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Season Preview: 2018 Princeton Tigers Football

The University of Princeton Tigers football program, led by ninth-year head coach Bob Surace, look to have a bounce-back year and return to Ivy League glory following a disappointing season in 2017.

Even with one of the greatest seasons from any quarterback in program history, 2017 was a difficult season for Princeton football when their quest to repeat as Ivy League Champions fell short with just a 5-5 record.

2017 looked promising for the Tigers after accelerating out of the gates with impressive 50+ point offensive displays against rivals Brown and Harvard as well as Georgetown, giving them a 5-1 record heading into late October. From there, things took a turn for the worse after a late game-winning field goal from the Big Red of Cornell sunk the Tigers at home and began a stretch of three consecutive defeats of four points or less followed by one last loss at the hands of Dartmouth.

Despite their shortcomings in 2017, last season is a thing of the past: “We’re not worried about how we finished last season, or how we’ll finish this season,” said former Tigers center and now head football coach Bob Surace. “We worked extremely hard in camp, and we’re looking forward to our opening game against Butler.”

On offense, Princeton will return all of its starters but for one, and that one is perhaps the biggest name of them all. That name belonging to quarterback Chad Kanoff.

In Kanoff, the Tigers offense will be losing the program’s all-time leader in passing yards, completions, completion percentage, as well as the man standing second all-time in career touchdowns. For a program that began 149 years ago, those statistics are quite the feat–so much so that they earned the talented QB a contract with the Arizona Cardinals this offseason.

Not all will be lost at the quarterback position, however. Dual-threat John Lovett will be under center to begin the 2018 season. The senior from Wantagh, N.Y. is one of 25 players from across FCS football to be named to the Walter Payton Award preseason watch list, the award for the season’s most outstanding player. Lovett spent all of 2017 sidelined by offseason surgery but in 2016 he led the FCS and broke the Princeton single-season rushing touchdowns record with 20, accounting for 31 in total (20 rush, 10 pass, 1 receiving).

While Kanoff was more of a pro-style quarterback, Lovett is Princeton’s swiss army knife on offense, but the expectations remain the same despite their contrasting styles: “John may have varying strengths than Chad, but our offense remains the same. We’ll play fast and physical, and we’ll look to score points every time we take the field,” remarked his coach. “We’re looking for him to be himself, and to lead our offense. If he does that, the rest will take care of itself.”

Senior wide receivers Jesper Horsted and Stephen Carlson also return this season alongside quarterback John Lovett,  both of whom are coming off of historic breakout seasons in black and orange. Horsted smashed Princeton records last season with 92 receptions and 14 touchdowns, two stats that led the Ivy League as well. The 2015 Ivy League baseball winning centerfielder’s 1,226-yard 2017 season ranks 2nd all-time among Princeton wide receivers.

Lined up across from Horsted, Stephen Carlson made some noise of his own in the Princeton offense. Carlson snagged 72 balls for 935 yards and 11 TDS. The 6’3″ wideout recorded at least one touchdown grab in 8 out of 10 games last season, including a career-best three in last year’s season opener against San Diego.

Last season as juniors the duo linked up with Kanoff for a combined total of 25 receiving touchdowns. The 14 scores from Horsted and 11 from Carlson were good enough for 1st and 4th in the Ivy League, respectively.

Both receivers had far and away their best seasons with the pocket passer Kanoff, but coach Surace believes their abilities with translate well with Lovett at the helm: ” I believe both have gotten better in the offseason. They’ve looked good in the preseason, and I’m excited to see the full offense,” the head coach told me.

Coach Surace is excited to see how his corps of senior standouts lead the way this upcoming season: “We have four senior captains, but we have a deep senior class that is full of leaders. I expect them all to step up and help us throughout the season,” explained Surace. The mentality of his players will especially be tested in the early stages of the season as Princeton opens up two highly touted opponents.

The Tigers begin their season on the road in Indianapolis against a Butler Bulldogs team that already has two wins under its belt, including a 23-21 win on the road against top 25 Youngstown State.

The unique Ivy League schedule poses a difficult task when taking on tough FCS opposition in the early parts of the season as Princeton begins its season a full two weeks behind the rest of FCS. Surace’s Tigers have won three consecutive openers, however–a testament to how he prepares his teams.

“Every team is different, and while I won’t compare them to previous groups, I’ve been excited by their dedication to each other, and their competitiveness this preseason,” said Surace of his team’s readiness for week one. He was also sure to mention the eagerness of his first-year players to make an impact early on: “I like the way our young guys are competing and developing.”

The most intriguing game on the schedule and the one that coach Surace’s team is most looking forward to is the home opener on September 22 when Princeton takes on in-state foe Monmouth at Powers Field. It will be the first-ever meeting between the two teams and with Monmouth coming off of an impressive 2017 campaign, coach Surace sees it as an opportunity to make a statement: “Every game is important when you only play 10, but we are certainly excited to play a talented team like Monmouth in our home opener. They will be a great challenge for us before our Ivy season begins, and it will be fun to have an in-state matchup to start our home schedule,” Surace told me.

A quick stop at Columbia followed by a home fixture with Lehigh precede the beginning of the full Ivy League schedule.

Princeton kicks off the season ranked 2nd in the Ivy League preseason poll–behind only Yale. The Tiger’s high powered offense will need to be the key this season if Princeton expects to their raise their 12th Ivy League title in 2018.

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