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.