Unfathomably sad news out of southern Alberta: Krista Heidinger, an assistant coach with the Lethbridge Pronghorns women's basketball team, died on Sunday, just four days after she and her spouse, Jared, had welcomed their third child into the world.

There are more details at cishoops.ca. Heidinger (née Robson) and Jared Heidinger, as former Pronghorns ballers, were no doubt a big part of the U of L's extended sports family. One would not presume to speak for everyone in the relatively small world of Canadian university athletics, here's hoping all concerned can summon the strength to make it through the healing.

Krista Heidinger is survived by her husband, Jared Heidinger and their three children, Jaxon (6), Grace (4) and newborn Sophie, born Aug. 26. There is more news on the U of L athletics website.

Sad note from Lethbridge (cishoops.ca)
It is self-promoting as all get out, but yours truly is liveblogging this afternoon's Blue Jays-Red Sox game for The Score.
Losing to SFU at football is becoming a bad habit for the UBC Thunderbirds.

In the first CIS football game of the year, 

SFU handily dropped their opening game of the 2009 season 26–7 to the Simon Fraser University Clan on Saturday in front of 1,100 fans at Thunderbird Stadium, marking the third consecutive game that UBC have lost to their cross-town rivals from Burnaby.

"We had our chances in the first half to execute some plays that were there, and we didn't; and the second half got away from us. But it's a long season," said head coach Ted Goveia after the game. "There were opportunities for us to hang in there and to take the lead, but we didn't do that."

The Thunderbirds, coming off a 2–6 season, were considered the underdogs heading into the game, as SFU started the season with the same core group that reached the Canada West Conference Finals last year. Nonetheless, UBC stifled SFU's offense for much of the first half, holding the ball for over 18 minutes the time of in the half, and took a 7–3 lead late in the second quarter after a 10-yard touchdown catch by second year receiver Jordan Grieve.

 It was the only time UBC would score in the game. As soon as the Thunderbirds took the lead, the Clan collectively picked up their game. In just 47 seconds, they completed a 59-yard drive that culminated with a 27-yard touchdown run by Gabriel Ephard to take a 10–7 lead at halftime.

 From there, the T-Birds were unable to pressure the Clan at all, unable to string together first downs. SFU continued to drive the ball regularly into UBC territory, getting field goals on three consecutive drives in the third and fourth quarter that put the game out of reach.

Dave Boyd, who led UBC in rushing with 100 yards on 11 caries, was frustrated at UBC's inability to convert on offense. “We had success moving the ball on the ground but it just wasn’t enough as we couldn’t get the points when we needed them,” he said. 

SFU head coach Dave Johnson, who was UBC's head coach in 1998, was happy with how his team started the season. "UBC played tough," he said. "The score, we leaned on them a little bit at the end. But I was so happy and impressed with our sideline. Some guys making big hits, everyone hustling, we encourage ourselves during times of adversity, and celebrate when good things happen. That's the culture of this place right now.”

Goveia looked to put the loss for the young UBC team in perspective. "It's early in the season," he said, adding, "I thought both teams played well, and sloppy at times, but that'll happen in the first game of the year. But we'll look at the tape [of the game] tomorrow and be better next time."

It might be worth posting the SFU Sports recap of Simon Fraser's season-opening 26-7 win over the UBC Thunderbirds. It's a good way to get an idea about the Clan's return ace, Jeff Thompson (six punt returns for 100 yards, plus a 34-yard kick return to set up SFU's first TD) and another American skill position guy, wideout Victor Marshall (51 yards on four receptions), who is from Mesa, Arizona.

Game Notes: UBC defensive back Tyler Codron, a Canada West all-star in 2008, injured his left knee early in the first quarter, and did not return. His status will be evaluated early next week... SFU had 312 total yards to UBC's 229, and had 18 first downs to UBC's 16...Quarterback Billy Greene finished the game with 14 pass completions in 23 attempts to 118 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions...UBC's next game is on September 4 at Alberta.

Yes, that was a frustrating loss for the Road Warriors: Three three-pointers in the final minutes helped Uruguay rally for a 71-69 win at the FIBA world championship qualifier in Puerto Rico.

Mark Wacyk's write-up called it a "significant blow." It was an uphill game all the way (one lingering moment is Canada giving up a putback bucket and an "and one" after an off-the-mark three-pointer barely hit the rim and dropped straight down). Jesse Young (20 points on 7-of-11, eight rebounds) had a heart-and-soul effort. Carl English added 12, along with a couple Carl-being-Carl moments which tend to leave the Canadian hoops Twitterati slapping their foreheads.

For those wondering, Mark has passed along word that Ryan Bell, the Carleton alum, has a quad injury and that is why he has not played.

Ryerson coach Roy Rana, a Canada assistant, also has a tournament blog up and running. Canada plays Puerto Rico on Sunday (9 p.m. ET, The Score).

Uruguay 71, Canada 69 (cishoops.ca)
Simon Fraser has a two-possession lead over UBC early in the fourth quarter of its final season opener in Canada West. Meantime, did you hear about the NCAA Division II team which had to cancel its season opener because it did not have any equipment?
"Two days before St. Paul's College was supposed to open the 2009 football season, the Tigers canceled Saturday's contest with West Virginia Wesleyan. The reason, West Virginia Wesleyan athletic director Ken Tyler said Friday, was a lack of equipment.

" ... Tyler said St. Paul's AD Leroy Bacote called him with the news Thursday, less than 24 hours before the Wesleyan team was scheduled to travel 341 miles to play the game in South Hill, Va.

"Division II St. Paul's had ordered helmets and pads -- but the shipment hadn't arrived yet.

"... Tyler said he asked Bacote how the team practiced without helmets and pads and was told the players did calisthenics in shorts and T-shirts."
To be fair to Simon Fraser, the players' shorts and T-shirts were first-rate. Sorry, could not resist.
It was a throw-in paragraph that easily could have been missed, but after three seasons on The Score, the Vanier Cup has returned to TSN (with Radio-Canada having the French-language broadcast):
"The national semi-finals and the 45th Vanier Cup final will be televised on both TSN and Radio-Canada."
Some cisfootball.org users have posited that this is a small, pitched battle as part of the cable wars. CTV GlobeMedia would love to establish its one-year-old TSN2 as a full-time channel instead a specialty service customers have to pay extra to receive (especially if Rogers is your cable provider, cough). Buying up the rights to niche leagues is a means to that end. The CRTC would like to see more from TSN2 than re-airs of the games which were on TSN earlier in the day. It probably also would like to see more than sticking Toronto Raptors and Blue Jays games on TSN2 just to make Rogers a convenient scapegoat when fans are shut out from watching their teams.

No doubt some you will remember that TSN's coverage in the past often left the impression it was only airing games out of noblesse oblige. What might have changed from just a few years ago is that the CFL, TSN's TV partner, now sees university football as a way for the public to get to know to some of the league's future players. That connection has not always been that strong.

The other question which hangs off this is whether TSN is interested in university football or university sports. The traditional media has largely been out to lunch on the reality that men's basketball (and in the Maritimes, men's hockey) has displaced football as the most compelling university sport to follow.

Basketball has more good teams and good players than it did a decade ago. The timing is also good. There have been two seminal games on the national stage, Acadia's 2008 double-overtime win over Carleton and the Ravens' buzzer-beating win over Western last March. Who knows, maybe-just-maybe someone said, "We have to get in on that."

As well, the coaching is more professional and there is more balance across all conferences than in football or hockey. It also does not suffer from the perception-is-reality that who is going to be in the national championship is a foregone conclusion (Carleton has won one more title in basketball than Laval's football team, but there is no perception there that the Ravens have an institutionalized advantage). One would hope more broadcast outlets in Canada follow The Score's lead and tap that root. In 2007, TSN aired only one semi-final from the men's Final 8; in '08, it did not even include the score from Capital Hoops Classic in Ottawa in its ticker during SportsCentre.

It's another point to figure out where this leaves the other two sports networks. The Score can still continue with an OUA package since the conference pays much of the freight. Sportsnet did an alright job with the University Cup men's hockey championship. The bottom line is all three networks are seeing some value in the CIS product. That is a positive.

