With the SFU Clan having moved onto greener pastures, the Canada West football schedule features six teams this go around, and a conference wide bye week October 9. Much like last season the schedule is highlighted by the matchups between the conference's elite, with the defending conference champs (who should have captured the Vanier a year ago as well) the Calgary Dinos taking on the Saskatchewan Huskies September 4th, and October 15th.
Those two teams will undoubtedly be the favourites heading into the season, and their two contests are circled on my calendar as the two biggest on the regular season schedule, after the two sides hooked up for an epic overtime game in their lone regular season game last season, and of course the equally entertaining CW championship game.
While the Dinos-Huskies games are the highlights of the regular season, here are some thoughts on a couple of the most compelling weekends on the CW regular season schedule as a whole:
Week 1: Manitoba @ Regina: Friday, September 3 - In a rematch of last season's opening game for both squads, the Bisons will be looking to get off on the right foot after what can best be described as a memorable season for the Herd in 2009 that started with a 28-10 loss to the Rams. Manitoba had to forfeit a pair of wins last season after Julian Hardy suited up for the Bisons during the first five games of the season, including wins against UBC and Alberta. You can get the full rundown of that bizarre situation from an earlier post.
Regina will come into their season opener after a 3-5 season a year ago in which they lost their playoff game to provincial rival Saskatchewan, and a key for the Rams will be getting in the win column in the opener, because if they don't it could take a while. Regina takes on Calgary then Saskatchewan after their meeting with Manitoba, so finding a win right off the bat is especially key to the Rams.
Manitoba on the other hand will be looking to erase last season from their collective memory immediately. 2009 couldn't have gone much worse for Manitoba. The Herd have a much easier opening three weeks than Regina, with Alberta and then UBC after the opener, so even if they drop their contest in the Queen City Manitoba has the luxury of not having to face Calgary or Saskatchewan right away.
Alberta @ UBC: Saturday, Sept. 4 - The Bears had one of their best, and worst performances of the seasons all wrapped into one game last year in their only game against the T-Birds. In their home/season opener Alberta rushed out to a 24-6 halftime lead, and then proceeded to lay an egg in the second half, with UBC scoring 19 second half points including the winning TD with 47 seconds left in the 4th to stun the Foote Field crowd with a 25-24 win.
That was UBC's lone true win of the season, after they secured to wins via forfeit as well - one compliments of SFU and the other Manitoba, to post a less than dazzling 3-5 record. Of course their have been changes in Van City, and what sort of team the T-Birds will field remains to be seen.
In Green and Gold Land, making up for that embarrassing loss against UBC a year ago will go a long way to setting the tone for a season in which the post-Quade era begins at QB.
Saskatchewan @ Calgary: Saturday, Sept. 4 - This one's going to be good. In the first of two meetings between the conference's two best teams (far and away), Calgary starts its CW title defence and more importantly a road the Dinos hope takes them back to La Belle Province, and the scene of their Vanier Cup crumble a year ago against Queen's.
Both teams are going to be terrific again this season, with the returning talent on both sides highlighted by two-time Hec Creighton winner Erik Glavic who will be out for redemption after the Dinos Vanier loss.
The two squads played two of the best games in recent history last year, and this time around we'll get to see two regular season games between the Dinos and Huskies. A great opening weekend game to set the tone for what should be a two horse race for the conference crown.
Week 3: Calgary @ Alberta: Saturday, Sept. 18 - The Bears got more than they could handle against the Dinos in their final two games of the 2009 season, with a 40-5 loss in the final regular season weekend, and then a 45-13 loss at the hands of Calgary in the playoffs. Alberta did play the Red and Black tough in a 34-31 loss in their other meeting in 2009, but the gap that existed between these two teams is still significant heading into 2010.
The Battle of Alberta has provided some compelling games in the past, but recent history has shown the Dinos have far outpaced their provincial counterparts having won four of the last five contests against the Bears over the last two seasons.
