CIS Countdown 2010: Saskatchewan Huskies

For this next preview, we'll trust the wisdom of Dallas Carpenter from Huskie Football Outsider. Take it away, Dallas:

In 52 words or less: The Huskies are poised to take the next step this year, and should finish first or second in Canada West. They were a last-minute, missed field goal from advancing to the Uteck Bowl last year, and it should be just as close between the Huskies and Dinos this season.

Burning questions:

CAN the Huskies offence come out of the gate firing in 2010? Last season was a tale of two halves, as the Huskies scored 55 points and averaged 352.5 yards of offence in their first four games before lighting up their opposition in the second half, putting up 156 points, an average of 460.5 yards of offence, and winning their games by an average margin of 29.5 points.

WILL the Huskies continue their dominant play on defence in 2010? As dominant as the Dinos were on offence, the Huskies were just as dominant on defence, holding their opponents to 112 points against in 2009 and 83 points against in 2008. They will be challenged by the departures of cornerback Grant Shaw, a Canada West All-Star and Second Team All-Canadian, and linebacker Taylor Wallace, the Canada West defensive player of the year in 2009. However, with eight of 12 starters in only their first or second year last season, the maturation of the defence overall should keep them playing at a similar level as the past two seasons.

HOW will injuries affect the Huskies' season this year? It seems as though a key injury or two has a major impact on this club every season, with injuries to running backs Dathan Thomas, Jeff Hassler and Tyler O’Gorman forcing them to start rookie receiver Garrett Bolen at tailback early last season. In addition, a sprained ankle kept their leading tackler and pass defender, safety Bryce McCall, out of the Hardy Cup, an injury which many observers felt cost the Huskies a trip to Halifax. It is hoped Saskatchewan’s offseason training program, which is run by offensive line and strength and conditioning coach Bart Arnold (and is known as “Bart-U”), will minimize the trips to sick bay in 2010.

2009 recap: The Huskies finished 7-1, good for first in Canada West. The Huskies beat the Regina Rams 53-23 in the Canada West semi-final and lost to the Calgary Dinos, 39-38, in the Hardy Cup. The high point of the season was the week one overtime victory over the Calgary Dinos, while the low point came in week three with a 27-7 loss to the Alberta Golden Bears.

Departures:: On offence, the Huskies graduated starting receivers Scott McHenry (now of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers) and Cory Jones. Running back Tyler O’Gorman and left guard Hubert Buydens, a Canada West All-Star each of the past four seasons and a Second Team All-Canadian in 2006 and 2008, also used up their eligibility. On defence, the Huskies lose both starting cornerbacks, 2009 Canada West All-Star and Second Team All-Canadian Grant Shaw (now the starting placekicker with the Toronto Argonauts) and 2008 Canada West All-Star and Second Team All-Canadian Jon Krahenbil. They also graduated linebacker Taylor Wallace, who was the President’s Trophy nominee as the top defensive player in Canada West last season.

Arrivals:: Mitch Stevens, the fourth leading receiver in the Prairie Football Conference with the Saskatoon Hilltops in 2009, and transfer Dale Furber, who was a starter on the offensive line for the Simon Fraser Clan each of the past two seasons, will ably fill holes on offence. Gregg Woytowich, a 2007 and 2008 CJFL All-Canadian at cornerback for the Hilltops, and Dane Bishop, a 2009 Carr Conference MVP nominee in Edmonton and an Alberta Senior Bowl starter at linebacker, are expected to make immediate impacts on defence.

Keep an eye on: Slotback Braeden George, who starred at receiver for the West team at this spring’s East-West Bowl, has the CFL written all over him. This physical and fast receiver led the Huskies with 244 yards and four touchdowns in their two playoff games in 2009.

Coach & coordinators: Coach Brian Towriss heads into his 27th season as Head Coach of the University of Saskatchewan. He is joined by Defensive Coordinator Ed Carleton (18th year) and offensive coordinator Brent Schneider (14th year). Under Towriss’ tenure, the Huskies have compiled a 132-75-1 regular season record, winning 11 Hardy Cups, nine Bowl games, and three Vanier Cups. The Huskies have not missed the playoffs since 2000, and have finished first or second in the conference six times in the past ten years.

Off-the-field factors: The fan support of the Huskies is second-to-none in Canada West, averaging 4,370 fans in the regular season, almost 2,500 better than the Regina Rams, who had the second-best following. The atmosphere and noise at Griffiths, which includes a band and NFL-level pyrotechnics, has been cited by opposition coaches as having an impact on their teams' play and ability to communicate on the field. It has also been mentioned as a factor by many top recruits who wish to play in front of a loud, boisterous crowd and fun atmosphere.

From last season's preview: "Defensively, Bryce McCall came in last year to fill the void left by Dylan Barker and exceeded all expectations. McCall may not match his 5 interceptions from last season, but will continue to be a leader on defence." -Richard Zussman

McCall was indeed a leader once again, leading the Huskies with seven interceptions and 45.5 tackles. His physical presence and ball-hawking ability was sorely missed in the Hardy Cup against the Dinos, but he is back and fully healthy for his third year with the Huskies.

Stock up or stock down: Even. The Huskies have taken progressive steps in each of their past three seasons and are expected to challenge the Dinos for the Canada West title once again.
Most don’t realize that the Huskies underwent a major roster turnover over the past two years and that 11 of 24 starters were in their first or second year of eligibility last season. This squad is maturing, especially along the lines of scrimmage, and has veteran leadership in key areas such as quarterback, linebacker and receiver to rely on when times get tough. It will take everything they have to get by Calgary, but as they proved last season, they are one of the few squads in Canada capable of doing just that.

Schedule: (all times Eastern)
Fri Aug 27 vs. Western (non-conference)
Sat Sept 4 @ Calgary
Fri Sept 10 vs UBC
Sat Sept 18 @ Regina
Fri Sept 24 @ Alberta
Fri Oct 1 vs. Manitoba
Fri Oct 15 vs Calgary
Fri Oct 22 @ UBC
Fri Oct 29 vs Regina
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