The focus Saturday is the University of San Diego, nothing more. The 1-1 Toreros are a relative unknown, a fact compounded by the lack of a film exchange.
So too, are issues that may materialize on and off the field for the Harvard football program, the defending Ivy League champion.
With the Crimson set to kick off their 139th season, and his 19th on the sideline, coach Tim Murphy said it’s very simple: “We better take it one day at a time, not one game at a time. Have a great practice, have a great conditioning session, have a great position meeting.”
Senior captain Bobby Schneider, the defensive anchor for a deep — and potentially ferocious — front seven, understands this dynamic all too well.
“Last year, we came out and laid an egg [in the opener] against Holy Cross,” a 30-22 loss, recalled the 6-foot, 215-pound linebacker.
The Crimson responded emphatically, bouncing Brown, 24-7, in a downpour at the Stadium, the starting point for a nine-game blitz capped with a 45-7 conquest at the Yale Bowl.
“There is adversity that you have to expect and embrace, it’s something you can not avoid,” said Schneider, who stepped forward against Brown with seven tackles, including a 9-yard sack, and an interception.
“Last year, that’s what we did very well, after losing that first game. It was a tough and hard-nosed group.”
Back to the unknown.
As Harvard continues its investigation into whether as many as 125 students may have cheated on a take-home final exam last spring — with half of that number reportedly varsity athletes — questions continue to surface.
Will the Crimson, carrying 117 players, be affected? Undoubtedly, yes, at some point. But as of Friday afternoon, no players had been removed from the roster.
“Our starting lineup, all 24 players coming out of spring camp, are in good academic standing, they are healthy, and ready to go,” emphasized Murphy. But, he acknowledged, “there may be a different dynamic going forward.”
The returning core has the talent and grit for a repeat run in the Ancient Eight.
Senior Colton Chapple, who fired nine touchdown passes in back-to-back wins over Cornell and Bucknell last October while spelling the sidelined Collier Winters, steps in full time at quarterback to orchestrate the spread. He has an All-Ivy tailback in senior Treavor Scales (816 yards, 4.8 yards per carry in ’11) and a tight end tandem (senior Kyle Juszczyk and junior Cameron Brate) that is unmatched in the league.
On the line, four starters return, including steady senior center Jack Holuba and right tackle Will Whitman, who played every snap as a freshman. And Murphy came out of camp impressed with an emerging group of receivers.
The Crimson may not duplicate their 37.4-point average from a year ago, but they promise to be explosive.
Across the defensive front, ends Grant Sickle, John Lyon, and Zach Hodges form a formidable group with the tackles, the Obukwelu brothers, Nnamdi (senior) and Obum (sophomore), and Jack Dittmer. Schneider and fellow senior linebackers Josh Boyd and Alex Norman are all playmakers.
Collectively, it is an impressive group.
“Those guys up front, they can control the line of scrimmage,” said Schneider, who has taken on a greater responsibility with his captaincy.
“I was talking to one of our coaches in the preseason, and he said, ‘It’s tough being a captain, and also playing your best.’ ”
Departed linebacker Alex Gedeon, an All-Ivy linebacker, “was very good at managing that, he had a great season as captain,” Schneider said. “I got to watch and learn, how to carry yourself.”
Murphy feels that the Crimson have selected a respected leader.
“He is very understated, he has a commitment and passion for football, the kids really respect him,” said the coach. “When he talks, the players listen.”
This summer, 50-plus Crimson players stayed on campus and followed their leader, a native of Grapevine, Texas.
By day, Schneider interned at The Parthenon Group, a business consulting firm. At night, it was 7-on-7 workouts, either on the turf at the Stadium or a practice field.
“It was a blast, and I felt that we really bonded, in the Stadium, getting after each other,” he said.
“We’re fired up, camp has been good, we’re ready to play someone else. The last few weeks, we’ve started forming an identity, a separate identity from last year. It’s us against everybody else, we will get everyone’s best shot. We’ll take it week by week.”