Pop quiz, college football fans: Who has the longest active winning streak in what for years was known collectively as Division 1 college football, but now goes by the awkward NCAA argot of Football Bowl Subdivision (née Division 1-A) and Football Championship Subdivision (née Division 1-AA)?
Alabama, Oregon, Notre Dame, and Florida are all valid guesses. But the honor belongs to its oldest and most distinguished institution of higher learning — Harvard. The Crimson (5-0) have won 14 straight games, dating to 2011, heading into Saturday’s showdown with Princeton.
Harvard’s streak is like finding out that Kate Upton is also a nuclear physicist, or that a biochemist can outrun Usain Bolt in the 100 meters.
No one will ever mistake the FCS-level Crimson for the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Crimson do lay claim to seven national titles, but the last came in 1919. Harvard currently has more alumni serving on the US Supreme Court (five) than serving on active NFL rosters (three).
“They work every bit as hard and love the game every bit as much as the kids at Alabama,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy, who is in his 19th season and has led the Crimson to six Ivy League titles and two undefeated seasons. “It’s just it’s not the only thing.”
No one is arguing that the caliber of competition Harvard faces is equal to that of the BCS big boys, but Harvard has won all 14 games by double figures. Its last three wins have been by a combined score of 132-23.
In The Sports Network FCS poll, the Crimson are ranked 22d, but received one first-place vote. The last Ivy team to receive a first-place vote was Murphy’s 2004 squad, which went 10-0 with future NFL starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Harvard has scored 205 points this year, its highest total through five games since ’92 — as in 1892. They scored 224 then, against opponents such as the Boston Athletic Association and Exeter Academy. Harvard is averaging 41 points per game. That’s dominance on any level.
“To be honest it feels great to be in such great company,” said senior linebacker and captain Bobby Schneider of the win streak. “You know it’s on a different level. You take pride in it nonetheless. You look at those names, those are the teams that we all grew up watching, the big-time Division 1 schools. It’s great to be in company with them.”
The Patriots have captivated fans and confused defenses with their NASCAR-paced no-huddle offense. That’s nothing new to Murphy, who said the Crimson can run plays with 31 or 32 seconds left on the 40-second play clock.
Opponents have struggled with the team’s up-tempo, no-huddle attack, led by senior quarterback Colton Chapple, who rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 189 yards and two touchdowns in the Crimson’s 35-7 win over Bucknell last week, despite being on the field for just two offensive series in the second half.
Like the Patriots, the Crimson have a two-headed tight end monster. Senior Kyle Juszczyk and junior Cameron Brate are the Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez of Harvard Yard. (That’s the first time Gronk and Harvard have been mentioned in the same sentence.)
The team’s two leading receivers are both NFL prospects, according to Murphy.
“We can get into any one of 13 personnel groupings without changing personnel,” said Murphy. “It’s tough to find fast, physical tight ends, and we just happen to have two at the same time in Cameron Brate and Kyle Juszczyk.”
The Crimson aren’t all offense. They lead the FCS in sacks per game (4.8), led by sophomore defensive end Zach Hodges, and are tops in FCS against the run, allowing 43 yards per game.
Murphy has some unique challenges in building and maintaining a powerhouse program. It’s unlikely that Nick Saban or Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer are taking into account that for players who are majoring in science, engineering, and pre-med, Monday is a good day to be off because there are a lot of labs and sections.
The term student-athlete is more than a term of sanctimonious convenience at Harvard.
“We do have to adjust, the academic environment here is a lot different than an SEC school . . . We practice 4 to 6 p.m., if a kid has a conflict it’s real simple he should go to the academic portion of it,” said Murphy.
If you play for Murphy, Harvard’s all-time winningest coach (125-59), you’re going to get two things: an Ivy League championship ring and a Harvard diploma. Every four-year player recruited by Murphy has received both.
This is a stark cry from Ohio State, where reserve quarterback Cardale Jones recently tweeted, “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”
There is a better chance of Bobby Valentine becoming a journalism professor than any Harvard football player sending out such a tweet.
Murphy’s Crimson have not lost any starters to the cheating scandal at Harvard, which involves 125 students — as many as half of whom are athletes — allegedly sharing answers on a take-home final for an “Intro to Congress” class last spring. But the scandal has garnered more headlines than the performance of the football team, which is unfortunate.
“I think you’re very naive if you think that something like that at Harvard wouldn’t attract attention,” said Murphy. “We talk to our players all the time that if you’re going to play at an elite academic institution you’re going to be held to a higher standard than non-athletes. We understand it, and we embrace it.”
Lucky for the current men of Harvard that former university president Charles W. Eliot didn’t get his way in the early 20th century and football wasn’t banned.
Roll Crimson suddenly sounds as good as Roll Tide.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.