Preseason expectations had Harvard marching into the Yale Bowl on the final day of the Ivy League season and winning a third straight championship.
While that could still happen, last week's slip-up will likely leave the 19th-ranked Crimson sharing the crown with as many as two others for the first time in 33 years.
With Harvard facing Yale in the league's most storied rivalry, No. 21 Dartmouth and upstart Penn have a chance to stake their own claim to the championship with favorable matchups Saturday.
Article continues below ...
The Crimson (8-1, 5-1) were the clear favorites to win the Ivy League, getting 11 votes in the preseason poll to the Big Green's four. Harvard was living up to the hype in its quest for a second straight outright championship after beating Columbia 24-16 on Nov. 7, running its winning streak to an FCS-best 22 games with a 22.8 average margin of victory.
Instead, Harvard likely has to settle for a piece of the pie after blowing a second-half lead and losing 35-25 at home to the Quakers (6-3, 5-1), a team picked to finish sixth in the preseason.
That result combined with Dartmouth's 34-18 win at Brown set the table for the first three-way tie for the Ivy League title since 1982, when these same teams shared it.
While the Crimson have won eight straight matchups with the Bulldogs (6-3, 3-3), the prestige and pressure surrounding “The Game” makes it the toughest of all the matchups on the final day.
While Harvard and Yale meet on national television, the Big Green (8-1, 5-1) host Princeton (5-4, 2-4) and Penn welcomes Cornell (1-8, 1-5) to Philadelphia.
“It's always a big game because it's Yale,” said senior quarterback Scott Hosch, who is 14-1 as a starter. “There's a lot of tradition behind ''The Game.'' It's a little more special because we can reach our team goal of winning the Ivy League championship.”
Hosch's optimism could stem from Harvard winning seven straight visits to New Haven. However, losing there for the first time since 1999 could signal one of the worst collapses in league history.
Protecting Hosch will be vital to avoiding such a fate after he was sacked a career-high five times by the Quakers, partly due to Harvard's banged-up offensive line.
Hosch has found a reliable target in senior Ben Braunecker, whose 564 receiving yards on 33 receptions over the last five games are the most in the league. He hauled in eight passes for 134 yards last week.
Hosch and Braunecker will be facing Yale for the first time. However, the QB knows what to expect after acting as the backup last year when Harvard won 31-24 on Andrew Fischer's 35-yard TD grab with 55 seconds left.
“It's a different feel. It's a different atmosphere. It's a lot more electric. It's very special,” Hosch said. “It's definitely going to be a close game.”
He has every reason to believe that after the Bulldogs beat Brown 41-14 on Nov. 7 before winning 35-28 at Princeton last week. They racked up 910 yards of offense over that stretch after averaging 323.5 over the first four league games.
Spoiling Harvard's season isn't a source of motivation for quarterback Morgan Roberts.
“We really play for ourselves more than anything else,” the senior said. “The thing that really motivates us is just winning as a team and having that feeling with each other more than spoiling Harvard and ruining their dreams. I know the student body feels 100 percent different than we do. It really doesn't come across our mind at all.”
If Yale doesn't spoil the Crimson party, Dartmouth and Penn look certain to crash it.
The Big Green have won five straight over the Tigers, including a 41-10 romp last year behind Dalyn Williams, who hit 30 of 35 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns. The senior, who is expected to be selected in next year's NFL draft, has tossed eight scoring passes with two interceptions while running for three more TDs in three meetings with Princeton.
Williams, though, had a career-high three picks last week while struggling with high winds.
Coach Buddy Teevens is more concerned about his players juggling game preparation with exams instead of Dartmouth winning the Ivy League for the first time since 1996.
“We minimize practice and we try to practice a little bit early,” he said. “The big stress point I make with them is try not to stay up all night. Sometimes guys are grinding and pushing for a paper to be completed. That would adversely impact the intellectual and the academic performance as well as the physical performance.”
The Quakers, seeking a fourth title in seven years, have split the last four meetings with the Big Red, losing the last two at Franklin Field. However, quarterback Alek Torgersen picked apart Cornell in last year's 34-26 win at Ithaca. He racked up 331 yards and three touchdowns with one INT while connecting on 26 of 37 passes. Torgersen also raced for 86 yards and a score on 16 carries.
The signal-caller has been outstanding during Penn's five-game winning streak that put it in title contention. He's completed 69.8 percent of his passes for 1,265 yards with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions, while running for 232 yards and three TDs – two last week at Harvard.
“We didn't win anything last week other than a big game,” first-year coach Ray Priore said. “I am very very confident that as our team has grown and matured day by day, they can work to the next level and keep working hard. It always comes back to us.”