WILL Julian Marchand step into the role as starting quarterback coming out of camp and lead the Bears offensively?
HOW will the o-line fare without Simeon Rottier and Gord Hinse?
IS the defence going to be able to stop the run more effectively after struggling to stop the run last season?
2008 recap and record — (2-6). The season started and ended the way the Golden Bears had envisioned - that is, with two victories. The Bears opened their 2008 campaign with a 25-13 win over the Clan, and finished with a win over eventual conference champion Calgary. What was sandwiched in between those two wins, for the most part, was a season to forget for Bears fans.
The Green and Gold struggled to find consistency on both sides of the ball - especially defensively last season. The Bears dropped six straight games after their home opening win against SFU, and were outscored during that six game losing skid by an average of over 12.8 points per game. The Bears ranked last in conference scoring defence, giving up an average of 24.2 points per game. The ground game on offense, and stopping the run on defence was a major issue for the Bears; they finished last in the conference in both rushing offence and rushing defence. Offensively Alberta averaged a conference low 125.4 yards on the ground per game, and gave up a conference high 169.4 yards on the ground per game. Turnovers hurt the Bears more than any other team in the conference, with a turnover margin of -1.5 per game. Nationally the Bears were in the bottom half in both conference-adjusted offence and conference-adjusted defence, ranking 16th offensively and 24th defensively.
Setting up '09 - The Bears will be coming into the season with questions at quarterback. Julian Marchand and returning starter Quade Armstrong are the two most likely candidates to be competing for the #1 job. A lot will depend on how well either Marchand or Armstrong can lead the offence. The defence needs to improve against the run for the Bears to have an outside chance at the playoffs.
Returning starters — The Bears should be returning 16 starters combined on offence and defence. Some of the key returning starters on the defensive side of the ball will include: DL Craig Gerbrandt, DB Jason Hetherington, LB Jean-Marc Jones, and LB Dan Bass. On the offensive side of the ball QB Quade Armstrong is back. The receiving core will welcome WR Mike Wasylynuik. Both of the Bears leading rushers from last year are back for another season. RB Tendayi Jozzy led the team in attempts (114), rushing yards (532) and rushing TDs (4). RB Matthew Jarvis suited up for all eight contests last season, as did Jozzy, and had 59 rushes for 301 yards and two TDs.
Stepping up — Craig Gerbrandt was a solid performer all season long for the Golden Bears in his first CIS season, leading the team in sacks and earning conference defensive player of the week honours after the Bears home opening win over SFU.
Stepping out — The Bears will have to fill the void left by Simeon Rottier's departure after being selected first overall in the CFL Draft back in May. Linebacker and long snapper Greg Whelan is now wearing the green and gold of the Edmonton Eskimos after he signed with the club in May. OL Gord Hinse also has moved onto the pro ranks as he was drafted 11th overall by the Eskimos. Other Bears stepping out include: DB Scott Stevenson, RB Nigel Amenu-Tekka and DB Kyle Pagnucco – all of whom spent five seasons with the Bears.
Future reference — They've brought in 12 players from the Canadian Junior Football League, including two with previous CIS experience. The 12 new recruits from the CJFL are headlined by QB Julian Marchand who comes to the Bears after breaking the CJFL record for attempts and completions in 2007 and also capturing the Prairie Football Conference MVP in 2008 while with the Calgary Colts. Marchand has CIS experience after suiting up with the Dinos for three games back in 2007, and will battle for the starting job at QB. LB Bo Onyschuck is the other CJFL grad who has previous CIS experience, and like Marchand, Onyschuck spent his time with the Calgary Dinos back in 2007. Onyschuck was a two time CJFL champion with the Edmonton Huskies.
Some Rifles will be a part of the Bears offence this season - Winnipeg Rifles that is. RB Harpreet Turka and OL Will Henry were both CJFL all-stars in 2008.
OL Kyle Brow and OL Shane Porter have been brought in to shore up the o-line. Both are Alberta high school products and were members of Team Alberta in 2008.
Coach & coordinators — Head coach Jerry Friesen is entering his ninth season at the helm of the Alberta football squad, and also acts as the team’s defensive coordinator. Friesen has compiled an overall record of 32 - 38 as head coach of the Golden Bears, including a 3 - 3 playoff record. After taking the team from a 4 - 4 season in 2003 to a 7 - 1 regular season mark in 2004, Friesen was named 2004 CIS Coach of the Year. Jeff Stead will enter his second season with the Bears as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Stead came to the U of A after spending ten seasons at the University of Manitoba and played quarterback himself at NCAA Div II school Bemidji State University in Minnesota.
Enrolment — 36 031 (29 343 undergraduate; 6 688 graduate)
Stadium/atmosphere — Foote Field on the South Campus of the University of Alberta, built back in 2001, is not on the main campus of the university, but rather on old university farm land just a short drive south of the main campus. The stadium is linked to the Main Campus by Edmonton's Light Rail Transit, giving students and fans from around the city easy transport to games. The South Campus has been pegged for major expansion, so once that expansion begins the stadium will be surrounded by residences and various buildings - but for now the stadium has a slightly secluded feel. Foote Field has a capacity of approximately 2 700. The atmosphere at Foote Field benefits from its smaller size when compared to some stadiums in Canada West (1 000 people in a 2 700 seat stadium creates more atmosphere than the same amount in a 30 000 seat stadium). The only downside to the atmosphere at Foote is that it is not on the main campus of the university.
Alumni in CFL — OL Gord Hinse (Edmonton Eskimos), LB Greg Whelan (Edmonton Eskimos), DL Pat MacDonald (Winnipeg Blue Bombers), OL Simeon Rottier (Hamilton Tiger-Cats)
From last season's preview — "Don't expect a dramatic turnaround from the Bears. They have a reasonably tough schedule, especially the middle portion where they'll face Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Regina (twice). [...] Prediction: Another 2-6 finish."
Stock up or stock down — Up. A large part of the Bears' success will hinge on whether or not a true number one quarterback emerges, but they should be better this season. Predicted record: 3-5.
Schedule (all times Mountain):
@ Saskatchewan - 7 p.m. (pre-season)
Friday, August 28
Friday, September 4 vs. British Columbia - 7 p.m.
Saturday, September 12 @ Calgary - 1 p.m.
Friday, September 18 @ Simon Fraser - 8 p.m.
Saturday, September 25 vs. Saskatchewan - 7 p.m.
Saturday, October, 3 @ Manitoba - 1 p.m.
Saturday, October 17 vs. Regina - 1 p.m.
Friday, October 23 @ Saskatchewan - 7 p.m.
Saturday, October 31 vs. Calgary - 1 p.m.
Games can be heard online at www.bears.ualberta.ca
(with information from Matt Gutsch, SID, University of Alberta)