In 50 words or less: Losing a starting quarterback to graduation is never easy. Losing the CIS all-time leading passer a lot harder. But with some key returning pieces and a proven coaching staff, the Western Mustangs are a threat to offset the loss of Michael Faulds and return to the Yates Cup.
Burning questions: CAN coach Greg Marshall’s son Donnie fill the shoes of Faulds and run an efficient offence?
IS speedy RB Nathan Riva primed for a monster year, or will a training camp hamstring injury slow him down?
WILL the Mustangs’ depth and versatility at linebacker wreak havoc on opposing offences?
CAN the elder Marshall turn a relatively weak defensive line in 2009 into a strong one in 2010?
2009 recap: (8-3, 6-2) The Mustangs cruised to a 6-2 record in regular season play last season, dropping games only to Queen’s and McMaster while securing home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs. Faulds overtook Golden Gaels pivot Dan Brannagan as CIS all-time leading passer in the final game of the season, while Riva led the league in all-purpose TDs with 15. After racking up postseason victories over Guelph and Wilfrid Laurier, the Mustangs fell to Queen’s in a thrilling Yates Cup that saw Faulds make a last-stand, 3rd down pass on a mangled knee only to come up just short of an epic victory.
Departures: QB Michael Faulds, WR Jesse Bellamy, WR Josh Svec, OL Zach Pollari, OL Andy Rady, DL Chris Greaves, CB Josh Foster
Arrivals: QB Ben Rossong, QB Ian Noble (transfer from Laurier), OL Joe Circelli, WR Brian Marshall (yes, that Marshall), WR Bryce Lawrence, LB John Monyhan, DB Nick Shuster (transfer from Simon Fraser).
Keep an eye on: Quarterbacks Ben Rossong and Donnie Marshall. Marshall is extremely quick, but may not fill the Mustangs’ needs for passing under centre. Rossong, a first year recruit from Sackville, NS, could be the long-term answer for the purple horses. Linebacker John Surla was nothing short of dominant last year, and will be expected to anchor the defence along with fellow LBs (and CFL draft picks) Conor Elliot (Argos) and Jason Kosec (Eskimos). Riva may be Western’s most explosive scoring option when healthy, but will likely miss the first few weeks with a hamstring injury.
Coach & coordinators: Greg Marshall enters his fourth season as Head Coach and fifth as Offensive Co-ordinator. Defensive Co-ordinator Paul Gleason, Special Teams and Recruiting Co-ordinator Mickey Donovan and Offensive Line Coach Chris Bertoia also return.
Off-the-field factors: With Queen’s losing plenty of starters and Ottawa, Mac and Laurier all looking better than last year, there is no clear favourite in the OUA this year. Few would be surprised, however, to see the Mustangs hoisting the Yates Cup in November.
From last season's preview: “… Western knows 2009 represents its best chance to win a Vanier Cup. Faulds is in his fifth season and it will take time to develop an equally good game manager once he departs.” – Neate Sager.
Had that epic 2009 Yates game gone longer or had Faulds not mangled his knee, 2009 could have been a Vanier season for Western.
Stock up or stock down: A little bit down. Losing Faulds is crushing, but with no OUA favourite and a host of returning players, Western has not dropped out of contention by any means.
Wednesday, Sept. 1 vs. Laurier, 7 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 6 at Ottawa, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 11 vs. McMaster, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 18 at Windsor, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 25 at Guelph, 1 p.m.
Sat, Oct. 2 vs. Queen’s, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 16 at York, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct 23 vs. Toronto, 1 p.m.