Laval leads the way in CIS preseason football rankings (TSN)
Burning questions:

HOW close are they to challenging for second spot in the AUS in this, the final season for offensive dynamos Kelly Hughes and Gary Ross? (Remember that St. FX won by 40 in the playoff game.)

they going to improve their run defence? (Acadia and Mount A gave up almost as many yards by land as by air last season.)

SERIOUSLY, how much will AUS fans miss the Hughes-to-Ross combo next season?

HOW challenging will that three-week slog of a home-and-home vs. Saint Mary's and trip to Laval be?

2008 recap and record — (2-7, 2-6). Having Hughes and Ross makes for a never-dull style of football and the Mounties came within a field goal and a touchdown of their first .500 finish since the late 1990s, since they had a one-point loss to Sherbrooke and a three-pointer to Acadia (the Axemen's only W). Hughes passed for more than 1,700 yards and was the leading quarterback rusher in Canada (616 yards, 6.9 avg.). Ross and Adam Molnar finished 1-3 in the conference in receiving, while Callan Exeter was an all-Canadian at safety. Defensively, Mount A was in tough with a schedule that including five games vs. very rushing teams, Saint Mary's and St. FX in conference play and a cross-over game vs. Concordia (which rang up 66 points). They were one of five teams which allowed 200-plus rushing yards on average, not counting a 52-12 playoff loss to St. FX. They graduated a lot of D-linemen, too, but beefing up the front four seemed to be high-priority.

Setting up '09 — Exeter's presence or lack thereof (it was up in the air, bearing in mind Atlantic conference play does not begin for another two weeks) will have an impact, but the defensive secondary is probably one of Mount A's deeper position groups. Cover corner Bradley Daye's return from January knee surgery should help.

The D-line was "decimated" (Sackville Tribune-Post) by graduation, which means recruits such as U de Montreal transfer Etienne Dupont, who is 6-foot-3, 290 lbs., will get a quick baptism (Saint Mary's in the opener). Ben Halpern is the best of the linebackers.

Offensively, Matt Pickett is pencilled in as the starting tailback. The Hughes, Ross and Molnar show should produce some highlights through the air. Olivier Eddie and Ross have the kicking and return games covered.

Returning starters — 9 offence, 7 defence

Stepping out — RB Colin Weldon, OL Josh Hamilton, DTs Andrew Blencowe and Scott Sheffer, LBs Mike Glover and Sean Riley

Stepping up — QB Kelly Hughes, WR-KR Gary Ross, RB Matt Pickett, WR Adam Molnar, OLs Aaron and Chris Munn, LB Ben Halpern and Bradley Daye, DBs Jermaine Oram, Luke Ekoh and Jeremy Snider

Breakout — Frosh linebacker Shane McGilly is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, comes to the Mounties from a good program in southern Ontario (Saint Paul's in Niagara Falls) and has enough athleticism that he played some receiver in high school and with the OVFL's Niagara Spears. He is expected to contribute right off the hop.

Future reference
— Mount A's recruiting class seems to heavy on defence, with the likes of Ottawa lineman James Teevens (a former Ottawa Jr. Rider) and Maritimers such as linebacker Alex Hebb and d-back Tyler Nadolny. One Ontarian on the offensive side of the ball whom Jeffrey is high on is Ryan Brady, a wideout from Oakville.

Coach & coordinators — Second-year head coach Kelly Jeffrey is offensive coordinator, while Peter Estabrooks runs the defence.

Enrolment — 2,200

Stadium/atmosphere — David M. MacAulay Field (capacity 2,500), like the stadiums at other eastern schools such as Acadia, Bishop's and St. FX, harkens back to another era

Off-the-field factors — Two other developments which may play a role in the small, academically elite school's football fortunes are the arrival of a new athletic director, 35-year-old Pierre Arsenault (Sackville Tribune-Post, Aug. 6) and the formation of the Atlantic Football League, where several Maritime schools have entered club teams (with the players paying their own way).

Arsenault is too new to the job to speculate about long-term changes, but any time a new AD comes in, people are bound to wonder if some sports will be added, dropped, re-emphasized or de-emphasized. The formation of the AFL, which includes teams from UNB Frederiction, UNB Saint John and might include UPEI and Dalhousie entries, certainly is an interesting twist. It shows football is growing in the Maritimes (the number of high school teams in N.B. has almost tripled).

Football is a huge financial undertaking for a university. At least there is evidence there is enough interest to indulge a fantasy: Carving a conference out of the smaller eastern schools, with Saint Mary's joining a super-conference with OUA and QUFL heavies.

Alumni in CFL — None.

From last season's preview
— "Unlike their similarly struggling OUA counterparts in Toronto, they will be able to keep far more games respectable and entertaining." Both teams finished 2-6.

Stock up or stock down — Up.

Schedule (all times Atlantic):
Saturday, Sept. 12 at Acadia, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 19 vs. St. FX, 2 p.m. (Homecoming)
Saturday, Sept. 26 vs. McGill, 2 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 2 at Saint Mary's, 7 p.m. (Eastlink)
Saturday, Oct. 10 vs. Saint Mary's, 2 p.m. (Eastlink)
Saturday, Oct. 17 at Laval, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 vs. Acadia, 2 p.m. (Eastlink)
Friday, Oct. 30 at St. FX, 7 p.m.
(Cross-overs: host McGill, visit Laval)
Burning questions:

they return to the AUS playoffs?

HOW will having three new starting offensive linemen affect the rebuilding?

HOW many reps is second-year QB Kyle Graves, of Barrie, going to receive? He might end up being Acadia's punter, according to one report.

WHAT is the mathematical probability Acadia's defence has only three interceptions again? Sheer randomness portends an improvement, even with safety Elliott Richardson gone to the CFL.

2008 recap and record — (1-7). Four losses were by a total of 25 points, so it is arguable Acadia was better than its record. Injuries and a killer cross-over schedule (they played Laval and Sherbrooke and lost by a combined 79-3) added up to a lost season, as the defence allowed opponents to average more than six yards per rush and complete an even 60% of their passes. Quarterback Keith Lockwood, one of several Californians whom coach Jeff Cummins has recruited from his home state, was a bright spot, passing for 1,577 yards despite having only one receiver, Kevin Avery, who played in every game. A native Nova Scotian, 5-foot-7 Nick Lauder, emerged as the starting running back and gained 497 yards while averaging 5.0 per clip, no mean feat.

Setting up '09 — Veterans Lockwood and Devon Jones are the primary pass-and-catch combo for an offence which needs to average more than 19.5 points vs. conference opponents (last season's figure). Losing dangerous Matt Carter to the CFL probably makes it harder to put fear into opposing secondaries. Bishop's transfer Taylor Renaud will probably get every chance to nail down a starting spot.

On the ground, Lauder is likely pencilled in as the feature back. Former head coach Dan McNally has switched over to coaching the offensive line. His experience is needed as much as ever, since three-fifths of the line will be new.

Defensively, Acadia allowed 27 points on average vs. AUS teams. There is some experience in the secondary (such as Najja Coley) and some up and comers in the force unit, including linebackers such as Tom Labenski and Ed McNally.

Returning starters — 6 offence, 8 defence

Stepping out — WR Matt Carter, RBs Cale Inglis and Tom Flaxman, OT Adam Rogers, OL Curtis Taylor, C Steve Patrick, DT Jamie Johnson, DB-K James Michener, S Elliot Richardson

Stepping up — QB Keith Lockwood, QB-P Kyle Graves, WR Devon Jones, RB Nick Lauder, T Greg Kinsman, DT Rich Johnson, DE Jake Thomas, LB Tom Labenski, DB Mike Miller, DB-KR Najja Coley

Breakout performers — Along with Renaud, the Axemen have two other transfers, O-linemen Roy Medeiros (St. FX) and Erik Watson (Bishop's). Thomas could also go here. The second-year defensive end was a tournament all-star at the IFAF world junior championship, where Canada earned a silver medal behind you-know-who.

Future reference — Running back Zack Skibin, an Edmonton native, is perhaps Acadia's most ballyhood recruit on offence. Acadia is also trying to build a recruiting pipeline into New Brunswick, where high school and amateur football is growing rapidly. Their five recruits from the province include a promising free safety, Cameron Wade from Moncton.

Coach & coordinators — Head coach Jeff Cummins also serves as defensive coordinator; Josh Lambert returns as offensive coordinator.

