CIS Countdown 2009: Ottawa Gee-Gees

Burning questions:

IS it possible they won't skip a beat offensively with Brad Sinopoli taking over at quarterback after apprenticing under Josh Sacobie for two seasons?

HAS the loss of the defence's emotional leader, linebacker Joe Barnes, been overlooked?

WILL a full season of Chayce Elliott at cornerback made a difference to a pass defence which occasionally gave up the big play in '08?

WHICH was a truer indicator? The 4-4 regular season or the 10-point road win over Queen's in the playoffs, and how much of a swing factor is the status of RB Davie Mason?

2008 recap and record — (6-5, 4-4). Ottawa ended up being the OUA's enigma. Injuries (they used 16 receivers) led to a lack of continuity and mental mistakes (conference-high 97 penalties). Three of the losses were by a total of seven points, so randomness also played a part in that .500 record. They bounced back with a playoff run away from home, beating Guelph and unbeaten Queen's. The regular-season woes caught up with the Gee-Gees in the Yates Cup, as they lost for the third time in the past two seasons to Western, which advanced with a 31-17 win. Graduating QB Josh Sacobie finished his career as the OUA's career passing yardage leader and second all-time in CIS.

Setting up '09 — Ottawa will probably try to do many of the same things with a new passer, Sinopoli, a new No. 1 tailback if Davie Mason does not materialize and a largely new receiving group, save for Cyril Adjeity (473 yards on 14.3 per catch last season). Sinopoli, variously described as a throwing dervish and "the fast Italian who can run," (as coach Denis Piché put it in April) will present a dual threat to defences, but Ottawa will most rely on its balanced pro-style passing game. The O-line is mostly intact, but they will have some different backs to running behind them. As of Aug. 24, three-year starter Davie Mason's status was unknown. Versatile Craig Bearrs, along with Matt Todd and rookies Brendan Gillanders and Franck Ngandui, wait in the wings if Mason is a no-show.

The Gee-Gees have rushing and receiving threats. The season opener will be a test for the O-line, however. (At last report, guard Frank Spera was alive and well and listed as a returnee!)

Defensively, outside 'backer Mike Cornell and tackle Sébastien Tétreault are the mainstays in the front seven, while Youcef Lekadir should provide a pass rush off the edge, especially. Both cornerbacks, Elliott and Lee Shaver, return. Having a large coaching staff has helped the Gee-Gees bring along players from backup to starter, so they are pretty good at handling turnover.

The new offensive group gets tested right off the hop with Western and Queen's in the first three weeks. Both are at Lansdowne Park and the Gee-Gees have a relatively huge home/road split.

Returning starters — 8 offence, 9 defence

Stepping out — QB Josh Sacobie; WRs Ivan Birungi, Ron Kelly, Justin Wood-Roy and Marc-André St-Hilaire; DE Ian Hazlett, DTs Bill Pritchard and Evan Prokipchuk; LB Joe Barnes; DB David Timmons.

Stepping up — QB Brad Sinopoli, RB Davie Mason, FB-RB-ST Craig Bearss, WRs Cyril Adjeity, Matthew Bolduc, Steven Hughes and Alex Fortier-Labonté; DT Sébastien Tétreault, LB Mike Cornell; CBs Lee Shaver and Chayce Elliott; DB Maxime Bédard

Breakout performers — The temptation is to list Elliott, a shutdown corner who only became eligible at the tailend of last season after transferring from Western Washington, which subsequently dropped football. He plays that kind of "offensive DB," position, as he also returns kicks. Keep an eye on D-lineman Youcef Lekadir, who was mobile enough that he once played fullback for Team Canada in the old NFL Global Junior Football Challenge. It's easy to picture him at the end spot Hazlett manned very capably last season.

Future reference — RB Brendan Gillanders and SB Simon LeMarquand. Gillanders was a high school star at Sir Wilfrid Laurier in east-end Ottawa who has Football Canada Cup experience. LeMarquand is from the same Gatineau Griffons CEGEP program which has already gifted the Gee-Gees with a good receiver, Fortier-Labonté.

