In 50 words or less: 2010's 1-7 campaign was a huge step back for the X-Men, who went 6-2 and won a playoff game in 2009 before losing to Saint Mary's in the Loney Bowl. Which season will they be closer to this year?

Burning questions:

1) WILL youth be served? The X-Men played notable amounts of first-year players last season, which explains some of their struggles. Can those players develop into solid contributors now they have a year under their belts?

2) CAN the X-Men replace their departed star linebackers? Henoc Muamba was selected first overall by Winnipeg in the 2011 CFL draft, while fellow all-Canadian Tom Lynch has also left (to transfer to Saskatchewan and pursue graduate studies) and long-time LB/special teams star Jon Anderson has graduated. Those are big losses for any program, much less one that struggled even with them.

3) WHAT will the new AUS pecking order look like? After the 2009 campaign, X looked like perhaps the best prospect to knock off Saint Mary's at the top, but that obviously didn't happen. Acadia and Mount Allison each improved to 4-4 last year, while the X-Men fell back. Can they get back towards the top, or will they be stuck in the basement again in 2011?

2010 recap: 1-7, fourth in regular season. X's lone win was a 37-26 home victory over Mount Allison, but they lost their other two meetings against the Mounties, fell to Saint Mary's twice, lost to Acadia twice (including a 34-0 pasting in the second-last game of their season) and were wiped out 27-10 by Montreal in their Quebec crossover game.

Departures: LB Henoc Muamba, LB Tom Lynch, LB Jon Anderson, SB Kwame Osei, OL Stewart Walsh, OL Gordon Sawler, DB Reilly Penner,

Arrivals: DL Devon Marshall and DB David Culligan (both played for Nova Scotia in the Canada Cup), LB Ron Omara, RB Ashton Dickson, LB Corey Armstrong, DE Jesse Stevens and FB Jerome Stevens (all played for the CJFL's Ottawa Sooners), and plenty more: full list here.

Keep an eye on: The linebackers. With three members of last year's corps gone, there may be a chance for key recruits like Omara and Armstrong to contribute immediately. Both are highly touted.

Coach & coordinators: Gary Waterman is back at head coach for his third season. He's 7-9 in the regular season overall, so the question is if 2009's 6-2 showing or 2010's 1-7 record is more representative of what he can do. It seems Waterman will be handling OC duties again as well. Former Acadia OC/recruiting coordinator/director of football operations Josh Lambert (who also has a NCAA background at SE Missouri State and Marshall) is in as special teams coordinator. Jon Svec is back as DC.

Off-the-field factors: There's got to be some pressure on Waterman. He's the first alumnus ever to coach St. FX football, and he got off to a great start, winning his first five games in 2009, but his team's gone a combined 3-10 (regular season and playoffs) since then. Some of that's to be expected with young players, but the question is how much rope he has to work with.

From last season's preview: "They should have no problem with Acadia and Mount Allison, but that would make this year a lot like the last couple. Their goal has to be to make it out of the AUS, but it remains to be seen if they have enough this year to overcome key losses." - Jared Book

Jared was right about the key losses, but didn't see the improvement at Mount A and Acadia. To be fair, not a lot of other people did either.

2011 outlook: There's not a lot to inspire much confidence in the X-Men this season. Yes, they have some very promising recruits, but that didn't work out all that well this past season, and even if last year's rookies grow into their roles this year, there still are plenty of gaps. Replacing your best player and your whole linebacking corps isn't easy, either. They could very well pick up a few more wins if Mount A and Acadia regress, but I don't see them knocking off SMU just yet.

Swing games: The X-Men face Mount Allison three times again this year, and those games should be crucial to deciding who winds up where in the standings. The rest of their schedule is Acadia twice, Saint Mary's twice and Concordia in the interlock. It's hard to see them beating the Huskies or Stingers, so it's probably the games against the Mounties and Axemen that will matter the most.