Enrolment — 3,894

Stadium/atmosphere — Raymond Field (capacity 3,000), like two of the other three AUS stadiums, has undergone recent renovations, redoing the field and a track (take notes, Queen's administration). Wolfville is a picturesque small town (it's smaller than Napanee) and the

Off-the-field factors — Is it out of line to mention Acadia is kind of an expensive place to go to school, with annual tuition and fees for an out-of-province student nearing $7,500? Even with scholarship money, that has to be a factor for prospective players and their parents, especially from Ontario.

Alumni in CFL — Eskimos OL Adam Rogers, Eskimos S Elliott Richardson, Stampeders G Godfrey Ellis, Tiger-Cats WR Matt Carter

From last season's preview — "St. FX seems to have supplanted Acadia for the time being for No. 2 in the Atlantic University Sport pecking order, although the Axemen could be back in 2009. The tough schedule and the sketchy defence suggest they could be in tough this fall."

Stock up or stock down — Probably more due to rebound in 2010. Last season was a Murphy's Law year.

Schedule (all times Atlantic):
Saturday, Sept. 12 vs. Mount Allison, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 19 vs. Saint Mary's, 7 p.m. (Eastlink)
Saturday, Sept. 26 at Montreal, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 3 at St. FX, 2 p.m. (Eastlink)
Friday, Oct. 9 vs. St. FX, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 17 vs. Concordia, 2 p.m. (Eastlink)
Saturday, Oct. 24 at Mount Allison, 2 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 30 at Saint Mary's, 7 p.m.
(Cross-overs: visit Montreal, host Concordia)
  • Defensive end Vaughn Martin (Western) comes in for some praise from CBSSports.com NFL writer Clark Judge.
    "Martin ... has a decent chance to make it with the Chargers. Though he is raw, there seems to be enough athletic ability to keep the club interested. Yes, the defensive line is crowded, but it can always use a run stuffer like Martin -- especially if he plays as he did in the preseason opener against Seattle."

  • "Very settled" is the buzz phrase with the Steve Sumurah-coached Saint Mary's Huskies. It does not take Adam Schefter from ESPN to know that a schism could develop if a team does not stick with one a quarterback. That is a shot at ESPN (explanation), not the Huskies!

    Last season, Saint Mary's "shuffled through QBs like a teenager bored with her iPod," as some wiseacre worded it in the Huskies preview. The hope is SMU can laugh about it now, having come through such a tough situation. (Metro Halifax)

  • Regina has the same starting linebackers that it had last season. This is new. (Regina Leader-Post)

  • Queen's safety Matt Vickers, reports the excellent Mike Koreen, played in the Australian Ice Hockey League while he was at teachers' college.

    Another Golden Gaels note via Mike: Running back Marty Gordon is still slowed by a leg injury. Koreen also has a Saturday feature on Saskatchewan Roughriders wideout Rob Bagg. (Kingston Whig-Standard)

  • Western and Laval play an exhibition game Sunday at PEPS Stadium. In a converation earlier today (for Sun Media's OUA preview which will appear next week), Greg Marshall talked about Da'Shawn Thomas' arrival giving the Mustangs some "flexibility" with their other running backs and wouldn't you know, the Free Press article notes Ryan Tremblay will play some slotback. (London Free Press)

  • Laval has its own position battles in the receiving corps, too. Nineteen-year-old Yannick Morin-Plante is one of the new names to learn; he tore it up in the CEGEP AAA league last fall. (Le Soleil)

  • Guelph's best deep threat, wideout-kick returner Jedd Gardner, likely will not practise until middle of next week due to a tweaked hammy. (Guelph Mercury)

  • Ottawa needs a stadium announcer ... just e-mail jennifer.elliott(at)uottawa.ca. (Capital Region Football)

  • cishoops.ca will probably have updates on the OUA-NCAA games this weekend.

  • Mark Wacyk looks at the Cape Breton Capers, who have been perennial bridesmaids in the AUS across the past few seasons. It's ipso-facto that they have a shot at being a tournament team if third-year guard Tremaine Fraser stays the full five seasons. (cishoops.ca)

  • Windsor coach Chris Oliver put his Lancers through a 30-minute practice after a 90-39 loss to Ohio State. (Windsor Star)
  • Nipissing's inaugural men's hockey season will feature a cheering section (the Laker Maniacs) and maybe a closed-circuit TV feed throughout the North Bay Memorial Gardens. (North Bay Nugget)
This post will updated around mid-morning.
A man asks to be challenged, the least one can do is alert people. It's called stirring the pot.

London, Ont., sports talk radio host Norman James evidently heard about it when he called Western "Canada's greatest sports university" and he would like to engage people about it on his show on AM980:
"... am I being over the top in suggesting Western is Canada's supreme sports university? I'd like to get into that too if we have time. From top to bottom, I challenge anyone to find a stronger school than Western in all 38 major sports contested at the university level in Canada. I think I'm right on the money when I say UWO leads the pack, in the OUA, and the CIS. Some of our friends, particularly out of market, think I'm an idiot. And that's okay. They're wrong, but again, its all okay. As long as they continue to listen to 'The Hook'."
The Hook airs each Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern ... 6 p.m. Mountain. It is not clear why the time would be given that way.

For starters, saying there are "38 major sports contested at the university level in Canada" is kind of debatable. Each school has some minor sports it offers and some it does not. Having a kick-ass curling or competitive cheerleading team does not elevate one institution over another.

It is kind of a nonsensical debate. (Is that not just like a Queen's grad to use a four-syllable word to justify why he is turtling?)
Keep an eye on what role Scott McCuaig fits into with the Leos ... B.C. already has three Canadians on the defensive line, but at 3-5, it could use help in many areas.

B.C. Lions sign ex-UBC lineman Scott McCuaig (Vancouver Sun)
Canada's not only earned two wins at FIBA Americas, but the Road Warriors are earning praise.

The FIBA announcers noted late in Canada's 87-67 win over the U.S. Virgin Islands that the Road Warriors "play the game, not the score." That is the ultimate compliment considering that with four games in four days in a tropical climate, Canada had an excuse if it had eased off the throttle and let the other team get back into the game.

These guys were running the floor even in the final minute of the game. Canada is deep enough that Leo Rautins has essentially been rolling two lines, like a hockey coach (hey, if we use hockey lingo, perhaps more people in Canada will pay attention).

Carleton grad Aaron Doornekamp had seven points in 20 minutes today on 3-of-8 shooting, including a a couple baskets during an 8-0 run at the start of the fourth quarter which put the game well out of reach. Doornekamp is on the second unit with guards Andy Rautins and Tyler Kepkay and forwards Levon Kendall and Kyle Landry. Doornekamp has looked solid through two games.

Canada Basketball and cishoops.ca (see Mark's account of today's game) write-up from the Mexico game and) are go-to sources. Canada plays Uruguay (Saturday, 4 p.m.) and Puerto Rico (Sunday, 9 p.m.) to close out the preliminary round. The Sunday game should be a major measuring stick.
No one but no one is rooting against former McMaster running back Jesse Lumsden being unable to resume playing in the CFL. A gut feeling is it does not sound promising.
"The first-year Edmonton Eskimos running back will also stay away from any physical contact for the next six months as he recovers from a shoulder dislocation suffered in the first game of the CFL season.

" 'It feels as good as it can be, two weeks post-op now. I feel confident, I feel positive and I’m starting to workout again,' said Lumsden, who returned to Edmonton on Wednesday night and spoke to media for the first time since his surgery."
Esks’ Lumsden to limit physical contact for six months (Mario Annicchiarico, Edmonton Journal)
(Blog buddy Mike Radoslav has organized a "Fans' Top 10" which will be posted here each week. It's not meant to be definitive, but to stir a little debate. You can compare it with the coaches' and media poll.)

University football fans across the nation have compiled a Preseason Top 10 heading into 2009 and a team quite familiar with the pole position leads the charge.

The Fans' Top 10 committee is a 30-member voting panel consisting of fans, ex-players and a few members of the media representing each conference. The consensus is that the Laval Rouge et Or (#1) will be the dominant program in the nation.

