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Columbia Seeks Improvement In Second Year Under Al Bagnoli

The Columbia Lions opens its 2016 football season on Saturday, Sept. 17 when it hosts St. Francis U (Pa.) at 1 p.m. at Lawrence Wien Stadium.

Early preseason Ivy League polls , has the Columbia Lions projected to finish 7th in the conference. Head Coach AL Bagnoli enters his second season at Columbia.

Challenges await the 2016 Columbia Lions

With six of their eight losses by eight points or less, the Lions were closer to respectability than last year’s 2-8 record suggested. However, the struggling program still needs to build recruiting classes under Bagnoli and actually start winning more games. He’s seeking new leaders after some of the team’s top players graduated. Second-year QB Mornhinweg, the Florida transfer who played through injuries, has to improve his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 6-to-11. He gets back No. 1 WR Hollis (51 receptions, 515 yards, 1 TD).

Coach Bagnoli’s biggest challenge will be how he parlays last year’s two win season into more wins in 2017, getting closer to a .500 record. Aside from a late-season tilt against Cornell, home games against Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale, and newly-competitive St. Francis (PA) out of the NEC should see the Lions as underdogs.

Coach Bagnoli has to rebuild last year’s outstanding defensive line, although five of the team’s top six tacklers, including co-leaders Brady and Conway (57 each), return to the linebackers unit and secondary.

Huge Shoes To Fill

There’s also the matter of overall team speed at wide-out and defensive back. Columbia has the nucleus of a good front seven on defense, a returning starting QB, and three good returning starters on the offensive line, including 300 lb senior OL Kendall Pace.

There was alot of key depatures from last season, but none bigger than First Team Ivy League player Cameron Molina. Named Columbia’s 2015 team MVP, Molina rushed for 805 yards on 204 carries (3.9 average) and four touchdowns and caught 30 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown. Among Ivy League performers, he ranked No. 2 in rushing yardage, No. 6 in all purpose yardage.

Looking to replace his productivity will be senior Alan Watson. Watson was Molina’s back up in 2015. Watson ran for 159 yards on 40 carries (4.0 average) and ranked fourth on the team in total offensive yards (159). Alan Watson will be asked to carry the offensive load along with quarterback Skler Mornhinweg.

Hollis and Dunn Look to Contribute As Go To Receivers

Scooter Hollis returns as the team number one receiver. Last season, Hollis led the Lions in receiving with 51 receptions for 515 yards and a touchdown. He ranked seventh in the Ivy League in receptions (51) and 10th in receiving yards per game (51.5). Over his four-year career, the Bowling Green, Ky. native has made 75 catches for 759 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions second option will be Cameron Dunn. Dunn led the Lions in touchdown receptions last season. Dunn ranked third in receiving as he made 21 receptions for 206 yards along with his 2 touchdowns.

Season Outcome

After two wins in 2015 and a full season under coach Bagnoli system, no other place for the Lions to go but up. The Lions may just get out of the Ivy League cellar this fall, but they still won’t be great. Keith Brady and Christian Conway are the stars on defense, and the unit as a whole is not too bad off. They managed to snap their 24 game losing streak last season, but they may have to settle for small steps this fall. Look for the Lions once again to be competitive. Realistically, I expect the Columbia Lions to finish the 2016 season at a respectable 5-5

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