WILL touchdown threat Nick Fitzgibbon finally be regarded as the OUA's top running back?
IS it better to let QB Justin Dunk, who is like a blond-haired Randall Cunningham when he's on, just cut loose?
CAN the defence avoid the October swoons it has had the past two seasons?
2008 recap and record — (4-5, 4-4). Guelph's season could be summed up by Maxwell Smart's old catchphrase: "Missed it by that much!" Three losses were by a total of eight points. Offensively, there was a lot to like. Fitzgibbon put up numbers as Guelph averaged 210 yards per game along the ground, second-best in the country. A young receiving group of Jedd Gardner (22 yards per catch), David Harrison, Zach Stacey and Michael Fortino gained valuable experience.
Walters' team had a better point differential than a 6-2 Laurier team. Now here comes the but: The defence gave up 600 or more yards three times and yielded an OUA playoff-record 327 on the ground to Ottawa's Davie Mason in a first-round playoff game. Guelph was also the second-most penalized team in the conference.
Setting up '09 — To see Guelph is to know it is a talented team. The triplets, Dunk, Fitzgibbon and Gardner, have big-play capability. The odd part is that for all its explosiveness, Guelph attempted 35 fewer passes last season than it did in 2007. That might have been borne out of a desire to limit interceptions (Dunk threw only eight, the first time he's been in single digits in his four seasons as starter) and to take advantage of their QB and running back's skill sets. If the receivers being a year older means anything, perhaps Guelph will have a different look this season.
Defensively, Guelph's 424 yards per game allowed would be higher if their game vs. York was replaced with the Ottawa playoff game (the Gryphons and Gee-Gees did not play in the regular season). Guelph has had a relatively small defensive front the past couple seasons. They have some talent in the secondary, though.
Most of our previews focus on offence and defence, but Guelph is superlative in that other one-third of the game with triple-threat kicker Rob Maver and return threats such as Gardner. Each earned all-Canadian recognition in '08 after Guelph led the country in punting average, was second in kickoff returns and third in punt-return average. Brad Crawford is a huge factor in coverage, just like his brother Bryan with the Toronto Argonauts.
Returning starters — 8 offence, 9 defence
Stepping out — RB Paul Bartley, FB Graeme Reed, G Ian Kelleher, LB Taggart Russell, LB Mike Millar, DB Sean Riley
Stepping up — QB Justin Dunk, RB Nick Fitzgibbon, WRs Jedd Gardner and David Harrison, DL Grant MacDonald LB Adam Dunk, CB Jordan Duncan, DBs James Savoie and Sebastian Howard, DB-ST Brad Crawford
Breakout performers — With Russell gone, it had best be a linebacker. Matthew Rossetti had his moments last season.
Future reference — RB Corey Davidson led Port Colborne Lakeshore Catholic to a Golden Horseshoe Bowl championship. Davidson is being expected to contribute right away as the No. 2 tailback. Guelph's other two vaunted recruits are both linemen from the Huronia Stallions, offensive tackle Jakob Piotrowski and D-lineman Cameron Thorn.
Coach & coordinators — Kyle Walters (fourth season); Jeff Keddie, offence; Bill Brown, defence.
Enrolment — 17,332
Stadium/atmosphere — Alumni Stadium, which can hold 5,100, is basically the classic OUA stadium, with a friendly atmosphere. Being in close proximity to Western, Waterloo, Laurier and McMaster means the visiting team is typically well-represented in the stands. The Gryphons have a good hometown following and the playoff run in 2007 seems to have increased interest in the team.
Off-the-field factors — Walters, the former Hamilton Tiger-Cat, seems to be building a pipeline into the Niagara region, usually McMaster's turf. The area has yielded players such as Gardner, Fortino, DB Sebastian Howard and James Savoie and two receiving recruits, Jason Diston and Taylor Palmer.
Alumni in NFL & CFL — Atlanta Falcons GM Tom Dimitroff, Roughriders WR David McKoy
From last season's preview — "It's not out of the realm of possibility that the Gryphons could get out of the gate 0-2 and still rally for a 5-3 finish. Guelph is past the days of moral victories, but it's not yet at Ottawa's level."
(It was 4-4 and they lost to Ottawa in the first round of the playoffs.)
Stock up or stock down — Down.
Schedule (all times Eastern)
Monday, Sept. 7 at Queen's, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 12 vs. York, 1 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 18 at Toronto, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 26 vs. Western, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 3 vs. Waterloo, 1 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 9 at Ottawa, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 17 vs. Laurier, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 at McMaster, 1 p.m.