The defending Vanier Cup champions received every first place nomination as Laval hopes to defend that national title at home this season. Returning many of their players from last season, including Hec Crighton-winning quarterback Benoit Groulx, many believe the Rouge et Or is the favourite to repeat. Their dominance in this preseason poll reflects that opinion.

The Vanier Cup finalist Western Mustangs (#2) claim the runner-up position as they hope to exact some revenge this season and claim the title they narrowly missed last year. Western has made some key improvements to their team via recruits and transfers in the offseason. With fifth-year QB Michael Faulds heading into his final season, the Mustangs hope to send their team leader out on top.

After that the ranking gets a bit congested as western rivals Saskatchewan Huskies (#3) and the Calgary Dinos (#4) find themselves separated by only a single vote. And close in pursuit of those two are the Saint Mary's Huskies (#5). There is uncertainty about who is the favourite out West, the Huskies or the Dinos, however voters still believe that SMU remains the program to beat in the Atlantic.

The Concordia Stingers (#6) take the next position; the runners-up in Quebec last season who almost squeaked out an upset win at the Dunsmore Cup at Laval. Following them are the Queen’s Golden Gaels (#7), looking to exact some revenge for a season they believed ended too soon last year. And the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks (#8), a young team which came on strong towards last season and hopes to carry that surge over into this campaign.

The Montreal Carabins (#9) take the ninth position and rounding out the Top 10 are the Hardy Trophy finalist Simon Fraser Clan (#10).

Before the season begins anything can happen, however with the first game only a few days away the fans believe that these are the teams to watch in 2009.
Burning questions:

CAN they figure out how to be balanced on offence and get enough touches for all their running backs (brothers Devon and Tristan Jones and fifth-year man Allister Blair)?

ESPECIALLY since their two leading receivers statistically graduated?

WHAT DOES shifting Salem Borhot from halfback to cornerback do for their pass defence?

JUST how giddy are Haligonians about a potential Calgary-Saint Mary's Uteck Bowl matchup, which would mark Dinos coach Blake Nill's return to Huskies Stadium?

2008 recap and record — (8-2, 7-1). Reaching the Mitchell Bowl was no mean feat for a team which shuffled through QBs like a teenager bored with her iPod.

It was a season of close calls and calling one running play after another. The unexpected loss of 2007 Hec Crighton-winning QB Erik Glavic forced the school of Chris Flynn to morph into the Nebraska Cornhuskers of yore. Damned if they didn't pull it off (CIS-high 278.5 rushing yards per game). Three different running backs gained at least 500 yards in the regular season. Jack Creighton went from redshirt to starting QB.

Saint Mary's dodged bullets all season, with five or their nine wins coming by eight points or less, including a 29-27 tightrope act vs. St. FX in the Loney Bowl, where the X-Men kicker missed a game-tying field goal with three seconds to play. They finally met their match in the Mitchell Bowl at Western, falling 28-12.

Setting up '09 — Chances are, SMU is on the upswing. How fast Creighton loses the training wheels should be a major variable for the eastern Huskies (who might end up hosting the western Huskies in a bowl game). The son of former NHL player Adam Creighton is a significant talent, but he has thrown only 112 passes at the university level, counting last's season playoffs. Fortunately for SMU, it has the Jones brothers, Devon and Tristan, to split carries with a big back, veteran Allister Blair. Centre Derek Weber is the fulcrum of the O-line, which has two open spots at guard and one at tackle. The receiving corps still has fifth-year man Carl Hardwick, who missed half the regular season due to injuries last season (also a factor in not passing as much).

The new wrinkle on D is that Salem Borhot has moved from halfback to boundary corner, with Jeff Zelinski patrolling the wide side. Dan Schutte and Ryan King are the leaders in the force unit (which might end up facing a formidable U of S Huskies O-line in November, maybe).

The Sept. 26 cross-over contest in Halifax vs. Sherbrooke will be a good early test for the pass defence, since half of the back eight — two starting linebackers and two D-backs — will be new. Saint Mary's never really rebuilds so much as it reloads, so it should have a good defence by November, when it actually matters. Players coming from junior football are kind of a blank slate, but SMU did add a three-year CJFL linebacker, Aaron Crawford from the Victoria Rebels.

Returnees — 25 on offence, 30 on defence (evidently no starting spots are guaranteed)

Stepping out — QB Erik Glavic (transferred to Calgary), FB Darcy Brown, WRs Shawn White and Ryean Warburton, LT Bryan Jordan, DBs Al Birthwright and Joel Lipinski, LBs Ryan Benjamin and Tyrone Roue

Stepping up — QB Jack Creighton, RBs Devon Jones and Tristan Jones, WR-SB Carl Hardwick, DL Dan Schutte, MLB Ryan King, CBs Salem Borhot and Jeff Zelinski

Breakout performers — Aforementioned Aaron Crawford is experienced and listed at 6-foot-4, 245 lbs., which is massive for a linebacker in Canadian university football. Two newbies are pegged to challenge for playing time on offence right away, guard Guillaume Gagnier (Vanier College) and wideout Ahmed Borhot. Borhot was a Calgary Stampeders practice squadder and it's not hard to see why.

Future reference — SMU is very helpful with recruiting news. Two defensive recruits from the Ottawa area to keep an eye are versatile D-lineman Dave Dominic and linebacker Kyle Norris, who played at South Carleton. Another Ontarian, Derrick Hurst from General Amherst in the Windsor area, piques one's interest since it is not clear whether he will play receiver or D-back at the university level.

Coach & coordinators — Steve Sumurah (fourth season) is also offensive coordinator; Denny Laramee is in his second season as defensive coordinator.

Enrolment — 8,800

Stadium/atmosphereHuskies Stadium (permanent seating: 4,000; expandable to 11,000 for special events) is a true campus facility, next door to The Tower student centre. Saint Mary's made a wise move several years back to hold home games on Friday night (before everyone heads downtown) rather than Saturday afternoon (when everyone is still sleeping it off). The tradition of students sliding down the grassy berm next to the bleachers after Huskies TDs is one of CIS football's neater traditions.

Off-the-field factors — Saint Mary's is one of the country's more stable programs. It has had only three coaches in the past 27 seasons, notable in a league where only one coach, Saskatchewan's Brian Towriss, has been in his current job since the 1980s. The Huskies would be one of the first teams to get a call if someone ever organized a Big East out of the OUA, QUFL and AUS schools.

Alumni in CFL — Blue Bombers OL Steve Morley, Tiger-Cats WR Dave Stala, Ticats FB Darcy Brown, Ticats DB Marc Beswick, Eskimos LB Tim St. Pierre, Roughriders DB Joel Lipinski

From last season's preview — "Saint Mary's isn't competing for a conference title, it's competing for a national championship."

Stock up or stock down — Up.

Schedule (all times Atlantic):
Saturday, Sept. 12 at St. FX, 2 p.m. (Eastlink)
Saturday, Sept. 19 at Acadia, 7 p.m. (Eastlink)
Saturday, Sept. 26 vs. Sherbrooke, 2 p.m. (Eastlink/Homecoming)
Friday, Oct. 2 vs. Mount Allison, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 10 at Mount Allison, 2 p.m. (Eastlink)
Saturday, Oct. 17 at McGill, 2 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 23 vs. St. FX, 7 p.m. (Eastlink)
Friday, Oct. 30 vs. Acadia , 7 p.m.
(Cross-overs: host Sherbrooke, visit McGill)
Burning questions:

ARE those narrow playoff losses to Saint Mary's the past two seasons proof the AUS is the Big Two and little two instead Big One and little three, or does X give a little ground this fall?

WHAT kind of play-calling will fans see now that coach Gary Waterman, defensive coordinator last season, has the title of offensive coordinator (although the O.C. is not necessarily always the play-caller)?

HOW much will losing a line coach (Chris Bertoia) and a standout lineman (guard Steve Myddleton) affect their ability to get a push up front and open holes for James Green?

2008 recap and record — (5-5, 4-4). For the second year in a row, X finished second in the Atlantic and took Saint Mary's down to the wire in the Loney Bowl, falling 29-27 after a game-tying field-goal try went for a single on te final play. There were superlative individual efforts all over the place, from Green, who rushed for an AUS-best 814 yards, to linebacker Henoc Muamba, who was all over the field. Steve Snyder (1,676 yards, 6 TD, 9 interceptions) and Akeem Foster gave X a semblance of a dangerous passing game. The calendar year ended with a twist, as coach John Bloomfield, who had reportedly received a multi-year extension after the 2007 season, was replaced (rather abruptly, if memory serves). That led to some shuffling around with the coaching staff.