Saskatchewan @ Regina: Saturday, Sept. 18 - Much like the Bears in Alberta, the Rams have been the left in the dust by their provincial rivals the Huskies when it comes to success in recent years. The Rams dropped all three games against Saskatchewan last year - 10-9, and 42-17 in the regular season and then 52-23 in the playoffs.
Like the Bears-Dinos rivalry, the Rams-Huskies games this season may provide minimal drama when it comes to writing a new chapter in the provincial rivalry. Saskatchewan is a far better team than Regina at this stage in the game, and the Rams will be in tough in their second home game of the year.
Manitoba @ UBC: Saturday, Sept. 18 - The lone game of the weekend that doesn't feature a provincial rivalry may in fact be the best. Manitoba looks to be the better team on paper, but with a new coach on the West Coast, and new pieces in place who knows really how good UBC will be.
Both Calgary and Saskatchewan will in all likelihood be heading into Edmonton and Regina respectively as the heavy favourites, but when it comes to this UBC-Manitoba matchup a lot of question marks surround both teams heading into the season. That uncertainty could make for a very competitive, revealing game between the T-Birds and Bisons.
Week 6: Calgary @ Saskatchewan: Friday, October 15 - Coming off the conference wide bye week, the Dinos and Huskies second meeting of the season kicks off the CW stretch drive. Both teams will be jockeying for position presumably for top spot, and depending on who wins the opener, one side will be looking to even the season series.
Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon should be rockin' for the Friday night game, in what should be the best regular season game of the year. Both teams will have an extra week to prepare, and will be in mid-season form making this one a treat.
UBC @ Alberta: Saturday, October 16 - Alberta and UBC start their playoff pushes in Edmonton, the scene of last years home opening meltdown for the Bears. At this point in the season both sides should know what to expect, especially given the bye. Coaching should factor heavily into all of these weekend series with the extra prep time, and what kind of plan new UBC coach Shawn Olson has coming off the bye will be an interesting aspect to watch unfold at Foote Field.
Regina @ Manitoba: Saturday, Oct. 16 - This game should have playoff implications just like all the others. Manitoba has the most favourable schedule down the stretch, as they are the only squad that won't have to face either Calgary or Saskatchewan in their final three games. That means Manitoba maybe trying to play a little bit of catch up having faced both powerhouses in the first five weeks of play, or it could mean they are in the drivers seat to a playoff spot - either way they have the best schedule in the closing weeks.
Regina on the other hand has the hardest schedule down the stretch, playing Calgary the week after their meeting with Manitoba, and then finishing up the regular season against Saskatchewan - the Rams better make this one count.
Week 8: Regina @ Saskatchewan: Friday, October 29 - The first game of the final regular season weekend features an all Wheat Province matchup. The game caps off a difficult stretch for the Rams who come into the weekend after playing Calgary. As for the Huskies they return home after a trip to Vancouver a week earlier.
The playoff implications of this one are anyone's guess, but I'd put my money on Saskatchewan being in a position to keep the pressure on Calgary for first place, with Regina in the thick of the playoff race.
Alberta @ Calgary: Saturday, Oct. 30 - Calgary wraps up the regular season at home, and much like Saskatchewan I see them in a race for first place with Saskatchewan. The Bears have a manageable schedule after the bye, and should come into the weekend in the thick of the playoff race - playoff implications should be abound in this one just like the Regina-Saskatchewan game.
UBC @ Manitoba: Saturday, Oct. 30 - Just like the third week of the season, this game is the lone non-rivalry contest. Manitoba wraps up their schedule at home, while UBC has to travel across the prairies to complete their 2010 campaign. UBC very well could have a vastly improved season this year, but even if they do have a turnaround year, I can't see them being the playoff hunt come the final regular season weekend. The Herd should be in, and looking to secure the #3 spot.
There's your look at some of the big weekends on the CW regular season schedule for the upcoming season. Of course a lot can change from week to week, and between now and the start of the season, but it's never too early to get the football juices flowing. You can check out the full schedule, along with the playoff schedule here.
[Cross-posted to South Campus Sports.]