In 50 words or less: The Mounties won a grand total of five regular-season games in the past five seasons. Can they turn it around in their 55th season of existence, or will 2010 be another sad year in Sackville?
CAN Mount Allison win a game this year, or are they doomed to go 0-8 again?
WILL their new recruits be enough to help the Mounties claim one of the three AUS playoff berths?
WHAT can 2009 Hec Crighton Trophy nominee Gary Ross do for an encore in his fifth and final season? He's already set numerous school and conference records; will he be able to carry the Mounties to a greater level of team success as well?
HOW long will the university give head coach Kelly Jeffrey to succeed? His rookie season in 2008 saw the Mounties go 2-6 and claim a playoff berth (before getting dispatched 52-12 by St. FX), but last year's 0-8 campaign was a step back.
IS experience all that important? The Mounties return all 12 of their offensive starters from last year and nine of their defensive starters, but those units didn't play particularly well as a whole last season. Will the experience they gained benefit them this year, or will the high amounts of returnees lead to more mediocrity?
ARE football games really won in the trenches? If so, that might bode well for Mount Allison. All five starting offensive linemen from last season are back, and they picked up some individual accolades despite the team's struggles; RG Mike Filer and LT Aaron Harper were AUS all-stars and LG Chris Munn earned a slot in the East-West Bowl.
2009 recap: Mount Allison's 2009 campaign got off to a poor start with a 58-15 loss to Acadia on the road, but the Mounties played much better in their homecoming game against St. Francis Xavier in Week Two and only fell 27-21. The only other game they had a shot in was also against St. FX in the final week, where they lost 31-18 on the road. That leaves some room for optimism, as the X-Men finished 6-2 last season, and two wins have often proved enough to claim the third AUS playoff berth. The Mounties' worst loss could breed plenty of pessimism, however, as there isn't much to be impressed about from the 73-7 thrashing Laval gave them on the road on Oct. 17.
Departures: Mount Allison only graduated a pair of fifth-year players from last year's team, K/P Olivier Eddie and RB Matt Cormier, so the vast majority of their roster should return for another year. They also lose RB Scott Brady, though.
Arrivals: The Mounties' list of incoming recruits is pretty impressive from a geographical standpoint; they have the usual raft of Maritime players, but also new players from Phoenix, Arizona (OL Russell Estabrooks), San Diego, California (RB Alonzo Howell), Abbotsford, B.C. (DL Jonathan Abril), Brooks, Alberta (WR Troy Trentham), Langham, Alberta (LB Keegan Lemieux), Winnipeg, Manitoba (K/P John Szilaygi and OL Stephen Armstrong), Newmarket, Ontario (DL Mark Fullerton and LB James Holobow), Guelph, Ontario (DB Brandon Dubs) and Nepean, Ontario (RB Braeden de Palezieux). Szilaygi might be one of the most interesting recruits, as he's replacing Eddie and is expected to start immediately. He most recently played with the Winnipeg Jr. Rifles of the CJFL.
Keep an eye on:
The name everyone knows from Mount Allison is multi-talented WR/KR Gary Ross, who earned the AUS nominee for the Hec Creighton Trophy last year despite the Mounties' awful season. He set an AUS receiving record with 60 catches for 818 yards last season, and is the AUS all-time leader in receiving yards and kick-return yards. He also ran 17 times for 138 yards last year, an average of 8.1 yards per carry. CIS Blog co-founder James Mirtle wrote an excellent piece on Ross and his unique story two years ago. Ross will be heading into his fifth and final season this fall, and could make it one to remember.
QB Jake Hotchkiss might be primed for a breakthrough season. He came in as a rookie last year from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, and turned in a pretty impressive performance, seeing action in seven games while starting five. He completed 92 of his 156 passing attempts for 1179 yards. He only threw seven touchdowns against 11 interceptions, though, but he ran 34 times for 236 yards (an average of 6.9 yards per attempt), the second-highest rushing total on the team. Hotchkiss was listed in last year's program as 6'4'' and 204 pounds, so he certainly has physical tools that might help, and a year of experience might also help.
RB Matt Pickett might also be one to watch. He finished fourth in AUS in rushing yards last season with 441 on 94 attempts, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He also caught 10 passes for 57 yards. Behind Mount Allison's veteran offensive line, he could be poised for success.
Coach & coordinators: As previously mentioned, Jeffrey is heading into his third year with the team. His bright start in 2008, taking the team back to the AUS playoffs, was somewhat marred by last year's 0-8 campaign. He's also the team's offensive coordinator, but he has a new defensive coordinator in Scott Annand, who has a pretty impressive resume that includes stints as a guest coach with the NFL's New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills and five years of CFL experience (two with Montreal, the last three with Calgary). Annand also knows the AUS opposition well, as he coached with St. FX for nine years and SMU for 10 years. The Mounties also have a new LB coach in Peter Miller and a new DB coach in Scott Brady.
Off-the-field factors: The Mounties will get to play one particularly special game this year [Brent Mazerolle, The Moncton Times and Transcript]. As part of the CFL's Touchdown Atlantic game in Moncton on Sunday, Sept. 26, there's going to be a three-day street festival in the area. The festival will include a series of "Future Stars" games, including the Mount Allison - Saint Mary's clash Saturday.
From last season's preview: "HOW close are they to challenging for second spot in the AUS in this, the final season for offensive dynamos Kelly Hughes and Gary Ross?"
Not that close, apparently, and it wasn't Ross' final season. Hughes wound up not playing, which probably didn't help. Still, that preview shows last year's 0-8 campaign certainly wasn't anticipated by many. Like last year, there are lots of bright spots for the Mounties; the question is if those will translate into a greater degree of team success this time around.
Stock up or stock down: UP. It's tough to get worse from a 0-8 season, and there's plenty to be optimistic about with new recruits and an experienced coach like Annand stepping in as the defensive coordinator.
Saturday, Sept. 11 v. St. FX
Friday, Sept. 17 at Sherbrooke
Saturday, Sept. 25 v. Saint Mary's (in Moncton)
Saturday, Oct. 2 at St. FX
Saturday, Oct. 9 v. Acadia
Saturday, Oct. 16 at Acadia
Saturday, Oct. 23 at Saint Mary's
Saturday, Oct. 30 v. St. FX