The Cornell football team is looking to continue to improve from last season, when it went 5-5 and set numerous school records in the process. In head coach Kent Austin’s second year, he oversaw the Red to its first season at or above .500 since 2007 and won three Ivy League divisional games, which tripled the total the squad had won in 2010. At the end of the season, the Red had also set team records in passing yards, completion percentage, pass efficiency, yards per pass, passing yards per game, total offense per play, all purpose yards per game, points scored, kick return yards and kick return touchdowns.
These improvements haven’t gone unnoticed and the media has picked the Red to place third in the Ivy League behind the defending champion Harvard Crimson and the University of Pennsylvania Quakers.
One of the reasons for the turnaround is the stellar play of junior quarterback Jeff Matthews and senior wide receiver Shane Savage, who were both picked to be on watch for All-American and All-Ivy teams. Matthews threw for 3,412 yards last season, both an Ivy League and school record and set other school records for 25 touchdown passes, 3,274 yards of total offense, completion percentage with 67.9% and passing efficiency with a 162.60. For his performance he earned First Team All-Ivy and won the Bushnell Cup for the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year — the first sophomore ever to do so. This year he was picked as a preseason second team All-American and a first team All-Ivy selection.
Savage accumulated some outstanding numbers as well, leading the Ivy League in 65 receptions, 1080 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. He also played very well against the division, averaging 123 yards and almost 1.3 touchdowns per game against the Ivy League. This led him to garner third team All-American and first-team All-Ivy honors last year.
They are not the only players on the team getting preseason attention though. Senior wide receiver Kurt Ondash, senior offensive tackle JC Tretter and junior linebacker Brett Buehler also received preseason first-team All-Ivy nominations, while senior Luke Tasker, senior offensive lineman Bob Bullington, junior defensive end Tre’ Minor, junior safety Josh Barut and sophomore safety Andrew Nelson got second-team All-Ivy honors. Tasker received a second-team All-Ivy pick for punt returner as well.
With all of these pieces coming together, as well as a large class of solid recruits, it is an exciting year for the Red and morale amongst the team is very high, according to Savage.
“Out of my four years of playing, coming into this season it feels like we are the most prepared out of any I have seen and the team is very excited for this year,” Savage said.
When asked what the team needed to improve on the most from last season, Savage cited consistency as their biggest task.
“We have been focusing on the finer details of our game to make sure that we are in the best position to win games. Instead of going for home runs, we need to stick to the fundamentals and make sure that we do the right thing on every single play,” Savage said. “As coaches will always say it comes back to the basics and when you focus on the small things the bigger things will fall into place.”
Even though this season’s team is receiving more hype than it is used to, the Red is taking each game one at a time and, according to Savage, couldn’t name a vital game to win during the season.
“We are always excited to play Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, who traditionally have good teams, but we have to go into all of our games prepared,” Savage said. “In the Ivy League if you lose one game it could be the end of your chances at a championship title. So while the Harvard game is one of the games I always look forward to, right now I am focused on our opener at Fordham.”