Coach & coordinators — Denis Piché (eighth season). Chris Coulson, offensive; Phil Roberts, defensive.

Enrolment — 30,882 undergraduate; 4,666 post-graduate

Stadium/atmosphere — There a million and one reasons why the Gee-Gees don't draw well at Lansdowne Park. It is almost like there is a stigma after the events which took the fun out of the Panda Game, plus basketball has become the bone of contention between Ottawa and rival Carleton. The upshot, though, is that even its in diminished state, Lansdowne Park is not a bad place to watch a game if you're a diehard. It is right in the middle of a huge bar and pub district along Bank St., so hey, you can make your own fun.

Off-the-field factors — It is twofold with the stadium issue in Ottawa; what will Lansdowne look like and will the Gee-Gees still play there? The university, as many of this site's users have noted in comments, would like to build a cozy campus stadium.

Business leader John Ruddy, one of the movers-and-shakers behind the Lansdowne Live project, is a former defensive back at Carleton. Ruddy has talked about reviving football at Carleton, along with the CFL's Rough Riders, and the reasoning goes that it would be run on the Laval model. Ruddy wouldn't bring Carleton football back just so it can be mediocre, plus the administration would only want to bring it back if the terms were favourable. (CU's administration in the late 1990s had to fight tooth and nail to shutter the football program, which was an unpopular but ultimately right call, six national titles in basketball and an emerging hockey team later.)

Two CIS programs and a CFL team could not co-exist at one stadium. It's hard to imagine Ottawa being allowed to directly benefit.

Alumni in CFL — Tiger-Cats coach Marcel Bellefeuille, Argonauts CB Delroy Clarke, Roughriders WR Adam Nicolson, Roughriders LS Jocelyn Frenette, Eskimos DB Scott Gordon, Blue Bombers DB Steven Holness

From last season's preview — "The OUA playoffs aren't a cakewalk. The possiblity of a long layoff caused by closing the regular season vs. Toronto and then having a first-round bye won't do any favours for the Gee-Gees' focus, but great teams find a way not to need alibis." (It turned out someone else had worry about a layoff.)

Stock up or stock down — Down, but don't sell them short. They could be the darkhorse in the OUA.

Saturday, Aug. 29 at Sherbrooke, 1 p.m. (exhibition)
Sunday, Sept. 6 vs. Western, 5 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 12 at Waterloo, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 19 vs. Queen's, 1 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 25 at Toronto, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 3 at Laurier, 1 p.m. (Homecoming)
Friday, Oct. 9 vs. Guelph, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 17 at York, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 vs. Windsor,, 1 p.m.
(Bye: McMaster)
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  1. Good review! I think the o-line is the biggest riddle facing the Gee-Gees. If they solve it they could be the dark horse you mention.

    Gee-Gees also have added Garrett McNaull, a former DE with Saskatchewan.He is said to have size and speed , so he and Lekadir could make a couple of bookend DE's to give opposing O's a lot of trouble.

    I hope the Lansdowne Live proposal flies and that Ottawa can stay there. Rumour has it that LL may offer the Gee-Gees some incentives to stay there. The Ruddy attachment to Carleton aside: "A bird in hand (Ottawa) is worth two in the bush(Carleton). They know Ottawa has a team while a Carleton revival is still probably years away, if at all. Ottawa could then concentrate on building other needed sport facilities, like a modern gymnasium.

  2. Nice call on Carleton shutting down their football program. Too many alumni with foggy memories forget what a joke the program for most of its history and how pathetic Carleton's athletic program was in general when the football team was syphoning most of the money.

    One of the promises the school made when they shut down football was to pump the savings into improving the overall athletic program and facilities. They have come through with flying colours over the past decade.

  3. @Jason: It's quite something if you go back and look at what was written in 1999 when Drew Love and Richard VanLoon made that call.

    One column in the Ottawa Sun said it would set the school back 20 years. Quick, when was the last time someone made a "Cartoon U" joke? Chris Stevenson was the only one who thought it noteworthy at the time that on the day the football team disbanded, the Ravens men's basketball team won its first playoff game with Dave Smart on staff. You could look it up.

