New York is typically the epicenter of the American sports world, but never for college football. That won’t change in 2015, though the addition of a former SEC quarterback to the Columbia Lions roster adds intriguing to an already fascinating 2015 campaign for the Ivy League program.
Hiring a rival’s former head coach? Picking up a recognizable quarterback? Trying to rebuild from historic struggles? All told, the 2015 Columbia football season is a journalist’s dream.
Jim McElwain said on a Wednesday conference call that Skyler Mornhinweg is transferring to Columbia, NBCSports.com’s Kevin McGuire reports. The Columbia-dedicated blog Roar Lions writes, “[n]ews of this had been buzzing under the radar for about a month after Mornhinweg was spotted attending a Columbia spring practice.”
With the change in coaching staff at Florida and the Gators’ dismal offensive outlook the last few seasons — not to mention a highly publicized fight with defensive lineman Gerald Willis — Mornhinweg needed a fresh start away from Florida. And it doesn’t get much further away than this.
Columbia hasn’t won a game since Nov. 10, 2012 and played before an average home crowd of 5,576 in 2014.
Though the differences could initially be shocking for a former SEC quarterback, accustomed to playing in front of nearly 100,000 rabid fans who treat each Saturday like life-or-death, a transfer into the Ivy League isn’t necessarily one made for football reasons. Columbia is one of the nation’s premier universities, and the former SEC First-Team Academic honoree is laying a foundation separate of the NFL.
Nevertheless, his arrival at Columbia comes at a most interesting time for the Lions football team. Mornhinweg’s experience as an SEC quarterback, facing defenses loaded with NFL-ready talent, could make him an instant impact player in the Ivy League. The last former Power Five quarterback to make the transition to the Ivy League was Nebraska transfer Patrick Witt, who landed at Yale in 2009 and had a solid, three-year career with the Bulldogs.
Mornhinweg is also the second high-profile addition to the program this offseason, with the athletic department hiring Al Bagnoli as its head coach.
Bagnoli spent the previous 22 years at Columbia Ivy League counterpart Penn, where he was one of the Ancient Eight’s most successful coaches of the modern era. The Quakers won nine Ivy League championships in his tenure, the most recent coming in the same 2012 campaign Columbia won its last game.
Bagnoli’s presence in Philadelphia surely helped woo the SEC quarterback Mornhinweg, a Philly-area product himself.
Mornhinweg could be the necessary cornerstone Bagnoli needs for one of the bigger rebuilding projects in all of college football. Part of what makes Columbia a fascinating story in the 2015 season isn’t just that the Lions are seeking their first win in nearly three years, but rather how the program started struggling so mightily in the first place.
Bagnoli’s predecessor, longtime NFL assistant Pete Mangurian, made national headlines before the 2013 season when he pushed for a lighter offensive line, citing safety concerns. A unit that averaged just 262 pounds, per the New York Post, was manhandled en route to the first of two straight 0-for campaigns.
How Columbia, with its new head coach and former SEC quarterback, adjusts from the disastrously failed experiments is a development worth keeping tabs on all season.