Stock up or stock down: Up, but only slightly. There is some potential here given the talent they've brought in, but this is a 1-7 team that lost some of its best players. Keep those expectations tempered with some reality.
In 50 words or less: Laval is the favourite to repeat for another Vanier Cup and bring back most players. However, the 7 players they lose were big contributors. Even if they get through Quebec, the biggest question may be whether they can win a national semi-final on the road.

Burning questions:

1) HOW will Laval respond to a third offensive coordinator in three years?

2) CAN Laval's defence repeat their stunning 6.4 points per game allowed?

3) IS THIS the year Laval wins a national semi final away from home?

2010 recap: 9-0, 1st regular season, W 56-1 vs Bishop's in RSEQ Semifinal, W 22-17 vs Sherbrooke in Dunsmore Cup, W 13-11 vs Western in Uteck Bowl, W 29-2 vs Calgary in Vanier Cup.

Laval knew that the Quebec champion had home field all the way through the playoffs, and they took advantage. After dominating the Quebec conference, they squeaked through playoff wins against Sherbrooke and Western before dominating Calgary in one of the most stunning defensive displays in Vanier Cup history.

Departures: WR Mathieu Picard, OT Keven Fiset, OG Hugues Breton, K/P Christopher Milo, DL Marc-Antoine Beaudoin-Cloutier, DB Maxime Berube, CB Olivier Turcotte-Letourneau, LB Jean-Philippe Dumas

Arrivals: RB Maxime Boutin, OL Karl Lavoie, OL Danny Girouz, WR Matthew Norzil, CB Thomas Girard, DL Samuel Hebert, LB Mathieu Masseau

Keep an eye on: The sophomores. Last year, Laval had one of their best recruiting classes ever. This year, a lot will be expected from them, especially on the offensive line where two starters graduated. How good they are will correlate with how dominant Laval is.

Coach & coordinators: Glen Constantin. 11 years, 5 Vanier Cups. Enough said.

Laval, for a team so consistent and dominant has had a lot of turnover at offensive coordinator. Former receiver Duane John will take over after Marco Iadeluca left to join old friend Danny Maciocia and the Carabins.

Marc Fortier is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. Since taking over in 2007, his teams have twice broken the Quebec records for points allowed in a season (60 in 2008 and bested with 58 last year). This has a lot to do with the great recruits brought in but Fortier is quickly making a name for himself.

Off-the-field factors: This is a big year for the Rouge et Or. With Sherbrooke emerging and Danny Maciocia and the Carabins having a lot of momentum, the gap between Laval and the rest of the Quebec conference may be closing. This may be a lot of hogwash because Laval will probably keep rolling, but you have to wonder how long it can go.

From last season's preview: "Honestly? It's Laval. The only question is how many playoff games they'll win." and "If Laval makes it that far, the home-field advantage could be critical, but they'll have to stay focused week-to-week rather than looking ahead to the end of November. As Neate wrote last month, though, the Quebec champion gets to host a national semifinal this year. If Laval can make it out of the conference, it's PEPS all the way in."- Rob Pettapiece

Right on the money. That's what Rob edits this blog for. They went undefeated and home field advantage was huge for them.

2011 outlook: Laval is looking like a lock to get out of the Quebec conference again, as evidenced by their six spot lead over any other RSEQ team in the (meaningless) first Top 10 of the season. The biggest question is how they will deal with the road bowls in Western Canada this year if they make it to those games. I might be jumping the gun, but that will be the question with Laval until they answer it.

Swing games: Really? Do you mean swing games as in against the spread? Anyway, the big games will be the ones on the road against Montreal and Sherbrooke. Those are the two games set up for an upset.

Stock up or stock down: Neutral. Hard to go up after a 13-0 season, and I'm not putting Laval's stock down until they lose a game.
In 50 words or less: The perennial OUA contenders Golden Hawks had an unusually subpar regular season before coming alive in the playoffs. When healthy this team has the potential to build on the playoff performance and become a legitimate threat for the Yates Cup.

Burning questions:

1) CAN Shane Kelly stay healthy enough to play a full season and work with a deep receiving core?

2) WILL the loss of key starters along the OL allow Kelly the time to hit his receivers?

