CIS Countdown 2009: Saint Mary's Huskies

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)
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