The Ivy League’s return to regular cycles of college football after the COVID disruption is one of the more underrated FCS stories of the 2020s. For all the discussion of the CAA Football conference potentially being on the national decline, the Ivys frequently contribute three or four of the subdivision’s best teams in the northeast.
Here are the top returning players and our predicted order of finish in the Ivy League, which begins its regular season on September 16.
Returning All-Conference Players
Yale – 14: DB Wande Owens (1st Team), K Jack Bosman (1st Team), OL Kiran Amegadjie (1st Team), QB Nolan Grooms (1st Team), RB Joshua Pitsenberger (1st Team), DL Clay Patterson (2nd Team), LB Hamilton Moore (2nd Team), TE Jackson Hawes (2nd Team), DL Alvin Gulley (Honorable Mention), LB Joseph Vaughn (Honorable Mention), OL Jonathan Mendoza (Honorable Mention), RB Tre Peterson (Honorable Mention), WR Mason Tipton (Honorable Mention), WR Ryan Lindley (Honorable Mention)
Penn – 9: DB Kendren Smith (1st Team), RS Julien Stokes (1st Team), DB Jaden Key (2nd Team), DB Shiloh Means (Honorable Mention), DL Joey Slackman (Honorable Mention), DL Micah Morris (Honorable Mention), LB Jack Fairman (Honorable Mention), LB Jonathan Melvin (Honorable Mention), QB Aidan Sayin (Honorable Mention)
Cornell – 8: DB Paul Lewis III (2nd Team), K Jackson Kennedy (2nd Team), LB Jake Stebbins (2nd Team), RS Davon Kiser (2nd Team), LB Connor Henderson (Honorable Mention), OL Micah Sahakian (Honorable Mention), QB Jameson Wang (Honorable Mention), TE Matt Robbert (Honorable Mention)
Columbia – 6: WR Bryson Canty (1st Team), DL Justin Townsend (2nd Team), P William Hughes (2nd Team), RB Joey Giorgi (2nd Team), DB Seth Parker (Honorable Mention), WR JJ Jenkins (Honorable Mention)
Harvard – 6: DL Thor Griffith (1st Team), TE Tyler Neville (1st Team), OL Jacob Rizy (2nd Team), DL Nate Leskovec (Honorable Mention), OL Austin Gentle (Honorable Mention), P Sebastien Tasko (Honorable Mention)
Princeton – 5: LB Liam Johnson (1st Team), LB Ozzie Nicholas (2nd Team), OL Jalen Travis (2nd Team), QB Blake Stenstrom (2nd Team), RS AJ Barber (Honorable Mention)
Brown – 3: WR Wes Rockett (2nd Team), DB Isaiah Reed (Honorable Mention), DB Cooper DeVeau (Honorable Mention)
Dartmouth – 3: DB Quinten Arello (2nd Team), OL Nicholas Schwitzgebel (Honorable Mention), TE Jace Henry (Honorable Mention)
Names To Know
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Nolan Grooms, Yale QB – Grooms is a mobile threat for the Bulldogs who came into his own in 2022, tallying 1,660 passing yards and 745 rushing. Grooms scored 20 total touchdowns, 14 through the air and six by ground. The Asa S. Bushnell Cup recipient/Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year has an interesting background for someone playing his position, as despite quarterbacking today, Grooms played in all 10 games on special teams while serving as the third-string QB appearing in special offensive packages in 2019.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Thor Griffith, Harvard DL – A 6-foot-2, 320-pound senior, Griffith is HERO Sports’ No. 4 returning defensive lineman in the FCS, leading all defensive tackles in the ranking. Griffith is known for his weight-room prowess and control of games in the interior defensive line. He earned and beat double teams last season on the way to 46 total tackles, five sacks, and 12 tackles for loss in 10 games played.
TOP NFL PROSPECT: Kiran Amegadjie, Yale OL – Amegadjie has displayed versatility and durability with his 6-foot-5, 318-pound frame. He started every game at right guard in 2021 before going the distance in 2022 at left tackle. Amegadjie sits atop Josh Buchanan’s 2024 Top 100 “Small School” Prospects as of August 22, beating out William & Mary LB John Pius for the No. 1 overall spot.
HERO Sports’ Predicted Order of Finish
Yale returns over a dozen All-Ivy picks for a commanding lead in the area of talent retained – no other Ivy League team brings back double-digit conference standouts. Grooms has Amegadjie starring on the offensive line to enable time as the QB locates Ivy Honorable Mention wideouts Mason Tipton and Ryan Lindley, let alone tight end Jackson Hawes and running back Joshua Pitsenberger. Yale exercised the classic winning formula in ’22, finishing ninth in the FCS in rushing offense (232.5 YPG) and fifth in scoring defense (19.5 PPG).
Princeton was the league’s only defense to outdo the Bulldogs a season ago, as the Tigers were stingy to the tune of 13.5 PPG allowed. Linebackers Liam Johnson and Ozzie Nicholas anchor the Princeton defense that intends to build on last year’s Ivy-best 16 interceptions. Tigers quarterback Blake Stenstrom is HERO Sports’ No. 24 returning QB in the country. He powered Princeton to first-place league finishes in passing offense (274.2 YPG) and in pass efficiency (146.6) last time out.
Penn, though, is coming off an 8-2 overall record that tied Yale and Princeton. The Quakers’ defense is loaded with all-conference selections who are back in Philadelphia, including three defensive backs. Such a strong secondary will be required against Yale’s Grooms and Princeton’s Stenstrom. Penn visits Yale on October 21 and hosts Princeton in the regular season finale.
Harvard and Columbia round out our top 5 in the P.O.O.F. Both went 6-4 in 2022 and each returns six all-League choices. Griffith is the Crimson’s game-wrecker, the kind that Columbia won’t necessarily be expected to feature this fall, but the Lions were simply sound a season ago, wrapping up tops in the Ivy League in third down conversions (46.7%), opponent third down conversions (36.1%), and opponent fourth down (20.0%).
Dartmouth is a proud program that will rally around its longtime head coach, Buddy Teevens, who has been away from the team while recovering from a serious bicycle accident that occurred in March. Leading the Big Green in the interim is Sammy McCorkle.
Elsewhere in Ivy League coaching, Columbia enters a new era after the retirement of Al Bagnoli was announced on August 4, effective immediately, due to health reasons. The school’s press release sharing the change stated that Bagnoli will remain involved in the athletic department through an administrative role, mentoring Lions head coaches and participating in fundraising efforts. Offensive coordinator Mark Fabish, who also served as associate head coach, was named interim head coach for the 2023 season.