3) CAN the Hawks establish a run game, something that was missing last season?

4) WILL Laurier be able to take advantage of a favourable schedule, playing all the top contenders at home?

2010 recap: 4-4 with an asterisk, fourth in the OUA (won the fourth place tiebreaker over Guelph). Won their first playoff game at home over Guelph, 42-10, then lost in the conference semi-finals to the Ottawa Gee-Gees 32-31.

There were high expectations for the Golden Hawks to perform last season; however, a rash of injuries to key starters, such as NCAA transfer QB Shane Kelly, pushed the team backwards. They ended the regular season at 4-4, the first time the Hawks have not recorded a winning record since 2002. (Of course, it would have been a winning record had they not used ineligible DL Dave Montoya in the game against Toronto, a situation covered here last fall.)

Despite the pedestrian record, with the return of Kelly in the playoffs, the Laurier team found some life. And the final game of the year was arguably the best game for the Hawks, losing only on a last second field goal to the conference-leading Gee-Gees.

Head coach Gary Jeffries said the team has a bitter taste left in their mouths following that close loss to Ottawa in the playoffs, and the veteran squad is motivated to make a return to the Yates Cup this season.

“There’s great anticipation this year,” Jeffries said, “the 65 kids returning really dedicated themselves during the offseason.”

When asked which matchups were most important for his team this year Jeffries said with conviction that their Week One contest was all that mattered right now, and they will address each opponent as they come up in the schedule. “We have York circled on our calendar and that’s it. We don’t put the cart before the horse.”

Departures: LB Giancarlo Rapanaro, OL Michael Knill, OL Matthew Vonk, REC Dustin Zender, REC Vince Luciani, DB Mitch Nicholson, DB Patrick McGarry, DL Steve McCormack, DL Steve Ples, DL Paul Hancock.

Arrivals: QB James Fracas, FB Jordan Schultz, K Ronnie Pfeffer, HB Dillon Campbell, HB Ashton Rochester, HB Devon Egerter, OL Brent Wilson, OL Ryan Hamilton, DL Nate Corbin. A full list of recruits can be found here.

Keep an eye on: QB Shane Kelly. Last year he had injury concerns and was learning the Canadian game, but if he can stay healthy, Jeffries says he has the ability to become one of the top quarterbacks in the conference. WR Shawmad Chambers, who also had to deal with injury concerns of his own last season, is the biggest threat on offence for the Hawks and the tandem of Kelly and Chambers would be a formidable duo should they be given the chance to play together.

LBs Mitchell Bosch and Dan Bishop have been standouts with the team, both attending the East-West Bowl last year. The loss of Giancarlo Rapanaro will leave a linebacker hole to be filled and Bosch and Bishop will be looked to in place of him. The return of DB Shane Herbert and DL George Kourtesiotis following trips to CFL training camps will be key additions to strengthening the Hawks Defence.

Coach & coordinators: Head coach Gary Jeffries, offensive coordinator Ryan Pyear, defensive coordinator Ron VanMoerkeke. The Hawks are happy about the return of Barry Pyear as running backs coach once again, former Golden Hawk player Scott Evans working with the offensive line, and John Katsauoni, the team’s first kicking coach specifically.

Off-the-field factors: Following the scandal up the street at the University of Waterloo there were questions about whether that spilled over to Laurier. A scheduling issue involving the CCES testers that caused six randomly selected Laurier players to miss drug testing did not help to dispel the myths that some Hawks were somehow involved. In the end, the team had 65 players tested, however, and all the tests came back clean. It seems the Laurier program was able to shed any implications of being tied to the Warriors' woes.

From last season’s preview: Luke Dotto said “this might be the best opportunity the Hawks have at a Yates for a few seasons.” They didn't make it to the conference final, but might have another shot this year.

2011 outlook: The Golden Hawks have a lot of potential, and as long as the injury bug doesn’t bite once more they should push the top teams and put themselves in the conversation for the Yates Cup. This is a veteran squad that only lost 4 starters in total from last season. Playing arguably their toughest games at home (Western, MAC, Ottawa) will be an advantage for the team. The Hawks can realistically land within the top three in the conference by the end of the regular season and secure a home playoff game.

