CIS Countdown 2010: Acadia Axemen

In 50 words or less: Acadia's generally in a similar situation to Mount Allison these days, playing AUS also-ran to Saint Mary's and St. FX. Will this year be a step forward in the process of getting back to their conference-championship form of 2006?

Burning questions:
CAN the Axemen beat anyone other than Mount Allison? They knocked off the Mounties twice last year, but weren't particularly close in any other game.

HOW will the Axemen replace QB Keith Lockwood, who used his fifth year of eligibility last season? Lockwood, a California native, was pretty solid for Acadia over the last few seasons. Last year, he completed 106 of 218 passes for 1373 yards and seven touchdowns while being intercepted four times. He was named the AUS and CIS offensive player of the week in Week One as well. Kyle Graves (in his second year of eligibility last season) wasn't terribly effective in limited duty last year, completing only 20 of 52 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown and throwing four interceptions. Will he take over the starting role, or do the Axemen have someone else in mind?

WHAT do the Axemen need to do to recover their old form? They were formerly an AUS team to be reckoned with, finishing second in the conference for four straight years from 1998 to 2001, third in 2002 (with a 4-4 record still), second again in 2003 and 2004 and then winning both the regular-season title and the conference playoffs in 2005 and 2006. Since then, it's been mostly downhill: third-place finishes and first-round playoff exits in 2007 and 2009, a fourth-place finish in 2008 and six total wins over the last three years.

2009 recap: The Axemen went 2-6 last season, recording two substantial wins over Mount Allison but getting thumped in most of their other games. The highlight was probably a narrow 33-30 playoff loss to St. FX on Nov. 7. The lowlight? A 60-7 loss to the same team on Oct. 3.

Departures: In addition to the aforementioned Lockwood, the Axemen had two other fifth-year players on the roster last year, OL Greg Kinsman and receiver Devon Jones. The team's recruiting update mentions "the graduation of several starting offensive linemen", which suggests that some or all of their fourth-year OL guys (Greg Knight, Erik Watson, Marshall Bax, Chris Cartwright and Roy Medeiros) may be gone as well.

Arrivals: That recruiting list is a hefty one. The Axemen brought in 30 guys this off-season, and there's a good geographical spread from North Vancouver (WR/DB Jon Carr) to Vermont (RB Cooper Wile). Some of Acadia's Alberta prospects might be the most promising, including DL Kirby Fletcher (Peace River), C Travis Miller (Grande Prairie via the CJFL's Okanagan Sun, where he was named their top offensive lineman in 2009) and DB Jordan Michalow (Edmonton). OL Shaun Feasby, a transfer from U of T, is also an intriguing player.

Keep an eye on: Third-year RB Brett Haenni led the team in rushing last year with 369 yards on 68 attempts for a solid 5.4 yards per carry average. He only finished with one touchdown, though. Haenni's success will likely be closely linked to the play of the revamped offensive line, but if they can give him some blocking, he could have another good year.

Coach & coordinators: Head coach and defensive coordinator Jeff Cummins is heading into his eighth year leading the team and has put up a 25-31 regular-season record (4-5 playoffs). He's been there through the hard times (2008's 1-7 campaign) and the good (AUS championships in 2005 and 2006). Cummins is a former defensive lineman from the University of Oregon who played with Las Vegas, Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton in the CFL. He'll have some help on the defensive side of the ball with the addition of Marcello Simmons, who will be working with the defensive backfield and special teams. Simmons starred at Southern Methodist University as a defensive back and then played two years in the NFL (with Cincinnati and Jacksonville) and seven more in the CFL, including a substantial time with the Toronto Argonauts where he played with Cummins. Assistant head coach Josh Lambert is back for his 10th year and will again be serving as offensive coordinator.

Off-the-field factors: Acadia got some bad press earlier this month thanks to LB Taylor Shadgett testing positive for Stanozolol and admitting to taking Winstrol. He's been suspended for two years. As Neate pointed out, the latest positive tests don't necessarily mean much for CIS football considering how few of them there were, and one positive test does not a dirty program make. Still, you can bet there will be more of a media focus on Acadia's program from a steroids perspective than there has been in the past.

From last season's preview: "Veterans Lockwood and Devon Jones are the primary pass-and-catch combo for an offence which needs to average more than 19.5 points vs. conference opponents (last season's figure)."

Acadia wound up averaging only 17.2 points per game last year while allowing 29.9. They were better in games against conference opponents (123 points for in six regular-season games, which works out to 20.5 points per game), but 86 of those points (69.9 per cent) came against Mount Allison; they scored 34 points (8.5 per game) in regular-season action against St. FX and Saint Mary's. The Axemen will be hoping their offence plays more like it did against St. FX in the AUS semifinals, where they put up 30 points (but still lost 33-30).

Stock up or stock down: DOWN. Things could go right for the Axemen and they could improve on last year's record, but losing a talented fifth-year QB, his primary target and several offensive line starters doesn't exactly scream "Banner year!" Moreover, their games haven't gotten any easier: Saint Mary's and St. FX should be good again and Mount Allison has several signs pointing to improvement. They only have one interlock game instead of two, but a road date against Bishop's isn't going to be easy, and the diminished interconference play means they get an extra date against Saint Mary's. The early part of their schedule is brutal, too; v. Saint Mary's, @Bishop's, v. St. FX, @Saint Mary's, so they could conceivably start 0-4.

Schedule: (all times Atlantic)

Sat., Sept. 11. vs. Saint Mary's, 2 p.m.
Sat., Sept. 18, @Bishop's, 1 p.m.
Sat., Sept, 25, vs. St. FX, 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 1, @ Saint Mary's, 7 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 9, @Mount Allison, 2 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 16, v. Mount Allison (Homecoming), 2 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 23, @St. FX, 2 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 30, v. Saint Mary's, 2 p.m.
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