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Season Preview: Penn seeks 4th title in 5 years
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While many college football teams are already well into their seasons, the Penn Quakers are finally ready to begin theirs.

What can we expect from the reigning Ivy League champions when they open their 2013 campaign with a home game against Lafayette at Franklin Field on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN3)? Can the Quakers make Ivy League history by bringing home their fourth outright title in the last five years?

To help get you ready for the season, here’s a breakdown of the 2013 Penn football team:

Entering his 22nd season at the helm, Al Bagnoli has established himself as one of the premier coaches in the country. Not only is he the winningest coach in the FCS and the winningest coach in Penn’s 136-year football history, he’s also the only coach to capture nine outright Ivy League titles.

And he’s expected to bring home No. 10 this year -- although being picked to win the league is not something he especially likes.

“That’s usually the kiss of death,” Bagnoli said. “I’m not sure we relish that position. But we understand why we’re chosen. We have a lot of experienced kids and traditionally the defending champions are selected No. 1 until someone dethrones them.”

Having a fifth-year quarterback is a rare commodity in the Ivy League, where redshirts aren’t granted unless they’re for medical reasons. And yet, the Quakers somehow have a few of them, including one of the most accomplished Penn players ever in Billy Ragone.

Because Ragone is coming off a severe ankle injury, fellow fifth-year QB Ryan Becker is poised to share snaps with him, at least early in the season. But there shouldn’t be much of a dropoff as Becker has a terrific arm and can probably throw the ball downfield better than Ragone.

“It’s going to be a balancing act, but a lot of it is going to be on Billy,” Bagnoli said.

Rounding out the slew of fifth-year offensive standouts is running back Brandon Colavita, who figures to get most of the carries behind an equally experienced offensive line.

It might not sound like a huge problem, but for a team that relies a lot on winning the field-position battle, losing punter Scott Lopano is a significant blow. A four-year starter, Lopano set most of the program’s punting records and consistently pinned opposing teams deep in their own territory.

Now, the Quakers could rely on former Penn soccer goalkeeper Max Kurtzman to handle the punts, although it’s been an open competition throughout training camp.

When asked what it means that the team’s biggest question mark comes on special teams, Bagnoli noted that punters are pretty important before acknowledging that he’s fortunate how seasoned his team is in other areas of the field.

“Really on paper, we’re more experienced than we were last year,” the Penn coach said. “That’s a good starting point. The degree to which we handle all the distractions and other stuff that comes with being the defending champion is going to determine our fate.”

Replacing Copeland
Few Penn players have had as much of an impact as Brandon Copeland, who last year anchored the Quakers’ defensive line and was the team’s second sole captain since 1977. Now, the Quakers are planning to replace the three-time All-Ivy selection by committee -- both on defense and in the captaincy role.

Along with Ragone and offensive lineman Chris Bush, defensive back Dan Wilk will captain the 2013 Quakers. And he believes the defense -- led by himself, defensive back Sebastian Jaskowski and linebacker Dan Davis -- is primed for a big year.

“It’s always tough replacing Brandon Copeland,” Wilk said. “He was one of the best leaders I’ve ever played with. He was incredible. So I think myself, Sebastian, Dan Davis and others collectively will make up for it.”

After finishing seventh in the Ivy League with 52 receptions last season, Conner Scott won’t sneak up on anyone this year. But if he can learn how to deal with extra attention from opposing defenses, the talented junior wide receiver has the tools to have an even better season -- and possibly even emerge as one of the best pass-catchers in the FCS.

“I felt good about last year but I know I can improve on some things,” Scott said. “There were some things I got soft or shut out of. I guess the goal is to not let that happen again.”

Games to watch
Bagnoli said that four or five teams have the potential to win the Ivy League, but if recent history is any indication, it will come down to Penn and Harvard. So circle your calendars for Nov. 16 when the Quakers take on the Crimson at historic Harvard Stadium (noon, NBC Sports) in the second-to-last game of the season.

Penn also has a daunting non-conference schedule, highlighted by a game against Villanova at Villanova Stadium on Sept. 28. The Quakers haven’t beaten the Wildcats since 1911.

“It’s not all about the Ivy League schedule,” Scott said. “We want to go undefeated. We want to beat ’Nova.”

While the Quakers surprised a lot of people by winning their final four games -- all in dramatic fashion -- to capture the 2012 Ivy title, there will be no surprises this year if they have similar success.

And the fifth-year seniors especially are excited for the unique opportunity to win their fourth league championship.

“I’m excited to get going for my last season,” Ragone said. “Hopefully we do something special.”