CIS Countdown 2010: Saint Mary's Huskies

In 50 words or less: Even with more questions this year than last, the Huskies remain the top team on paper in the AUS. It remains to be seen how their lineup, including an inexperienced receiving corps, fares against the top teams from outside the conference.

Burning questions:

—ARE the Huskies going to claim their fourth-straight AUS title, or will they be stuck with a three-peat that Pat Riley won't let them sell celebratory shirts for?

—WILL hosting Laval in their lone interlock game (Week Two) be a boon, allowing them to pick up experience against quality opposition, or a setback, perhaps hurting their record and destroying their confidence?

—IF they make it out of the conference, will the Huskies be able to overcome a tough trip west across several time zones to likely face either Calgary or Saskatchewan in the Mitchell Bowl?

—CAN the (AUS) empire strike back? Former Huskies' QB Erik Glavic blew up the Saint Mary's Death Star in last season's national semifinal, but he could again have to confront his replacement (Jack Creighton) in the Mitchell Bowl if both Calgary and Saint Mary's get there.

2009 recap and record: 7-1 regular season, 1-1 playoffs

Saint Mary's got off to an unusually poor start last year, losing their first regular-season game to conference rival St. FX. They then rolled off seven straight conference wins to clinch first place in the conference and a first-round bye, and then beat the X-Men 31-22 in the playoffs before losing 38-14 at home to Calgary in the national semifinal.

Key departures: Second-team All-Canadian centre Derek Weber, second-team All-Canadian P/K Justin Palardy, and AUS first-team all-star receiver Carl Hardwick. Hardwick may be the toughest loss, as there isn't a lot of experience in the rest of the receiving corps [Monty Mosher, The Chronicle Herald].

Key arrivals: OL Sean Swanney, receiver Kyle Ritchie, receiver Harrison Brown, FB Kurt Tonowski. Swanney's a highly-touted offensive lineman straight out of Calgary's Foothills High School who has plenty of size (6'6'', 300 pounds). Ritchie and Brown could make significant impacts in the receiving corps this year, and Tonowski is a four-year junior football vet who played OL with the Victoria Rebels; his size (5'10'', 240 pounds) makes him a bit small to play on the line at the CIS level, but he could turn into one heck of a blocking back.

Keep an eye on: DL Dan Schutte. Schutte, another Alberta-raised guy and a former All-Canadian, struggled with injuries last year. If he can stay healthy, he could cause some havoc on the line. The Huskies also have plenty of experience in the backfield, as Devon Jones and Craig Leger are both in their fourth season; it will be interesting to see who claims the number-one role.

Coach and coordinators: Steve Sumurah is back for his fifth season as head coach and his 11th year at Saint Mary's (where he was the offensive coordinator for four Vanier Cup appearances and two championships). He's also coached at St. FX and in the AF2 (the smaller Arena Football League circuit). His overall record as a head coach with Saint Mary's is 24-7, 29-11 if you include playoff games. Sumurah will also be acting as offensive coordinator and coaching the quarterbacks. Danny Laramee is back as defensive and special-teams coordinator.

Off-the-field factors: Saint Mary's will get one interesting neutral-site game this year, as they take on Mount Allison Saturday, Sept. 25 in Moncton as part of the CFL's Touchdown Atlantic celebration weekend (the Argonauts and Eskimos play the next day). It should be a chance for them to show off their program to a CFL audience. They also aren't losing a home game out of the deal, as Mount Allison is the nominal home team for that one.

From last season's preview: "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)." Neate got it all right except for the Dinos heading east instead of the western Huskies.

Stock up or stock down: Down slightly. There are some key losses for the Huskies, so they don't seem as formidable overall as they were last season. However, Saint Mary's still likely has their dominant position in the conference: St. FX has more questions to answer, and Acadia and Mount Allison seem unlikely to take over top spot just yet, so the AUS is likely still the Huskies' to lose. Whoever the eventual AUS champion is, though, they will probably have an awfully tough path to the Vanier Cup through either Calgary or Saskatchewan. Thus, as Yogi Berra would put it, this year could be déjà vu all over again for the Huskies with an AUS championship and a stumble in the Mitchell Bowl.

Schedule (all times Atlantic):
Sat. Sept. 11 SMU at Acadia 2 p.m. Eastlink
Sat. Sept. 18 Laval at SMU 2 p.m. HC - Eastlink
Sat. Sept. 25 SMU at Mount Allison 1 p.m. @ Moncton
Fri. Oct. 1 Acadia at SMU 7 p.m.
Fri. Oct. 8 SMU at StFX 7 p.m.
Fri. Oct. 15 StFX at SMU 7 p.m.
Sat. Oct. 23 MTA at SMU 2 p.m.
Sat. Oct. 30 SMU at Acadia 2 p.m. Eastlink
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