Setting up '09 — The core of the defence returns, including Muamba at linebacker and a pair of defensive-line bookends who each attended CFL camps, Yahia Dalloul and Dave Skillen. St. FX was actually a pretty good defensive group in 2008, except that it was probably on the field more than desirable. Three of the five heralded recruits on defence were down linemen, which might be acknowledgement that St. FX has to get bigger and quicker upfront to counter Saint Mary's strength.

Offensively, having a QB and tailback who are each fifth-year guys suggests there won't be radical change. St. FX has been very run-oriented the past two seasons, with Green rushing for 1,563 yards in the past two regular seasons. The passing game was peaks-and-valleys (under 50% passing, but more than 8 yards per attempt), which sometimes put the D in a tight spot. The X-Men, going by the numbers, can also stand to get more out of their return game.

Returnees — 26 on offence, 32 on defence (Atlantic teams are only beginning camp this weekend so starting spots are up in the air)

Stepping out — OLs Rory Campbell and Steve Myddleton, SB Jeremy Marchand, DT Harrison Petropolis

Stepping up — QB Steve Snyder, RB James Green, WR Akeem Foster, OLs Christian Oberegger and Gordon Sawler, DEs Yahia Dalloul and Dave Skillen, LBs Henoc Muamba and Tom Lynch, DBs Kwasi Nkansah and Nick Riva

Breakout performers — X has a running back waiting in the wings, Sean Atkins, a native of Fredericksburg, Texas who came east by way of Concordia University — the one in Nebraska, not the one in the west end of Montreal. Atkins ran the 4 x 100 relay in high school, so it's presumed he's fast.

Future reference — It is not for nothing X has a key recruit from the Ottawa Sooners on each side of the ball, wideout Devon Sparman and D-lineman Tom Narbaitz (who was selected the Quebec Junior Football League's top defender in 2008). Current Sooners offensive coordinator Bino Cesario was a star X-Men receiver in the 1990s, so there's an obvious connection.

Coach & coordinators — Rookie head coach Gary Waterman will also serve as St. FX's offensive coordinator. Jon Svec, the defensive backs coach, will be defensive coordinator. Waterman is a bit of a career X-Man, having played and been an assistant coach before taking the top job.

Enrolment — 4,894

Stadium/atmosphere — Oland Stadium (capacity 4,000) now has turf and new lights. The impact of that on X-Men football might be overstated, but it cannot hurt with recruiting and player development, since its grass field was due to be replaced.

The football games are an event in Antigonish. It goes doubled when that hated Halifax team comes to town.

Off-the-field factors — It's been a long while (13 seasons) since an Atlantic team other than Saint Mary's reached a Vanier Cup. Perhaps it is good to tick off a few of the factors, including (but not limited to) the growing emphasis on another big-ticket expenditure, hockey, in the AUS (a positive story, for sure), OUA schools stepping up efforts to keep Ontario athletes in-province and the rise of football in Quebec. It has made it harder for the schools down east other than SMU to compete.

Alumni in CFL — Roughriders LB-ST Mike McCullough, Stampeders G Derek Armstrong, Stampeders OL Steve Myddleton

From last season's preview — "James Green is without question the offensive cornerstone."

Stock up or stock down — Holding firm.

Schedule (all times Atlantic):
Saturday, Sept. 12 vs. Saint Mary's, 2 p.m. (Eastlink)
Saturday, Sept. 19 at Mount Allison, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 26 at Concordia , 2 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 3 vs. Acadia, 2 p.m. (Eastlink)
Friday, Oct. 9 at Acadia, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 17 vs. Bishop's, 2 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 23 at Saint Mary's, 7 p.m. (Eastlink)
Friday, Oct. 30 vs. Mount Allison, 7 p.m.
(Cross-overs: visit Concordia, host Bishop's)
I did not see this coming. The University of New Brunswick has just announced that the Saint John campus will have its first-ever CIS level sport, Track & Field, starting next year. This follows on the announcement earlier this summer of the refurbishment of the Canada Games Stadium on the UNBSJ campus - thanks to your and my infrastructure tax dollars. The surprising part is that UNB Fredericton student athletes will also be eligible to compete on the UNBSJ team (which I guess will be the "UNB" team), just as apparently UNBSJ students are eligible to compete on any of the current Fredericton based teams. Off the top of my head I can't name one UNBSJ-based student-athlete currently competing out of Fredericton, and it will be interesting to see if student-athletes are willing to make the 70 minute commute to run around a track.
For the voting breakdown every first place vote receives 10 points, every 10th-place vote receives 1 point. The number of first-place votes received is included in parentheses beside the total votes for that team.
  1. Laval 260 (26)
  2. Western 224
  3. Saskatchewan 163
  4. Calgary 162
  5. Saint Mary's 145
  6. Concordia 129
  7. Queen's 106
  8. Laurier 92
  9. Montreal 74
  10. Simon Fraser 21

    Also receiving votes: Ottawa 18, Manitoba 9, St. FX 9, McMaster 7, Regina 5, Sherbrooke 3, Mount Allison 1.
Canadian football fans are making their voices heard. Welcome to the CIS Football Fan’s Top 10!

Back in 2007 fans at the online community cisfootball.org took it upon themselves to start their own Top 10 ranking system in response to the official rankings released by the CIS. Since at times the official Top 10 became a point of, well, rather heated debate the fans wanted to make a list of their very own.

For the past two seasons the fans have successfully put together their ranking system, sometimes quite similar to the official list but other times with some interesting inclusions/submissions. The CIS Top 10 has been revamped for this season however the Fans still wanted to continue on their poll and formed a committee this season to ensure every corner of the country was included.

This fan committee, 30 members strong representing every conference, consists not only of fans but some former players, family of players and even some media types. It’s a great cross-section of the people who show up each week to support and cheer on our varsity athletes, the people who support the student athlete across the country.

Every Tuesday at roughly 1 p.m. ET a list will be published here at The CIS Blog (exception being for Week 1, that list will be published on Wednesday due to Labour Day Monday games).

Thanks for checking out the rankings and for backing Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
There will be more by morning. There always is!

  • For those who have not picked up the Internet meme that next year will be too late for Western, Mr. Morris Dalla Costa has some bon mots from coach Greg Marshall and QB Mike Faulds:
    Faulds: "Now anything less than a Vanier Cup is a little bit of a disappointment. I put that pressure on myself, not just the team, the community, the media, I put that on myself I want to win the Vanier."

    Marshall: "We got close" — at McMaster in 2003 — "with a freshman, Adam Archibald. But it’s tough to win with a freshman."
    For those who like trends, since 2001 is 3-0 when it hosts national semi-finals in even-numbered years and 1-3 when it goes on the road in odd-numbered seasons. The one win was only by four points, too. (London Free Press)

  • Laval's Hec Crighton Trophy-winning QB, Benoit Groulx, is aware of his 0-2 record in national semi-finals outside Quebec. He's enjoying fatherhood and home ownership (congratulations are in order!). (Le Soleil)

  • Les Carabins are looking sharp in practice. (Allez Les Bleus!)

  • Windsor QB Sam Malian is vowing to be a more intermediate-range passer in his second season after falling in love a bit with the home run ball as a rookie. (Windsor Star)

  • Long-time Mac defensive back coaches has some talented young athletes to help develop. The emphasis might be more on "young." (Hamilton Spectator)

  • The Vancouver Province's Howard Tsumura has hot audio — a Q&A with Simon Fraser coach Dave Johnson — and a look at the Clan's second-year speedmeister, tailback Gabe Ephard. (Little Man on Campus)

  • More from Mr. Tsumura — UBC Thunderbirds QB Billy Greene and receiver Spencer Betts are best buddies who go back a long, long way (and have some long, long touchdowns in their future). (Little Man on Campus)

(How about a pre-season story which is not about a team's quarterback? The Western Canada papers and the outlets in the Kingston and London market seem to realize a football team is 45 finely meshed gears, and the quarterback, quoth Jonathan Moxon in the cinematic classic Varsity Blues, is "only one man ... only one man.")

