiving yards (80.6 percent) return to the field in 2015. What about defense you say? Pretty well covered there, too, with the top eight tacklers back, and a total of 633 of the 751 (84.3 percent) return.

Tri-Captains
For the fifth time in the past six seasons, Dartmouth will feature three captains leading the squad. Fifth-year senior Ryan McManus, whose older brother Timmy ’11 was a three-time captain, will be joined by seniors Will McNamara and Dalyn Williams.

Highlights from 2014
If your memory is as good as mine, you need a little refresher on some of the great achievements from the 2014 campaign, so here you go:
•    Dartmouth finished the season 8-2 overall and 6-1 in the league, its best record since posting identical marks in 1997.
•    The Big Green enjoyed winning records for conference and overall play in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1995-97.
•    Dartmouth finished among the top three in the league in most statistical categories, including scoring offense (31.3, 3rd), scoring defense (21.0, 2nd), total offense (416.6, 3rd), total defense (384.2, 3rd), kickoff returns (23.7 avg., 1st), punt returns (10.9 avg., 1st) and interceptions (12, 1st).
•    Those 31.3 points per game marked the first time the Green averaged more than 30 in 22 years.
•    Quarterback Dalyn Williams set school records for completion percentage (67.5) and TD-to-INT ratio (21-to-3).

NFL Connections
Two juniors have famous fathers that played in the NFL. Defensive back Lucas Bavaro is the son of Mark Bavaro, a tight end who caught 351 passes and 39 touchdowns in his nine years in the league, most notably for the New York Giants. Wide receiver Jon Marc Carrier is following in the footsteps of his father, Mark Carrier, who played 12 years in the NFL. His biggest seasons came with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers, including 1,422 yards in his Pro Bowl year with the Bucs in 1989, finishing his career with 569 receptions for 8,763 yards and 48 touchdowns.

Joining the team this year is freshman quarterback Harry Kraft. Yes, he is the grandson of Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots.

Head coach Buddy Teevens has his own NFL connection, having served on the staff at the Manning Passing Academy for every one of the 20 years of its existence. He is now the associate director of the famed academy, overseeing all aspects of the on-field operation and coaching staff.