Ithaca enters 2014 at number 8 in our rankings. Check out our Top 25 Season Preview for more on the top college teams to watch this fall. Can’t find your team in the Top 25? View our full rankings to see where every team stands.
Last Season: 9-3 (6-1) Empire 8
The last few seasons haven’t gone Ithaca’s way. Losing in-conference records in both 2011 and 2012 justified the Empire 8 coaches prediction that Ithaca would finish fifth in the conference in 2013, but that’s not how it played out. The Bombers started the season with a couple of non-conference wins – good, but not necessarily indicative of a great season to come. Then they went 1-1 in the first two games of their Empire 8 schedule, with a 24-20 win at Buffalo State and a 21-9 loss at Hartwick. Senior quarterback Phil Neumann looked terrible in the Hartwick loss, finishing the game 9/25 for 116 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT. He looked so bad in fact, that junior Tom Dempsey got the start the next week against at home against Alfred. Apparently the change was all they needed.
The Bomber defense was already performing at a very high level when Dempsey took over, allowing an average of 12.75 ppg, and they continued that brilliance as the offense picked up their level of play. Ithaca went unbeaten in their final five conference games and finished the season with a 6-1 conference record to win the Empire 8. They lost in the final seconds of their regular season finale against Cortland to finish the season 8-2 with an automatic playoff bid in hand. It was Ithaca’s first playoff berth since 2007. Their season ended in the second round of the D3 playoffs with a 23-15 loss to Wesley, but it felt a little like they were playing with house money. From a preseason predicted fifth place to a conference title? Not bad at all.
– Pat Stephenson OT – Captain, First team All-Conference
– Rakim Jones RB – 136 carries, 486 yards, 5 TDs
– Jared Prugar TE – First team All-Conference, 44 receptions, 766 yards, 6 TDs
– Brian Hardenberg LB – Honorable mention All-Conference, 75 tackles, 11 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 6 PDs, 4 FRs, 1 FF, 1 BK
– Jake Santora LB – Captain, First team All-Conference, 86 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PDs, 1 FF
– Will Carter LB – Captain, First team All-Conference, 105 tackles, 10 TFL, 6 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PDs, 1 FF
– Mike Vulcano CB – 43 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 4 INTs, 10 PDs, 1 FR, 1 FF
– Brian Garvey CB – 67 tackles, 4 INTs, 16 PDs, 1 FR
– Skylar Griffenberg FS – Second team All-Conference, 58 tackles, 2 TFL, 7 PDs, 1 FR, 2 FFs, 1 BK
What to Watch For
New Defense – The Bombers featured the number one scoring defense in the Empire 8 last season, as they allowed their opponents an average of only 16.3 ppg. Three senior Ithaca linebackers lead their team in tackles and tackles for a loss, and all three were named to the all-conference team: captains Jake Santora and Will Carter to the first team, and Brian Hardenberg an honorable mention. Nine Bomber defensive-starters graduated this offseason, and they took with them a massive chunk of the team’s defensive production. Seniors were responsible for 649 of 836 tackles (77.6%), 54 of 75 tackles for loss (72%), 16 of 20 sacks (80%), 12 of 14 interceptions (85.7%), 11 of 14 forced fumbles (78.6%), and 12 of 16 fumble recoveries (75%). So all together, just over three quarters of the team’s total defensive production. Not good. We’ll see what the new kids can do real soon.
The offense should be at least as good though, if not better. Tom Dempsey has been in the program for three years now and after a whole offseason of starter’s reps, he should be ready to roll come fall. They lost their two top tight ends but retained every wide receiver on the roster, and they only lost one (admittedly talented) offensive lineman. Even if they had returned all their linemen though, it would still need work. They allowed the most sacks in the conference and “helped” Ithaca rushers gain the fewest yards per carry of any Empire 8 team last season (2.4, terrible). Compared to the defense though, the offense looks great.
If you started that paragraph optimistically and finished it pretty dejected, we have something in common, because the more I look at it, the more it looks like Ithaca’s conference championship was a flash in the pan. Their defense needs rebuilding from the ground up. The offense should improve, but wouldn’t it have to? I don’t see Ithaca repeating, or even finishing in the top three in the Empire 8. Ithaca fans should take solace in the fact that no one predicted last year’s conference championship either. Maybe I’ll end up eating my words.