  • Carleton alumnus Aaron Doornekamp's stat line from Canada's 55-point whomping of Mexico at the FIBA Americas: Three points on 1-of-4 shooting, five assists, four rebounds. There might have been some shenanigans on the part of the stat crew: Canada was credited with 30 assists on 35 baskets (maybe they were giving two on some plays, like in hockey.)

    Canada plays the U.S. Virgin Islands on Friday (4 p.m. ET, The Score).

  • Some exhibition women's hoops action: Ottawa beat Fairleigh Dickinson 66-57. It is the Gee-Gees' first win over a NCAA D-1 team; fifth-year point guard Allison Forbes had 20 points. (Sun Media)
  • Amey Doyle will serve as interim coach of the two-time national champion McGill Martlets (pains a Queen'sman to type those six words) while Peter Smith, goalie Charline Labonté and defender Catherine Ward are with the Canadian Olympic team.

    Former McGill captain Shauna Denis has come aboard as an assistant coach. Denis captained the '08 Martlets. (press release)
Friend of the blog Greg Layson has curtailed operations with Big Man on Campus. Our Sager-sense says he will not be a stranger.

Toronto's FAN 590's University Sports Report, hosted by Star sportswriter David Grossman, returns to the air Sunday at 9 a.m. ET. All three ADs from the three CIS schools in Toronto will appear.
  • The Score producer/football sideline reporter DJ Bennett, a former tailback at Western, is up for a Gemini Award for Best Sports Feature. It was one of two nominations for the network in that category.
    "Sarah Meehan and Jake Thompson were nominated in the Best Sports Feature category for their excellent exploration of minor hockey's woes ... Producer DJ Bennett was nominated in the same category for a sports special on Black History Month.
    Not only does that speak well for the people at The Score, it is testament to the network's willingness to put young people in leadership roles. As Chris Zelkovich says, "Instead of the usual suspects, most of whom get the paycheques from the CBC, this year's list includes a lot of new faces from a lot of different places."

    Of course, some would argue that See Bee See folk should be the first option for these awards. They are smarter and better-looking, after all. (Toronto Star)
  • Laval running back Samuel Fournier talks about the attitude adjustment he's made since last season. (Le Soleil)

  • Q&A with Simon Fraser coach Dave Johnson. (Little Man on Campus)

  • Monty Mosher has the lay of the land in the Atlantic conference. (Halifax Herald)

  • The Saskatchewan Huskies receiving group is in good hands (groan). (Huskies Football Outsider)

  • Manitoba QB Nathan Friesen self-applies the term "football nerds" to himself and player-turned-assistant coach John Makie. The reporter's Remember The Titans reference is a perfect opportunity to point out Varsity Blues is actually the superior late 1990s high school football movie. This is not up for discussion. (Winnipeg Free Press)

  • Another first-year starting QB, Ottawa's Brad Sinopoli is rarin' to lead the Gee-Gees, even though Davie Mason might not be there to take handoffs. The latter has Capital Region Football Blog concerned. (Ottawa Sun)

  • Mr. Mo looks at the Western Mustangs' main area of concern, the defensive secondary without Corey McNair and Matt Carapella. Cornerback Josh Foster was quietly efficient last season, was he not? (London Free Press)

  • Does anyone else feel like Saskatchewan Roughriders slotback Jason Clermont (U of Regina) is tempting fate by using his column to talk about how CFL rules dealing with the release of a veteran player? (Regina Leader-Post)

  • Huskies Football Outsiders has your Canada West headlines.
  • Mark Wacyk is in a southern Alberta state of mind, previewing the Lethbridge Pronghorns. New coach Don Adams has added some new guys, including former Calgary Dinos point guard Jeff Price and sharpshooter Randy Davis from Red Deer College. (cishoops.ca)

  • cishoops.ca should be a one-stop location for updates throughout Canada's run at the FIBA Americas championship, which begins today for Canada vs. Mexico (The Score, 4 p.m. ET). Canada Basketball has a complete schedule posted, plus you have to see how one advance story mangled Aaron Doornekamp's first name. The surname was been known to trip up people who didn't grow in the greater Kingston area.

  • A good primer on the St. John's Red Storm, who play Carleton and Ottawa on Sept. 6. (SLAM Online)

  • Were it not for work commitments, we would be at the Vermont-Carleton women's basketball exhibition game tonight.
  • Former Manitoba Bisons coach Wayne Fleming has joined the coaching staff of the NHL's Edmonton Oilers.
UNB's confirmation in today’s Daily Gleaner that the Varsity Reds will be travelling to Maine to play the AHL's Portland Pirates in an exhibition game on Sept. 30 is yet another indicator that CIS hockey is gaining credibility with NHL organizations. Both UNB and Université de Moncton played the New York Islanders rookies the last two seasons; the Islanders have moved their training camp to Saskatoon this year and will be playing the U of S Huskies on Sept. 15 in Prince Albert.

St. FX will play the Florida Panthers in Port Hawkesbury on Sept. 14. The Manitoba Bisons have often played the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, but not this season.

Of course, the CIS leaders in playing pro teams are the Alberta Golden Bears with their long running annual game against the Edmonton Oilers rookies. This year they host the Oiler rookies on Sept. 11, preceded by the Vancouver Canucks rookies on Sept. 9.

How important are these games? Well they certainly get the CIS players another look by NHL scouts. Two years ago, UNB's Rob Hennigar lined up against the Islanders rookies in Moncton. The next year in Fredericton, it was Hennigar in an Islanders (well, AHL Bridgeport) uniform taking the opening faceoff against his former UNB linemates.
FOTB Greg Layson reports that Guelph's dual-threat quarterback Justin Dunk had some heart-to-hearts over the summer with the school's AD, Tom Kendall. It seems to have paid off for the QB, who has been high-maintenance, high-reward by times:
"You've seen some of the tantrums I've thrown on the field. But this year, you’re going to see a guy who is calm, cool and collected."

Guelph could be a sleeper after back-to-back 4-4 seasons.

Greg points out Dunk is still wearing the do-rag. The common impression is that the football fashion accessory was popularized by Deion Sanders in his Atlanta Falcons days, but Canadian fans will recall Bobby Jurasin sporting one in the CFL some time earlier.

Same name, different quarterback (Greg Layson, Guelph Mercury)
The Score released its schedule through to Sept. 27 this morning. It does include a listing for the Western-Guelph game on Saturday, Sept. 26.

Not to do too much of a self back-pat, but when the schedule was released, there was a gut feeling the network might pick that game for Week 4 of the OUA schedule.
Burning questions:

WILL Benoit Groulx repeat as Hec Creighton winner in his fifth and final season?

HOW good will Sebastien Levesque be in his first full season as Laval’s starter at halfback?

WHO will take down Laval?

2008 recap and record
— (8-0, 1st). What is there to say? They survived a scare in the Dunsmore Cup and just steamrolled their way to another Vanier Cup. Groulx won the school’s first Hec Creighton trophy to put an exclamation point on the season.

Setting up '09 — I’m going to say it, because I saw it first hand. Sebastien Levesque is good. Really, really good. Why, you say? Well Guillaume Allard-Cameus was Laval’s leading rusher with 389 yards on 77 carries. In the Dunsmore Cup, however, Levesque was the starter. He torched Concordia in that game, and his regular season stats? 303 yards on 16 carries. Yes, a lot of that came against McGill, but he did the same thing against a much better defence in the biggest (and closest) game of Laval’s season. Basically, Laval loses one running back (who is now teamless) but may have even improved the position. The question mark for Laval now, however, is their offensive line especially after the news of the injury to Michel Boudreault broke that he is out for the season. How effective will that make Levesque, and to a lesser extent, Groulx now that he will probably have less time in the pocket.

Defensively, Laval loses only two starters and the unit is solid as always. Groulx got a lot of headlines, and losing Etienne Legare to the CFL does hurt, but this team brings back a veteran group and the addition of Frederic Plesius and Daniel Schober makes the unit not even skip a beat.

