Harvard all lined up for 2018

During Tuesday's conference call, Harvard coach Tim Murphy stressed the same point over and over as to how the Crimson could improve on their 5-5 record from 2017.

Ultimately, Murphy said, his team, picked to finish third in the Ivy League behind Yale and Princeton, will either stay level or get better based on how the Crimson play at the point of attack.

"We need to improve all the way around, but we all know it's a line of scrimmage game, so it all starts up front," Murphy said. "We've got to be a better line of scrimmage team. We've got to be a bigger, stronger, tougher, more physically, mentally tough football team. We think we have the senior leadership to do that."

Murphy used an example from the FBS to illustrate his point.

"It's what's up front that counts. It's a line of scrimmage game," Murphy said. "The University of Alabama is one prime example. Probably the foremost reason — certainly not the only reason — they're really good and near the top of the country every year is they're extraordinarily big, strong, physical on both sides of the ball, as well as deep.

"So for us, having that four seniors on that offensive line, having five kids that have started games, it's going to be immensely helpful to everybody. We're going to be a better football team if we stay healthy with that offensive line group."

Those seniors include tackle Tim O'Brien, guards Larry Allen III and Matt Jones, and center Ben Shoults. Junior guard Liam Shanahan started last season, as Allen returns from not playing in 2017.

Allen's return gives the whole team a boost.

"Larry Allen isn't that much of a vocal guy, but he's such a great player and such a great person that everyone just respects him so much," Allen said. "And then in a very quiet way, he goes about playing at an extraordinarily high level to the point where he's a legitimate All-American candidate, and he's a legitimate NFL candidate."

But it's Shoults who Murphy said leads the way up front.

"Well, I think the starting point is they look to Ben Shoults," Murphy said. "Ben Shoults is a 6-3, 285-pound senior, starting center. The center is the quarterback of the offensive line. He's a great guy for that position not only because he's a good football player and a good athlete, but he's very humble, very authentic in having a very vocal leadership style. He's got a great sense of humor. He's just one of those guys to be the perfect communicator up front, to be the quarterback up front, but he's also a terrific motivator. He holds himself to a high standard and does for the rest of the offensive line. . . . He's a bit like having an assistant coach on the field."

And when it comes to the defensive line, Murphy feels just as confident, and for similar reasons.

"A lot like the offensive line, we feel like we've got a really good senior defensive line group," Murphy said. "You start with the inside guys, Stone Hart, who we think can be one of the top guys in the league. (A) 6-2, 290-pound inside guy who was once the state heavyweight wrestling champ in the state of Washington. You have Richie Ryan, who's a little bit (small) for a defensive lineman (6-1, 270), but is as good as anyone in our league, and is a tremendous leader. You throw in guys like John Pirrmann at defensive end, Alex White at defensive end, and we just feel like it's a tremendous senior group, and we feel like we'll have some depth there, as well."

All this points to a better record in 2018.

"The good news is, we're one of the few programs in the country that hasn't had a losing season this century," Murphy said. "But when you set the bar as high as we do, obviously a .500 season isn't something we're really excited about."

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