Harvard-Yale: The Game gets a little bigger

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Obum Obukwelu has seen some big games at Harvard, not only during his four years playing for the Crimson but when his older brothers Iffi and Nnamdi played for the team in the years that preceded his arrival.

But even he hasn’t seen The Game like this.

“For sure, it’s the biggest game I’ve seen against Yale,” he said after practice Wednesday evening at Harvard Stadium. “My brothers went here, the games they played against Yale weren’t of this magnitude. They’re 8-1, we’re 9-0, playing for a title. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.

“And with all the ESPN ‘College GameDay’ stuff, it just hypes it up even more.”

Yes, the “College GameDay” crew of Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit will be on site on Friday and Saturday, only the second time in the show’s 28-year history that it has graced a Harvard game with its presence.

Obukwelu, a 6-foot-2, 275-pound defensive tackle from Brockton, Massachusetts, and a BC High grad, is excited that “GameDay” is coming to town.

“I love it. I mean, I think it’s about time,” he said. “Ivy League football is not a joke. We’ve got a bunch of top teams in this league and we show we can compete at a high level.”

And while the spotlight “GameDay” coming to the Dillon Quad, just outside Harvard Stadium, trains on The Game is nice, the Crimson have on their minds set firmly on the field Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network).

“It’s just more hype,” senior captain Norman Hayes said. “It’s an awesome experience for us, but we’ve kinda agreed that all of this is for everybody else. We’re here for one reason, and that’s to make sure we finish the season right by beating Yale.”

At 9-0 (6-0 Ivy), Harvard is seeking the 17th perfect season in school history. The Crimson are ranked No. 14 in the FCS coaches poll and No. 15 in The Sports Network poll.

With a win, the Crimson clinch the title outright. A loss gives a share to the Bulldogs.

“I’ll be honest with you, the plan was to clinch this thing, clinch this championship down against Penn [last week] because that way you can come into the Yale game and play fast, play loose and feel like you’re playing with house money,” longtime Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “But by the same token, at the end of the day this is always about pride. There’s still a lot left on the table: the chance at an outright championship, the chance at potentially maybe the only perfect Division I season in the country, the way things are going.

“But the most important thing is just pride. This game is one of those games where you don’t necessarily have to motivate your team -- not that you don’t, you do. But the kids understand. It’s a game they’ll remember for the rest of their life.”

Because of the way things match up, it’s also likely to be a special game on the field.

Led by all-time Crimson sack leader Zack Hodges, Harvard comes into the game with the best defense in the FCS, averaging 11.0 points per game allowed. And wouldn’t you know it, Yale comes into the game with the FCS’ No. 4 offense, averaging 43.0 points per game.

“Their offense is as strong as it’s ever been this year,” Hayes, a defensive back, said. “They have a really good quarterback, they’ve got a very explosive running back who can do any and everything. Deon Randall, the captain, is a phenomenal athlete at the slot receiver position. He makes all types of things happen. So we’re on our toes every single play on defense.”

Murphy, who’s in his 21st year as Harvard coach, underwent triple-bypass surgery in February. Since returning to the job, which he’s said he never considered leaving, the Kingston, Massachusetts, native has delegated more.

But the coach says he still only knows how to work “100 miles an hour, with my hair on fire.”

“I don’t know about more rewarding, but I’m grateful,” he said when asked if his health scare makes this season mean more to him. “Like anything else in life, when you go through a difficult time or a health issue it just puts things in clearer perspective. As I’ve said, your family, your friends and your health clearly become the most important things in life.

“But I also realized how much I love coaching, how much I particularly love coaching these kids at this school.”

Murphy said the Crimson know Yale will be “by far the best team we’ve played this year.”

“They know this will be a huge challenge,” he said, “and therefore it takes a big game and makes it an even better game.”

It’s the 27th time The Game has been played for a share of the title, with Harvard 14-11-1 in the previous 26. Yale owns the overall series edge 65-57-8, but Harvard is 12-1 in the past 13 meetings and has won seven straight.

You can guess what the Crimson’s 21 seniors want more than anything else from the 131st meeting of Harvard and Yale.

“It’s all type of excitement,” Hayes said. “It’s a very emotional week for the seniors, but we’re all still eyes on the prize. We have one last piece of business to take care of, to make sure we end the season right against Yale.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.