Even before a ball has been kicked, the JCR Premier Division looks strangely different in 2009/2010 than in seasons past. Gone are Worcester, perennial challengers and recurrent champions; shockingly relegated to Division 1 along with St Anne’s and Oriel. They are replaced by LMH, Brasenose and Merton/Mansfield, all who might be capable of rising to the top of this league. LMH pose a particular threat to the established hierarchy, having breezed to promotion and scalped a handful of big teams in Cuppers.
As ever in college football, predictions at this stage will likely be decimated by 3rd week, but the pre-season favourite must be Teddy Hall- a team that swept aside its Premier Division rivals on the way to a dominant title, only to fall in the Cuppers final to a surprisingly brilliant Division II St John’s side; a result which greatly attests to the strength and quality of teams throughout all of the leagues.
The remaining bulk of Premier Division sides all have the potential to either flourish or flounder: new captains must scour the incoming fresher’s pool to find that coveted starter or two, building a new team that can stay competitive after the exodus that is Graduation.
Christ Church might be a stealthy title challenger if only they can solve the terminal inconsistency that left them fighting for survival until the final day of last season- they find themselves in the rare position of losing only 2 players from their 1st XI, and have shown flashes of excellence at times.
St Catz are a resilient, efficient side, very difficult to break down defensively, and should push onwards from an outstanding season in the upper echelons of the league. New College are again an unknown quantity: arguably the most talented group in 2008/9, they failed to build upon an impressive start and fizzled out with a string of heavy losses- expect a strong recovery year.
Magdalen enjoyed an exact reversal of that fortune in their first top flight campaign, beginning the 16-game season with 5 losses and a draw before suddenly finding form and rocketing up the table in Hilary. Wadham’s escape from the dreaded drop was remarkable, riding the crest of a strong team spirit to clamber out of the relegation zone and finish above a couple of college football powerhouses. If they can find some more quality, this team could give itself a much more comfortable season.
Further down the leagues, the aforementioned St. John’s side will be hoping to continue their form from last years, where they went unbeaten, adding the Division II title to their shock Cuppers win. After maintaining most of the team which did this for them, they expect to make their mark in Division I, but it will be hard to live up to their recent success, with teams like Worcester and St. Anne’s eager to burst their bubble.
College sport is always notoriously difficult to evaluate in the pre-season, but this group of teams, certainly in the Premier Division, should provide us with some intense rivalries and, hopefully, two terms of flowing football: when Wednesday afternoon comes, the drama of the beautiful game will return to Oxford’s pitches.