Swing games: Laurier hosts Western in week 4, and then Laurier’s Homecoming, celebrating the schools 100th anniversary, is against Ottawa the next weekend. The homecoming game will be important to show where the Hawks stand in the conference this year, and will be a test to see how they bounce back from a challenging game against the Mustangs. Laurier played MAC tough last season, losing their lead in the second half in a narrow loss. The Marauders are a team to watch this season so hosting them late in the season, on week 7, will show if the Hawks are ready for another playoff push.

Stock up or stock down: Up. The Hawks had a string of bad luck in the form of injuries last season but in the final game proved their potential, pushing the Brad Sinopoli-led Gee-Gees to the limit. Staying healthy is a big “if” in any season, but this team can push for the top of the conference should they field their starting core every week.
In 50 words or less: A new/old QB, 40 recruits, and the league MVP returns. Why, it's enough to make the coach "cautiously optimistic."

Burning questions:

1) WHO will actually be QB1 on a team noted for some recent turnover at that position?

2) WILL Jahmeek Taylor repeat his outstanding season?

3) IS this the year the Huskies are once again competitive in a postal code not starting with B, E, or C?

2010 recap: 5-3, first place, won Loney Bowl 37-8 over Acadia, lost Uteck Bowl 35-8 in Calgary. 7th in RPI, but 16th in SRS.

Ultimately, the sound and fury from their first three games (17-7 loss to Acadia, 45-7 to Laval, 23-21 to Mount Allison, a QB quitting in disgust) did not signify a thing, as they won the conference for the fourth year in a row and 10th time in 12 years, only to lose the national semifinal for the third year in a row.

It's technically from 2011, not 2010, but since last season ended, Jahmeek Taylor, a star receiver/returner, appeared in the East-West Bowl and played on the Canadian team that received a silver medal at the 2011 IFAF World Championship.

It bears repeating that the AUS is the weakest conference in the country. The RPI and SRS results from 2010 suggest the average AUS team would go 2-6 or 3-5 against average competition. In recent bowl games against other conferences, aside from the 2007 Uteck Bowl (SMU 24, Laval 2), not only did AUS teams lose them all, they lost each time by at least 15 points. The last Vanier Cup champion from the Maritimes were the 2002 Huskies; the last non-SMU team to qualify for a Vanier were the 1996 X-Men.

Oh, by the way, that 35-8 loss to Calgary? Our predictions averaged out to 34-14. Just sayin'.

Departures: OT Adam Baboulas (B.C. Lions), WR Ahmed Borhot, LB Leroy Fontaine, OT Tommy Gibbons, LB Jeff Hecht (Montreal Alouettes), LB Ryan King

Arrivals: RB Melvin Abankwah, LB Marvin Golding (Vanier College), DB Kayin Marchand-Wright (Vanier College), DL Pat McLennan (Champlain College), QB Jesse Mills, OL Jamie Wandell, WR Kevin Wuthrich (Edmonton Wildcats). (Both lists of players are from the SMU preview)

Keep an eye on: QBs Jack Creighton and Jesse Mills. Thought to be Guelph-bound, Creighton instead went back to Halifax after talking the coach into letting him try out again. Mills, shown in his highlight video here, comes in from Halifax Citadel. If Mills takes over the QB1 role, it will be the fifth starting quarterback in seven years for SMU.

I'm also intrigued by Marvin Golding (link opens with sound) for some reason.

Coach & coordinators: Steve Sumarah (29-10 regular season, 5-5 playoffs and bowl games) enters year number six as the SMU head coach. He's also the offensive coordinator. Coordinating those defensive players is Devin Murphy, new to the role this year. Profiles on the other coaches can be found here.

Off-the-field factors: Well, there was that women's hockey kerfuffle ... the cost of football vs. the cost of women's hockey is well-known, I would think, especially among those who fought to keep the latter.

