As the Cornell football team inches closer to its 2012 season opener on Sept. 15, third-year head coach Kent Austin and his staff welcome 31 new players from the promising class of 2016 who are settling into the program and their studies.
In just under three weeks, the Red will travel to the Bronx to take on Fordham in its first official game of 2012. Cornell has not faced the Rams since a 39-27 loss on Schoellkopf Field in Oct. 2009, when current Arizona Cardinals quarterback John Skelton torched the Red defense for 420 passing yards and five touchdowns.
Having recently wrapped up training camp, anticipation could not be higher for reigning Ivy League Quarterback of the Year Jeff Mathews and the rest of the Red players.
“We’ve got school and meetings and everything, but everyone is really excited right now to get started with the Fordham game in a couple of weeks,” Mathews said. “We have an opportunity to do something no one here at Cornell has done before — win an outright Ivy League championship.”
That quest begins a week after the Red plays Fordham, when Cornell hosts Yale in a nationally televised Homecoming game on Sept. 22 at 3 p.m. in its Ivy opener. The team will then have another out-of-conference matchup at Bucknell on Sept. 29 before hitting the road for the third time in four weeks for a battle with defending League Champion Harvard during Fall Break.
Mathews admits that the squad is anxious for its Oct. 6 contest against the Crimson, even with the essentially do-or-die nature of college football week in and week out.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to play [Harvard] at their place, and I think that’s how our team feels,” he said. “Every game is big, every game is meaningful — it’s one or two losses and you can be out of the running for a championship — but certainly Harvard is a team we’re looking out for. If we’re going to win the Ivy League Championship, we’re going to need to beat Harvard.”
The schedule continues with a home matchup against Monmouth on Oct. 13 to mark the halfway point of the 2012 campaign, which finishes with five consecutive Ivy contests — two on the road (Brown and Columbia) and three in Ithaca (Princeton, Dartmouth and Penn). The Quakers come to East Hill in the last game of the season on Nov. 17, a game that could realistically offer an Ivy crown on the line.
In order to attain Ancient Eight Supremacy for the first time since 1990 (when the Red tied with Dartmouth for the title), Cornell will rely on its star-studded upperclassmen, but the program knows the class of 2016 must contribute as well. Mathews believes that will happen, citing what he has seen from some of his soon-to-be offensive weapons as well as the defensive rookies.
“We have a lot of [freshmen] who are going to contribute this year on both sides of the ball. Matt Doneth [TE; Fenton, Mich.] is a great player. Luke Hagy [RB; Pittsburgh, Pa.] and Conner Armstrong [RB; Ventura, Calif.] are really good backs who will produce. On the defensive side we have really good cornerbacks — four in this class … Those players stood out in camp, but everyone is going to make contributions and help our team.”
A class-high nine players are from California, as is Mathews who is a Camarillo native. The star quarterback likes having West Coasters on the team, but in the end it’s all about winning for Mathews and the coaching staff.
“California has a lot of talent,” Mathews said. “We have been pushing to get players from California — there aren’t a lot of schools there in the FCS level, so a lot of players have been going to junior colleges and transferring … [But] I think Coach Austin will tell you that we’re just trying to get the most talented players.”