Anyone who has paid attention to the start of the football season has noticed one major trend: Princeton’s offense has been good. For the first few weeks, many of us chalked it up to Princeton playing in a scheme it knew well, going up against a slew of teams that were struggling to find defensive identities. However, now four weeks in, it doesn’t look like the offensive production is a fluke. After dropping 66 points on Lehigh this past weekend — more points than the basketball team scored in 12 of their games last season — it is becoming more and more clear that this offense is the real deal. Beyond that, through the first third of the season, the Princeton offense is not just great, it is also trending in a historic direction.
As it stands right now, the Tigers — ranked 21st in the latest NCAA FCS poll — have the top offense in the FCS in terms of points and yards per game. Furthermore, the Tigers are fifth in third-down conversion rate, tied for ninth in fourth-down conversion rate, fourth in total rushing offense, and tied for seventh in turnover margin. Perhaps the most striking thing to note is that the Tigers still lead (or are ranked highly) in all of these categories, yet have played only four games compared to the five or six that most other teams have played to date.
How does Princeton stack up compared to the rest of the Ivy League? On offense, the team leads the next closest Ivy League opponent, Dartmouth, by an astounding 15 points per game. Princeton is scoring two touchdowns more than even the next best offense in the Ivy League. Compared to the less efficient offenses in the league? The bottom two offenses in the league combined, Brown (16.8 PPG) and Cornell (26.3 PPG), would still have almost 10 points less per game than the Tigers (53 PPG). In total offense, Princeton’s 607 yards per game is almost double that of the Ivy’s worst offensive team (Brown sits at 306.7) and over 160 yards better than the second best offense in the Ivy League (Yale with 440.8). Breaking down individual categories, Princeton leads the next closest team in rushing by over 80 yards per game (327.8 vs. Dartmouth’s 245.8) and has the edge in passing yards per game over Yale by just a hair (273.3 vs. 273.0). Unsurprisingly, Princeton also has the most first downs per game out of the Ivy League teams, and the best third-down conversion rate. In almost all of the major offensive categories, the Tigers have a lead and more often than not, it is a commanding one.
While they are certainly not playing the same teams, for fun, let’s just take a moment to consider how Princeton’s offense stacks up against the FBS teams. For scoring, its 53 points per game would put it second in the nation, behind only the Alabama Crimson Tide (56 points per game). Its offense would lead the total yards category, surpassing the high-flying Texas Tech offense by almost 16 yards more per game. Even though the Tigers are in a different subdivision, the fact that their offense not only equals, but surpasses, those that we watch in awe on TV each weekend shows just how good this offense has been to date.
And if they keep it up, they will not just be good, but also record-setting. Head coach Bob Surace ’90 already has a few Ivy League records with regards to total offense, but if this team keeps up the pace, he’ll be blowing them out of the water. As it stands, the Tigers are on pace for 530 points by the end of the season, excluding any possible playoff games. If that trend continues (of course, that is a big “if”), the Tigers would beat their 2013 brethren for highest scoring offense in league history by almost 100 points. To put that in perspective, with the average NFL team scoring 24 points per game this season, an NFL team would need to play four extra games to match the scoring margin the Tigers would have. On offense, the Tigers would break the mark set by Yale’s 2014 team by almost 70 yards per game. Finally, in the rushing category, the Tigers would break the mark set way back in 1967 by Yale (299 rush yards per game) with almost 30 yards to spare. It is clear the Tigers are not just good; they are historic.
Right now, the Tigers are playing elite football with a record-setting offense and a defense that isn’t far behind. Is playing at this level sustainable for the Tigers? We’ll see as the year goes on, as many people didn’t think scoring 66 points was attainable until they saw it this weekend. If the team does continue at this pace, not only will the Ivy League be rewriting the record books come season’s end, but Princeton may just be celebrating a season with a bonfire and a new banner to hang.