Returning starters — 8 offence, 10 defence

Stepping out (graduated players)
— DT Etienne Legare, OL Luc Brodeur-Jourdain, HB Guillaume Allard-Cameus, WR Matt Leblanc, WR Mathieu Parent, OL Vincent Turgeon, LB Steve Landry

Stepping up
— QB Tristan Grenon, LB Frederic Plesius, DB Daniel Schober, DL Jean-Alexandre Bernier, DL Philippe Lemire, DL Dominic Boisvert, WR Yannick Morin-Plante, WR Junior Seydou-Haidara, WR Guillaume Rioux

Future reference — Grenon seems like a logical replacement for Groulx and Sanchez-Hernandez, both in their final year. He is 6’3, 210 and was an all-star and lead his team to the AAA Championship a year ago. Plesius is a transfer after redshirting at Baylor.

Coach & coordinators
Glen Constantin is back for his 9th season, not surprisingly. Offensive coordinator Justin Ethier and defensive coordinator Marc Fortier return as does special teams coordinator Francesco Pepe Esposito.

Enrolment — 28,902

— What is there to be said about PEPS. It has its quirks – the field itself is meh at best and is more like the old-style Astroturf than the newer field turf where you have the blades of grass simulation. However, the atmosphere is outstanding, as you’d expect with a crowd that averages over 13,000. The city loves its Rouge et Or and it shows. Standing on the sidelines is really a thrill to hear the crowd that doesn’t really get quiet often – unless Laval has the ball.

Alumni in CFL
— Montreal OL Luc Brodeur-Jourdain, Montreal S Mathieu Proulx, Edmonton FB Mathieu Bertrand, Calgary DT Miguel Robede, Hamilton OL Alexandre Gauthier, Toronto C Dominic Picard, Toronto DT Etienne Legare

From Last Year’s season preview — “Constantin's crew has a little more to play for after last season's unravelling. Winning three national titles in four years can cause everyone work just little less harder, regardless of if anyone's willing to admit to it. Getting the Vanier back is a motivating factor for the one team in the country for whom No. 2 is not good enough.”

Stock up or stock down
— Up. If it can, Laval’s stock goes up coming off of a Vanier Cup championship. Yes, their offensive line is a question mark, but Groulx is experienced enough and Levesque talented enough to overcome that. This team is the favourite, but will be tested right away by their top competition from a year ago facing Concordia.

Schedule (all times Eastern)

Sunday Sept 6 vs Concordia (SRC) 2:00pm
Saturday Sept 12 @ Bishop’s (SRC) 1:00pm
Saturday Sept 19 vs Montreal (SRC) 1:00pm
Sunday Sept 27 vs Bishop’s 1:00pm
Sunday Oct 4 @ Montreal 1:00pm
Saturday Oct 17 vs Mount Allison 1:00pm
Saturday Oct 24 @ Sherbrooke 4:00pm
Saturday Oct 31 @ McGill 1:00pm
The UFRC's first top 10 is up. It was a privilege to participate:
  1. Laval (1,710 points)
  2. Western (1,543)
  3. Calgary (1,168)
  4. Saskatchewan (1,125)
  5. Saint Mary's (1,108)
  6. Concordia (803)
  7. Laurier (528)
  8. Queen's (375)
  9. Montréal (347)
  10. Ottawa (254)

    Also receiving votes: Simon Fraser 138, Manitoba 128, St. FX 48, Sherbrooke 18
That tasteless joke about how arguing on the Internet is like the Special Olympics ("even if you win, you're still ...") very much applies with pre-season polls. They don't mean anything but they are sure are fun to bat back and forth like a beach ball.

It is a no-brainer to have the Vanier Cup finalists 1-2 (at least one media voter didn't, hint-hint). The 3-6 slots could have been arranged in any order. Calgary and Saskatchewan is an either-or (the Huskies did shut out the Dinos in a game late last season). Concordia's status shows how bad the CIS needs a realignment so the rest of the country can get a better look at Quebec's second- and third-best programs.

Twenty of 27 teams received votes. Doesn't that say something about the diversity in opinion across this great country? By the way, Every Day Should Be Saturday has a takedown post up on coaches' polls. It's worth reading, although it's debatable how much it would apply in Canada. We're more honest up here!
Burning questions:

IS this the year Sherbrooke beats Laval and Concordia – the teams responsible for all of their losses a year ago?

CAN the Vert et Or compete even with the losses of several key players on both sides of the ball?

WHEN will Andre Bolduc’s program take that next step?

2008 recap and record
— (5-3, 3rd). Sherbrooke had their best season in their young program last year, challenging for a home playoff game, and getting off to a 5-1 start. Unfortunately, they then ran into Laval and Concordia the last two games of the season and scored six points combined before dropping a third straight game in the QUFL semi-final to Concordia.

Setting up '09
J.P Shoiry and Charles Saint-Martin are back at quarterback and Pascal Fils, the team’s leading rusher is back again as well. However, Joseph Mroue, and Alain Dorval are moving on which doesn’t seem like much, but this team was a team that struggled to replace Samuel Giguere last year in the receiving corps.

Defensively, Sherbrooke loses defensive back Sebastien Jalbert and linebacker David Vaillancourt who accounted for half of the team’s four interceptions a year ago. A lot of the pressure will go to Vincent Auger who led the team in tackles (41.5) and interceptions (2) a year ago. Looking to improve that secondary, the team expects rookie Olivier Dauphinais to challenge for a starting job.

Returning starters — 8 offence, 9 defence

Stepping out (graduated players) — HB Joseph Mroue, SB Alain Dorval, OL Mathieu Lefaivre, DB Sebastien Jalbert, LB David Vaillancourt

Stepping up — HB Gabriel Bernard-Perron, FB Vincent Carriere-Garwood, DB Olivier Dauphinais, WR Gabriel Goulet

Future reference — Bernard-Perron was a three-time CEGEP AA all-star. Offensive line prospects Christopher Belley-Rosa, Kevin Croft and Marc Olivier-Plante were all CEGEP all-stars and Croft was a member of the 2008 Team Quebec team that won the Canada Cup.

Coach & coordinators — Bolduc is back for his third season as head coach. The offensive coordinator is David Lessard and Marc Loranger is the defensive coordinator. Jean-Vincent Posy-Audette controls the special teams.

Enrolment — 36,000

— The Stade is where you’ll find the second highest average attendance in the Q outside of Laval. They averaged a very respectable over 7,000 fans to the games last year and provide a good atmosphere but not as good as their cross-town rivals from Bishop’s. That’s right. I’m adding fuel to the fire.

Alumni in CFL — Winnipeg LB Pierre-Luc Labbe, Indianapolis Colts WR Samuel Giguere

From Last Year’s season preview — “The most out-on-a-limb prediction for the QUFL that seems remotely plausible is to say that, yes, Sherbrooke will make its first Dunsmore Cup appearance on Nov. 8 against the Rouge et Or at the den of decibels, PEPS Stadium. The schedule sets up very well for them; a split with Bishop's and a win at Concordia in the finale could make a 6-2 finish possible. In the worst-case scenario, they're a 4-4 team in a very tight conference.”

Stock up or stock down — Up. Sherbrooke is coming off of their best season yet, and the stock for the program is on the rise. However, they are still behind Laval and Concordia and will be in tough against Montreal this year. The Quebec conference is tight, but at least they are heading in the right direction.

Schedule (all times Eastern)
Friday Sept 4 vs Bishop’s 7:00pm
Friday Sept 11 @ McGill 7:00pm
Saturday Sept 19 vs Concordia 7:00pm
Saturday Sept 26 @ Saint Mary’s 1:00pm
Saturday Oct 3 @ Concordia (SRC) 1:00pm
Saturday Oct 17 vs Montreal (SRC) 1:00pm
Saturday Oct 24 vs Laval 4:00pm
Saturday Oct 31 @ Montreal (SRC) 1:00pm
  • U of T coach Greg DeLaval says his team is "decimated on offence." The D — that entire defence, not just d-back Derek Batchelor — could keep the Varsity Blues in games. They are still in a much better place than they were 365 days ago, or 731 days ago for that matter. (Toronto Sun)

  • Some might chafe at the Winnipeg Sun giving a byline to Manitoba's sports information director ("Chris Zuk, for Sun Media"). On the other hand, it is damn informative, since we now know the Bisons' projected O-line, starting at left tackle, is Scott Johnson-Landon Rice-Kurtis Stolth-Sam Nemis-Ryan Karhut. (Winnipeg Sun)

  • Laval offensive coordinator Justin Ethier pretty much is a Ste-Foy institution — he's been there since the team's second season. (Le Soleil)

  • Defensive end David Rybinski was a terror at Saskatchewan Huskies training camp on Tuesday. The Green Dogs are looking for someone to replace Ivan Brown, which will be no mean feat. (Huskies Football Outsider, which has been great with pointing to stories from from across Canada West)

  • Mr. Mo examines the Western Mustangs defensive line post-Vaughn Martin. Keep an eye on frosh defensive end Scott Fournier, whose dad Randy, a former assistant at Carleton and uOttawa, has come aboard as a part-time D-line coach. The younger Fournier played high school ball at St. Mark south of Ottawa.

