Football: Handicapping the Hec; Groulx trying to break through glass ceiling

Mathieu Bertrand was just in the wrong place at the wrong time to be winning any Hec Crightons.

It's hard not to think of the current Laval QB, Benoît Groulx, he of the nearly 78% competition percentage, without thinking of his predecessor. Bertrand was among the best offensive talents of the past 10-15 years to not win the Hec. In 1999, he quarterbacked Laval to its first Vanier Cup, but he was in the same conference as Ottawa's dual-threat dynamo Phill Côté, so that was that. He was a runner-up to Queen's Tom Denison in both 2002 and '03.

Well, plus ça change: Groulx's main competition for the Hec could be another Queen's Golden Gael, Mike Giffin. The question that Groulx's numbers raise is whether it will finally be time that a Francophone from a French-language school is named the country's outstanding university football.

It's not overdue. Laval is like the Internet. It's come to dominate so much that everyone forgets it's only been around since about 1995. (A year later, Laval fielded its first university team and Montreal's own Éric Lapointe became the first Francophone to win the Hec, playing at Mount Allison.)

There are two ways of looking at Groulx's credentials, especially that 77.6% completion percentage.
  1. He's a product of the system. The QB at Laval is always going to complete a gaudy rate of his passes, given their talent and their short-passing offensive scheme. You might as well give the Hec Crighton to Laval's board of directors.
  2. The other, perhaps better argument is that Groulx might have mastered Laval's system better than anyone has before him. Someone else could have been this accurate, but wasn't. He is helping them win games without much of a sweat.
One can only imagine what it would symbolize to fans in Quebec if Groulx broke through the glass ceiling after making repeated cracks in it with all those short passes he completes. Anyway, here's a long list of 10 Hec candidates, some darkhorses, some not.

This has been said before, but the CIS should look at jazzing up the process, trying to get some interest in the award during the regular season. People will talk anyways, so why not give them some grist for the mill?

10. Kelly Hughes, Mount Allison QB
Key stats: 1,186 yards passing (7.3 per attempt), 8 TD passes, 6 INTs; team-high 310 rushing yards
Pro: Mount A probably doesn't win a game without him.
Con: Too low-profile; teammate Gary Ross was much more spectacular last fall and wasn't the Atlantic nominee

9. Scott McCuaig, UBC defensive end
Key stats: Team-high 34½ tackles, 6½ sacks (tied for first in Canada West), more than likely to get some Presidents' Trophy consideration
Pro: Wouldn't it be nice to see a defensive player win the Hec? Al Charuk has been alone in history for far too long
Con: He's a defensive player! He's got no business winning! Being on a team which is in tough to make the Canada West playoffs isn't going to help.

8. Michael Faulds, Western QB
Key stats:
1,901 yards, 9.0 per pass, 13 TDs against 7 INT
Pro: Faulds is a longlister, but his numbers are impressive.
Con: He really was not getting any buzz, even before Western lost to Queen's two weeks ago.

7. James Green, St. FX RB
Key stats: 721 yards (first, AUS), 6.2 per carry, 6 TD
When in doubt, recognize the leading rusher in the conference; Green might do a bit of stat-padding against McGill this weekend
Con: Numbers aren't that eye-popping, especially on a team which is 2-3

6. Josh Sacobie, Ottawa QB
Key stats:
1,847 yards on 9.9 per pass, 15 TD, 8 INT;
Pro: Fifth-year senior who's climbing to the top of the all-time OUA and CIS lists in yards and touchdowns; if the voters indulge their tendency to make the Hec a career award, that could help Sacobie, a four-year starter.
Con: His highly ranked team has lost two straight to fall to 3-3 on the season. That's a deal-breaker when it comes to quarterbacks.

5. Luke Derkson, Regina RB
Key stats:
624 rushing yards (1st, Canada West), 6.7 per carry
Pro: Who would imagined the Rams having the leading rusher in Canada West?
Con: See above. Derkson is at a bit of a disadvantage in terms of having being high-profile. He's only rushed for two touchdowns for the 2-3 Rams. He could be a default Canada West nominee, but not a lot more.

4. Jamall Lee, Bishop's RB
Key stats: 846 yards (CIS-best 169.2 per game), 8 TD; still has to face Laval, Concordia and Montreal to finish the regular season
Pro: Enjoys a high profile after being the QUFL nominee in 2007; has since become Quebec's all-time leading rusher and could end up leading the country for the second straight season
Con: Almost half his total (391 yards) came against McGill, the biggest bunch of arm tacklers since the 1982 Stanford band. His team's tough remaining schedule might hurt any chance of stat-padding, but like Walter Payton back in the day with some awful Chicago Bears teams, J-Lee will earn everything.

3. Laurence Nixon, Saskatchewan QB
Key stats:
938 yards in just three games, 11.0 per pass, 71.8% completion percentage, 6 TD against 3 INT
Pro: The starting quarterback of a top team should get some consideration if he's putting up numbers. The Huskies project some serious swagger when Nixon is under the centre. If he doesn't miss any more time and they finish 7-1 and win Canada West, he'll have to be looked at.
Con: Injuries will keep Nixon's stats down as far as the regular season goes, but Glavic's win last year set a precedent for downplaying the numbers and focusing on a QB who's dangerous.

2. Mike Giffin, Queen's RB
Key stats: 973 rushing yards on 7.7 per carry, 14 total TD; has gone over 200 yards three times this season
Pro: He's a fifth-year player on the No. 2 team in the land; what's not to like? A strong outing on Saturday vs. Ottawa, whom he ran very well against in both a one-point loss in 2007 and in the 2006 OUA semi-final, will help convince the OUA doubters that Giff is the real deal.
Con: There's the whole OUA thing again. Giffin has averaged 21 rushes for 109 yards over the three games where he didn't top 200 yards. That's still pretty good.

(Trivia note: Giffin and Scott Valberg could help Queen's become the second team to have a 1,000-yard rusher and receiver in the same season. McMaster in 2000, with Kojo Aidoo and Ryan Janzen are the only such combo to date, but did they also play for the same high school?)
1. Benoît Groulx, Laval QB
Key stats:
1,509 yards for a 5-0 team, 9.67 per pass, 77.6% completion percentage (on pace for CIS record), only two interceptions in 156 attempts
Pro: If he completes three out of four passes; his completion rate suffers. Considering that in men's basketball, Carleton has had the player of the year three times this decade, while Laval has not while being somewhat similarly dominant, it might be time to give their best candidate a long look.
Con: Only eight touchdown passes in 156 attempts; granted that's against some good defences, but you'd like to see more.
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  1. Great write-up sager!
    I do think that Gary Ross is still more deserving than Kelly Hughes from Mt. A but still, a good list and solid analysis. I hope it goes to Groulx, but I can see the winner of the Giffin/Sacobie battle in Ontario also taking it considering the way history has worked out thus far.

  2. Nixon's having an interesting year. (A good one, too, as a few readers predicted back in August.) Per attempt, he's about 91% above average, roughly meaning for every 100 yards the average quarterback gains, Nixon gains almost 200. Which is pretty good.

    Of course, if he's only out there half the time...hard to vote for him. QB-wise (I won't pretend to know enough about the other positions), I'd say Groulx, Nixon, Sacobie only if Nixon plays virtually every important snap from now on.

  3. Nice piece Neate! Just a small correction though: Nixon has tossed 6 TD's in his 3 games.