    There really should have been a "10 years after" retrospective back in March. Six national titles in b-ball, a women's team which is on the map in the OUA, solid soccer teams, developing hockey programs ... it worked out well for Carleton.

  4. So the area around Lansdowne is right in the middle of a huge bar and pub district...huge compared to what, Brockville or Brantford?

  5. Answering that question would be tacit admission of having been caught dead in either one of those towns. Besides, from Bank St. you can be in the Byward in, what, 10 minutes?

    There are a couple nice places to get a beer within walking distance of the stadium. You can't say that about Queen's.

  6. Plus if the Lqansdowne Live proposal goes ahead, there are likely to be pub/restaurants in the commercial developement part of Lansdowne.
    Also,it seems to have gone completely unnoticed by most that for the past two seasons you could buy a beer at a concession under the North Side stand and take it back to your seat for consumption. It is probably the only OUA football venue you can do this , now that the Marauders have left Ivor Wyn for their campus stadium.

  7. Lansdowne Live! is also talking of adding a USL soccer team. There could be a lot of college and pro teams trying to use that space. It's doable if Ottawa or a new Carleton football team practise elsewhere.

    It says here Ottawa should convert its Triple-A ballpark to soccer. That might make too much sense.

  8. The irony of the the football shutdown is that when it happened, Donn Smith's team actually had a respectable 5-3 record in its last year.
    There was a time...a brief shining moment,,,in the mid 80's when Ace Powell led the Ravens to its only OQIFC title.
    Unfortunately, Powell left, Gary Shaver took the reigns and when he was mercifully let go after four brutal years the program had withered and died.
    I think football could work now, given the now prevailing "we're in it to win it" attitude in Carleton's athletic department.
    It would be great to see the Ottawa-Carleton rivalry resurrected and like the two basketball teams play games that really mean something.

  9. Good point about the attitude having changed at Carleton U ...especially if it's run on the Laval model.

    The timing and tide might be right. The Carleton-Ottawa basketball rivalry has reignited that passion.

    By the way, I double-checked and Carleton was 1-7 in 1998, its final season. There is some irony, though, in who was the last team it beat.

    The OQ was ridiculous that season ... Concordia finished first at 6-2 and went to the Vanier, Laval made the playoffs for the first time and upset Ottawa (that was when the Gee-Gees were barred from a home playoff date) and there was the Blackout Bowl in the Dunsmore Cup.

  10. The CFL, talking to the USL, keeping a university team there. Probably all part of a strategy to impress city council that a revamped stadium will be well used; so that they will be more inclined to vote for the Lansdowne Live deal.

  11. Neate...yeah, you were right.
    1996 was the last year Carleton finished over .500, not 1998.
    I should have done due diligence, ie, check Bob Adams.
    I think I had in mind some comment made by someone on another blog that Drew Love pulled the plug "just when the Ravens were getting good again".
    I think, in retrospect, he was on of those guys Jason was talking about.
    Speaking of Drew Love, I don't think he gets enough credit for turning around the culture at Carleton.
    Unlike his predecessor, Dr. Do Nothing, Love took several bold steps to revamp the athletic program, which was becoming moribund.
    Gassing the football program seemed like an easy call in hindsight, but at the time, it was an incredibly ballsy move.
    Make no mistake, Love was under tremendous heat for making that choice, including being threatened with physical harm.
    But it had to be done because football, finacially, was sucking the life blood out of the entire program.

  12. Now that you mention it, and I don't know if Adams goes back prior to 1995, but Carleton was semi-respectable in the mid-'90s.

    Queen's had down years in 1993-94 so I might not have been too engaged in university football during those seasons. When you're a teenager, you check out when a team wins only three games in two seasons.

    The Gaels later had another three-wins-in-two-years stretch, which coincided with a certain someone's stint as sports editor of The Queen's Journal and as a broadcaster with CFRC 101.9 FM. It was a little hard to disassociate then!