    One tweak to the Western preview: Fifth-year man Andrew Rady was accepted to law school and will vie to be starting centre. He started at right guard in '08. (London Free Press)

  • Former Guelph Gryphons Hainsley Guthrie and Andrew Oosterhuis are appearing on an episode of Outdoor Life Network's show Mantracker, which airs Saturday.
    "The popular show, which is in its fourth season, sees teams of two try and evade professional tracker Terry Grant. They have up to 36 hours to reach a finish line 40 kilometres away through rugged and demanding terrain.

    "Their episode was shot near Elliot Lake in Northern Ontario last September."
    Did anyone else hear "Mantracker" and think it had to be some kind of dating show? Sorry for being sexist. (Guelph Mercury)

  • Not CIS, but St. Louis Rams safety O.J. Atogwe might be the best Canadian-born NFL player ever. People are aware of this ever, right? (Windsor Star)
  • Windsor coach Chris Oliver will have an awfully young team this season. (cishoops.ca)
No one can find every link, so if you see a good one ... fire away in the comments or drop a line to neatesager(at)yahoo.ca.
No one is being accused of such, but some dot-orgers have wondered if CFL teams, as a favour to coaching buddies, keep players on practice rosters just long enough so they can't go back to school.

It is unlikely that happens ... but unless our Grade 10 French failed us, Guillaume Allard-Caméus is now team-less after being let go by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He is ineligible to return to Laval, which would certainly not mind having him back.
"Le joueur de 25 ans, qui était éligible à une cinquième saison dans la Ligue de football universitaire du Québec, n’aura donc pas le droit de revenir avec la formation lavalloise. Un règlement stipule qu’un joueur qui évolue chez les professionnels ne peut retourner avec une équipe universitaire quand cette dernière entame son camp." — Le Journal du Québec

It's acknowledged some people dislike that someone can go to one or two CFL camps, practise and still come back to school. Whatever your feeling, that is tough break for Allard-Caméus, though. One does wonder if this warrants examining the national association's policy.

(Helmet-tap to Allez Les Bleus for the link.)
Burning questions:

WAS winning two games in '08 a sign Toronto's fortunes are improving or a product of having some fifth-year offensive talent to rally around?

HOW many pairs of shoes do they have to fill with the graduation of David Hamilton and Mark Stinson? U of T's leading passer, two leading rushers and top two receivers have exhausted their eligibility, plus four starting linemen have graduated.

DOES defensive back Derek Batchelor make every tackle? No, sometimes he gets the assist.

2008 recap and record — (2-6). The Blues were a team of interest every week for a change. Under DeLaval, who returned from two seasons with the Calgary Dinos, they snapped a national record 49-game losing streak in the opener vs. Waterloo and were not eliminated until the final Saturday of the season, where they hung in with Ottawa, losing only 39-30. (The Gee-Gees were a hurtin' unit, but still...). A lot of the credit went to the since departed passing combination of David Hamilton (2,409 yards total offence and 15 combined TDs) and receivers Cory Kennedy (602 yards) and Mark Stinson (817 rushing-receiving yards).

Setting up '09 — The defence will be ahead of the offence at Varsity Centre, given the skill position players who have to be replaced. The Blues put the ball in the air 298 times last season, making them the third most pass-happy team in the country after McGill and Waterloo. DeLaval gave playing time to two other QBs, scrambling southpaw Andrew Gillis and George Gretes (son of former York coach Tom Gretes), so the learning curve should not be too step for the new starting QB. Earl Johnson (378 receiving yards, 12.6 average) is the leading returning receiver, while wideout-blogger Drew Meerveld and sophomore Michael Prempeh also add experience. The leading returning rusher, Zak Kolkowski, only had 159 yards last season.

Defensively, the likes of East-West Bowl selectee Scott Smith at linebacker and DBs such as Batchelor and Matt Morris give U of T some key cogs in the back eight. The unit was seventh overall in the OUA at 435 yards per game, which is flirting with respectability. Up front, 320-pound Lincoln Bryan started as a freshman. The Blues could use more guys like him.

Three of the first four games are at home. This might help give U of T a better shot at banking a couple wins and sustaining interest in the team. Holding serve would at least show they have pulled themselves up by the bootstraps.

Returning starters — 4 offence, 10 defence

Stepping out — QB David Hamilton, WR-RB-P Mark Stinson, WRs Cory Kennedy and Jeff LaForge, OLs David Scott-McDowell and Cam Deans

Stepping up — QB Andrew Gillis, WRs Drew Meerweld and Michael Prempeh, DBs Derek Batchelor and Matt Morris, LB Scott Smith, K Andrew Lomansey

Breakout performers — The handy-dandy OUA media guide lists WR Ahad Bandealy as a key newcomer. Bandealy previously played at Bethune-Cookman, a FCS program in Florida. He was a sophomore in 2006 according to a PDF of a game program, so take that as you will.

Future reference — The future is now for some of U of T's young O-linemen, including guard Corey Hafazi, who's likely to be starting. U of T's featured recruits also include Cody Rossi and Giovanni Boscariol, who were two-way linemen last season with the Vancouver College Fighting Irish, a noted B.C. high school powerhouse. Rossi is playing inside receiver.

Another touted newcomer is O-lineman Harold Lee from the London Lucas Vikings (Lee presumably knows that he has the same name as the character John Cho played in the Harold & Kumar movies, so don't bother pointing it out). The Varsity Blues like their Ottawa-area players: Renfrew Collegiate receiver Ben Sharpe has also come aboard.

Coach & coordinators — Greg DeLaval (second season after having interim tag removed); assistant head coach John Engel; defensive co-ordinator Donnavan Carter (who coached defensive backs last season).

Enrolment — 45,009 according to its Wiki

Stadium/atmosphere — If the new Varsity Centre in downtown Toronto is good enough for Usain Bolt, the fastest (and thus most interesting) man in the world, it stands to reason it should impress 18-year-old high school players. By all accounts, it is a wonderful place to watch football, plus U of T has two Friday night home games this season. The beer garden under the stands is also close enough that fans can yell at the players as they're going to and from the locker room, which is fine as long as there are no swears.

Here's the celebration video from that 18-17 win last Labour Day over Waterloo. Come on, who doesn't want part of that?

Off-the-field factors — Four former CFLers have lent some new blood to the coaching staff, which is hopefully a sign Toronto is moderning the operation. Samir Chahine, who starred at McGill in the late 1990s and played for the Ottawa Renegades, has come aboard as an offensive line coach, while former Hamilton Ticat Clinton Wayne is the new D-line coach. Along with Carter, another former CFL d-back, Richard Karikari (St. FX/Montréal Alouettes), is the new strength and conditioning coordinator. It should be viewed as a positive that some ex-pros are lending their expertise to a program.

Alumni in CFL — Hamilton Tiger-Cats president Scott Mitchell.

From last season's preview — "A bevy of players have gone through a full football career, likely giving the same full effort of every other player in the league, and not been rewarded with a single win. The fault without question lies with a university administration that has deliberately ignored and, in earlier times, sabotaged this team to ensure its failure. This is a former university football powerhouse and its current state is one of the biggest things holding back the reputation of the OUA and broader CIS."
Tyler King

Stock up or stock down — Up.

Monday, Aug. 31 vs. Queen's, 7 p.m. (exhibition)
Monday, Sept. 7 vs. Laurier, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 12 at Windsor, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 18 vs. Guelph, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 25 vs. Ottawa, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 3 at. York, 1 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 8 at McMaster, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 17 vs. Waterloo, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 at Western, 1 p.m.
(Bye: Queen's)
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