One feeling that's been held here for a long time is that Canadian university football's individual awards are long overdue for an overhaul.
Fans talk about who should be up for rookie of the year, or the Presidents' Trophy for the top defender or for all-Canadian honours well before the playoffs. The schools and the conferences really should start trying to build a buzz, feed the speculation beast. Obviously, it takes a major organizing effort, but waiting until after the league playoffs are done can reduce it to an afterthought. The CIS should try to play up the awards. They don't have to go wild with it (just last week, I got a press release telling me that Ottawa basketball player Courtnay Pilypaitis, the point guard at Vermont in the America East, had been named a "pre-season mid-major all-America, second team"), but certainly can start much earlier.
The fans aren't waiting to discuss who should be coach, rookie or defensive player of the year, so why not give the consumers what they want?
In the U.S., the process sometimes starts before the season (you'll see a player listed a "pre-season Butkus Award nominee"), so doing it after every team has played seven games is not jumping the gun. In some cases it seemed best to list teammates together -- it's only fair when you haven't followed a team closely enough to know who the lynchpin is in their defence.
In that spirit, here is a very sketchy Baker's Dozen shortlist for the Presidents' Trophy. A lack of comprehensive stats makes it tough, so please, don't be shy with your own nominations:
Henoc Muamba, linebacker, St. Francis Xavier: Muamba, born in the Congo and from the Toronto area, is X's leading tackler, has a team-high three INTs from the linebacker spot and generally touches every area of the field. Muamba, along with his brother Cuancy Muamba and Mount A's Callan Exeter, the country's most profilic tackler, are just a few among several GTA players who are thriving outside Southern Ontario.
Al Birthwright, halfback; Jeff Zelinski, cornerback, Saint Mary's: Birthwright's 2007 highlight package and Zelinski's from last season (credit SMU for uploading the AUS all-star nomination videos to YouTube) gives you a window into what they're each about. Saint Mary's seems unlikely to have the Hec nominee out of the AUS, so they probably will.
Hamid Mahmoudi, halfback and kick returner, Montreal: Mahmoudi has six interceptions, the most in the country, and has also contributed as a return man. The Carabins allow 370 yards per game, but considering their strength of schedule, they have a very good defence. The Presidents' tends to be a linebacker-dominated award, so the 170-lb. d-back might face longer odds.
Marc-Antoine Beaudoin-Cloutier, d-end; Étienne Légaré, d-tackle; Samuel Lajoie, halfback, Laval: The Rouge et Or lost three of its top four tacklers from last season (Eric Maranda, Jean Petit-Frère and Sébastien Sejean). The other one, Mathieu Parent, has been limited to two games this season. They've actually allowed 30 yards less per game. It's never any one guy, but one of their guys better be in this discussion.
Mike Cornell, outside linebacker, Ottawa: Fifth-year senior Joe Barnes is the heart and soul of the Gee-Gees 'backers but Cornell provides the legs. The Gee-Gees' 4-4 season might hurt their chances at individual honours, even though their defensive stats still look respectable (those games vs. Waterloo and York helped).
Osie Ukwuoma, rush end, Queen's: Ukwuoma has helped the Golden Gaels allow the fewest yards per carry in the OUA and, with 9½ sacks, is three ahead of anyone who still has a regular-season game to play. His linemate, tackle Dee Sterling is also tied for second in the country with 7½ sacks. Do-it-all d-back Jim Allin is another big part of Queen's D.
John Surla, linebacker, Western: Surla leads the OUA's stingiest defence (in terms of yards allowed) in tackles (46) and sacks (6½ ). He's central in a 'Stangs group, along with fifth-year DBs Matt Carapella and Corey McNair and Vaughn Martin in the front four.
Bryce McCall, safety; Ivan Brown, tackle, Saskatchewan: McCall should have some rookie-of-the-year consideration, just going by the stats. Saskatchewan is third in total defence, so we'll list their leaders in interceptions and sacks. Need some help here!
UBC rush end Scott McCuaig: Not many defensive linemen are listed as leading their team in tackles -- enough said.
(Calgary and Simon Fraser could also stand to have a player mentioned. Linebacker Chase Moore from the Dinos? DB Anthony Deslauriers from SFU? Please advise.)
As a footnote, there should be more position awards in football to help jazz up the all-Canadian awards. It would also help keep alive the memory of the game's greats. I've been on about this before, but how about having the Chris Flynn Award for the best quarterback. Imagine how it would sound to have people talking about a running back being up for "the Éric Lapointe," a linebacker being up for the "Mike Emery," or having "the Fantuz" or "the Sapunjis" for the best pass receiver.
It's worth starting the discussion.