In 50 words or less: With a new QB and a revamped receiving corps, can the Bisons rebound from a tumultuous 2009 and end a two-year stint outside of the playoffs? Or will the lack of experience on offense and a defense with large holes be too much to overcome?
Burning questions: Who will the be the starting quarterback?
WILL the losses of Eddie Steele and Wyatt Jacobi from the defensive line be too much attrition for the Bisons to take?
CAN any of the 41 new players appearing at training camp make an impact on a team with very few "star" players?
2009 recap (Final Record: 2-5): A year removed from their 2007 Vanier Cup championship, the Bisons seemed poised to rejoin the elite of the Canada West conference. However, early losses to Regina (10-28) and Simon Fraser (7-41) put Manitoba on the defensive from the very beginning of the season, and any chance of finding their way into the playoffs was put to an end with two wins retroactively taken away to the Julian Hardy scandal.
In 2010, they start with 7 returning starters on defense, losing Canada West All-Star Eddie Steele but retaining most of their core, which finished second in total defense (just 390 yards a game) last season. On offense, RB Matt Henry (655 yards, 4.7 per attempt) is the only returning playmaker, but considering the Bisons finished dead last in conference passing last year, that may not be a bad thing.
Departures: QB Nate Friesen, LB Jim Jeavons, DL Wyatt Jacobi, DL Eddie Steele, OL Ryan Karhut, FB Will Sheils, SB Jeremy Botelho, WR Julian Hardy, C Kurtis Stolth, SB Clancy Dorion, WR Rory Anderson, HB Marlon Azurdia
Arrivals: WR Jared Ralko, WR, Tyson Takasaki, SB Tyson Hinds, DL Evan Gill, LB Thomas Miles, DB Jeff Thompson, OL Ben Downs, SB Tom Shaw, DB Matt Arnold, K Nick Naylor
Keep an eye on: The potential quarterback controversy, as Khaleal Williams and Kevin Hayes battle to take over the top spot vacated by the graduated Nate Friesen. Williams struggled in limited playing time last year (3 interceptions on just 19 passes), but as the 2008 CJFL outstanding offensive player, he does have the inside track. As for who the eventual QB will throw it to, there are incoming receivers Jared Ralko and Tyson Takasaki, both of whom tore up the CJFL last year.
Off-the-field factors: To quote the lede of the Winnipeg Sun's preview, "The past 10 months have been like no other in Brian Dobie’s 15 years at the helm of the University of Manitoba Bisons football team." Between the two losses via retroactive forfeit, the ugly situation surrounding Jeremy Bothelo, and the fact that they failed to make the playoffs for two straight years for the first time since 2003-2004, there is more than idle curiosity surrounding the Bisons this year.
From last season's preview: "Up. They won't be at the level they were at from 2006-2008, but with the already strong defense returning mostly intact, the Bisons should return to the playoff fold." - Justin McElroy, In my defense, I thought teams would read the rule book.
Stock up or stock down: Sideways. After a tumultuous year, the Bisons are definitely flush with fresh faces (nearly half the players in training camp are new recruits), but it looks like it will take a year or two for the team to become a national contender. In what looks to be a bunched-up Canada West conference, a relatively easy schedule will help, and their final game against UBC will probably have big playoff implications.
Schedule: (all times local)
9/3/2010 at Regina 7:00 PM
9/11/2010 vs. Alberta 2:00 PM
9/18/2010 at UBC 1:00 PM
9/25/2010 vs. Calgary 1:00 PM
10/1/2010 at Saskatchewan 7:00 PM
10/16/2010 vs. Regina 2:00 PM
10/23/2010 at Alberta 1:00 PM
10/30/2010 vs. UBC 1:00 PM