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Know Your 2013 Opponents: Columbia

A week after Lehigh plays on national TV (CBS Sports Network) against Joe Moorhead's Fordham squad, head coach Andy Coen will find his team, once again, making the trek to New York City to play football.

They'll be playing Fordham's cross-town Rival Columbia, who is led by head coach Pete Mangurian, on NBC Sports Network, as a part of the Ivy League's conference TV package with them.

For Lehigh, it will be two big national media appearances in the media capital of the world in consecutive weeks.

And like the Fordham game, it might not be as easy as people might believe.


“History tells you that your second season is when you make your biggest jump in a new program," Mangurian recently said in the Ivy League preseason teleconference.  "Your players understand what you’re looking for and develop a work ethic.”

This is probably true.

However, if Columbia is to make that big jump after a 3-7 campaign in 2013, it's probably going to come from a player that wasn't on the roster last season.

Of all the quarterbacks Lehigh may face this season, it's safe to say that only one was a four-star recruit from Rivals.

It's also safe to say that there will be only one quarterback that got lost in a numbers game behind current Colts QB Andrew Luck.

Indeed, junior QB Brett Nottingham was Luck's backup in Stanford, a top quarterback recruit that was the subject of a high school recruiting war between the Cardinal and UCLA.

Rated as the fourth highest pocket passer in the nation, Nottingham was Luck's heir apparent until QB Josh Nunes beat him out for the job in the 2012 season and continued Stanford's success, bringing them to the Rose Bowl last season.

Shortly before the Rose Bowl, Nottingham announced his intention to transfer, and Columbia was able to attract him out East.

"Once I decided to transfer, I did my research," Nottingham said. "Columbia is one of the world's premiere universities in one of the greatest cities in the world. Once I took a closer look at the Columbia football program, their offense, and once I spoke with coach Mangurian and [offensive coordinator] Jaime Elizondo, I knew Columbia was the perfect and natural fit for me."

In doing so, Mangurian and Elizondo, a former CFL guy who was a part of Hofstra's coaching staff before the Pride pulled the plug on their football program, landed without question the biggest FBS transfer of the offseason, a fact that Jake Novak noted in his Roar Lions blog:

Columbia has had good transfers before, but no one was so highly regarded as a high school recruit and no one who was in line to take the QB position at a school competing for the national championship.

It's true most of us are biased in favor of the Ivy League for many reasons, but this is the kind of thing that should have happened before and should continue to happen at Columbia and the seven other Ivies.

Why?

Because, in case you haven't noticed, getting into an Ivy school these days has become harder than winning the Super Lotto. Any very talented college player with the grades should consider coming to this conference where they have a much better chance of standing out to the pro scouts and failing that, getting a degree that will be more valuable for them for the next 45 years of their lives.

And Nottingham, whose father is a highly-renowned back surgeon, should know the value of that king of education.  It's as simple as that.

And remember that this is a player who isn't coming to us because of injury. Usually BCS-level recruits only consider Ivies after a knee issue.

Certainly a part of their promise to get him had to involve making him a huge part of the offense, despite the boilerplate statements that Nottingham will have to "earn his way" into the starting lineup.  QB Sean Brackett, last year's starter, graduates.

"Sophomore QB Trevor McDonagh is the only quarterback on our roster that has had anything close to significant playing time in our system," Mangurian said in the Ivy League preseason teleconference.

"He [Trevor] did a good job in the spring and he’ll be the starter going into camp," he fudged, adding for good measure that "Brett brings a lot of experience from Stanford. You know he’s not a first-year just learning the ropes. He’s been there, he understands things, but he still has to learn our system and be able to execute what we’re trying to do," as if there wasn't enough of a giant monkey looking over McDonagh's shoulders.

“The offense Brett was in and the offense we run are pretty consistent. He’s a pocket guy. Not a guy that’s going to rush for a bunch of yards. He has real good pocket movement and awareness, but he’s not the kind of guy that’ll rush for 400, 500, 600 yards in a season. He’s a good decision maker and can make all the different throws. I like his personality. We went through the whole process, met and spoke with his family and I was very diligent about ‘is this the right guy to do this’ because we don’t really have a big history of transfers at Columbia. Coming from a great program (at Stanford) and his background and all the things he’s accomplished and the way the young man handles himself, I thought he was the perfect fit for us. He’ll have an opportunity, but he needs to learn our system. It doesn’t come over night. It takes time. I know he’ll diligently work at it. We’ll see how it turns out and we’re not going to make any conclusions until things are proven.”

Nottingham will need to be tremendous at QB, though, as Columbia returns the nation's 103-rated offense last season, a squad that scored 14 points in a 35-14 Lehigh romp and only averaged 14 1/2 points per game, good for 116th in the country.

But their top two skill players return, senior RB Marcoreous Garrett (1,115 all-purpose yards, 7 TDs) and junior WR Connor Nelligan (636 yards receiving), giving the boys in baby blue a chance to have a much stronger offense in 2013.

On defense, too, the Lions have some quality returning in senior LB Zach Olinger (89 tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble), but lose a lot of their pass rush, notably their top sack artist from last year, DL Josh Martin.

It's also worth mentioning that Columbia won their last two games at home, vs. Yale and vs. Cornell, making them a tougher home out than one might initially think when looking at their 3-7 record.

Mangurian, Elizondo and the Columbia coaching staff have to get boatloads of credit for getting the top FCS transfer from FBS last season - one that, at a stroke, makes the Lions a much, much better team.

Whether the still-young Lions will gel fast enough to beat Lehigh, especially on defense, remains to be seen.  But they will certainly be a much improved team when the Mountain Hawks make their trip to the tip of Manhattan in early October.

And that's probably what the folks at NBC Sports Network are counting on, too, as they chose this game as a part of their Ivy League conference TV package, the third national TV appearance of the season for the Mountain Hawks.

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