Columbia football players practicing before the season

A pride of lions prowling their natural habitat

The first Columbia football game of the season is this Saturday. Should you go? Should you care? What is college football even like at Columbia? Sports Editor Ross Chapman is here to enlighten you.

For the last 50 years, Lions football has tried to turn a corner and become a consistently great, or at least a consistently pretty okay, team. Columbia will try to build on the progress of last season as they open their 2016 campaign against St. Francis (Pa.) this Saturday at 1 pm up at Baker Athletics Complex.

Putting aside the sport of football for a moment, Columbia is doing everything it can to entice you to come. They released an article full of amenities available at the game… many of which were already there last year. New this time is a pregame picnic area with free hot dogs for everyone! This is (presumably) in addition to the two free beers legally-aged Columbia students can get before the game. It used to be four, so maybe the hot dogs are compensation? Moving from free food to cheap-ish food, students can once again spend Flex and Dining Dollars on concessions. All menu items will cost $3, and lunch catered by Dinosaur BBQ will cost $9.

If you don’t know much about Lions football, consider reading our primer for first-time fans in 2016, “So You Want To Root For Columbia Football.” Columbia profiles a little stronger than last year, mostly on the back of Al Bagnoli’s second year and a very promising recruiting class (#3 in the FCS, comprised of football programs outside of major conferences). Their defensive line lost a ton of its potency from last year, but the Lions hope to make up for that with stalwart pass protection and strong synergy between QB Skyler Mornhinweg and an occasionally explosive wide receiver corps. After snapping a 23-game losing streak last season against Wagner, Columbia hopes to keep moving up. However, they still ranked only 7th in Ivy preseason polls.

They’ll face St. Francis (Pa.), known for a strong passing attack and their proficient use of God’s wrath. St. Francis is already two games into the season, having lost them both by close margins. This difference in experience could be a problem for the Lions. In 2015, the Lions announced that they would no longer start the season against the Fordham Rams, because it was Week 3 for Fordham and only Week 1 for Columbia. The Lions hope that St. Francis is a less formidable team than the Rams, or else the season opener could sink the Lions’ momentum back into the depressing pits of 2014. Last year, St. Francis was a 7-4 team in the Northeastern Conference.

The game starts at 1 pm at the Baker Athletics Complex at 218th and Broadway. Columbia will run fan shuttles up to Baker starting 90 minutes before the game. The trip takes 20-25 minutes, and you should pick up the buses at 117th and Amsterdam. Otherwise, take the 1 train both ways, since there’s no planned construction on it. Tickets are free for Columbia students and 10 dollars for anyone without an ID. Since Saturday is Northern Manhattan Neighbors Appreciation Day, anyone with proof of residence from Northern Manhattan can also get into the game free. Aside from Cornell, this could easily be Columbia’s weakest home opponent. Expect Saturday to have the festive atmosphere of Homecoming, but with a better game and fewer people.

Roaming lions via Columbia University Athletics/Mike McLaughlin