Also, SMU will again play in Moncton the day before Touchdown Atlantic.

From last season's preview: Andrew Bucholtz asked "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?" The Huskies answered no.

Also from last year's preview: "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 [semifinal]."

That's about right. No word on how much the Huskies learned by watching the Dinos put up 444 yards on them, but it sounds like they made too many wrong mistakes.

2011 outlook: 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 fares against the top teams from outside the conference.

Okay, I mostly stole that from Andrew's 2010 preview. Sorry. Let me retry that:

How fast Creighton loses the training wheels should be a major variable for the eastern Huskies.

There I go again! That's from 2009's preview, by Neate Sager.

To be fair, it's likely that these things are mostly true again this year...

Swing games: If they win Sep. 17 at Montreal — bear with me here — it will do a lot to convince people who don't work on Robie Street that this team can win in November. Not to get all determinist on you, but they don't really have any other important games until the playoffs start.

Stock up or stock down: Neutral. Thankfully for the eventual AUS champ Saint Mary's, they'll take the fork in the road to Moncton, welcoming the OUA champion for this year's Uteck Bowl. It might not make a difference but they'll probably need as much of a travel advantage as they can get.
In 50 words or less: Standout QB Erik Glavic has moved on from the program, but with recruiting juggernaut Blake Nill still at the helm this team will yet again be a favourite to take home the Hardy Cup.

Burning questions:

1) WILL the reigning CIS Rookie of the Year Eric Dzwilewski be able to guide the Dinos from start to finish this season?

2) CAN anyone stop Matt Walter at RB?

3) HOW will new offensive coordinator Greg DeLaval leave his mark on the offence?

2010 recap: 6-2 regular season, Hardy Cup champs, lost to Laval 29-2 in Vanier Cup

It was another successful season in the Stampede City with the Dinos claiming their third consecutive Hardy Cup title, but that's not to say there wasn't some intrigue along the way for Calgary.

The Dinos came out in their home opener and lost 34-13 to Saskatchewan on a wet dreary night at McMahon Stadium that was filled with more than a little bit of heat between the sidelines. Receiver Anthony Woodson was rocked that night by Saskatchewan's Bryce McCall sparking a shouting match between the two sidelines.

After the dust had settled on the opener Calgary would look more like the powerhouse program they've become under Nill, winning four games in a row. Victories over Regina, Alberta, Manitoba and UBC with the wins against Regina and Manitoba coming by only four combined points setup another key game against the Huskies - this time in Saskatoon.

Yet again the Sled Dogs would get the best of the Dinos, downing the visitors 36-17. Two wins down the stretch would give Calgary second place in the conference, and a matchup against Regina in the Canada West semi-final. A 40-33 win in that game set up an all-Alberta Hardy Cup, where the Dinos dismantled Alberta 56-3 to punch their ticket to a date with Saint Mary's at McMahon Stadium for the Mitchell Bowl.

Calgary would take that game in relatively easy fashion with a 35-8 win, moving on to their second Vanier Cup in a row in Quebec City. There the Dinos would run out of wins though, losing to Laval 29-2 on a snowy day in la belle province.

Departures: Offence - Erik Glavic, Andrew Kay, Anthony Parker, Nathan Coehoorn, Alex Krausnick-Groh and Paul Swiston. Defence: Carlos Guglielmi, Andrea Bonaventura, Geoff Paiement, Steve Truzak and Anthony DesLauriers

Arrivals: Offence - Denzel Morrison, Jake Harty, Kyle Brick and Sukh Chungh. Defence: Alex Ogbongbemiga, Jordan Verdone, Zach McNeill, Tom Black, Mike Edem and Jesse Zimmer.

Keep an eye on: Matt Walter might have been the most underrated player on the Dinos, getting lost in the fray offensively with the likes of Erik Glavic, Anthony Parker and Nathan Coehoorn getting most of the headlines despite Walter earning his third-straight selection as a conference all-star.

Expect Walter to once again be very solid out of the backfield for the Dinos, and a key safety valve for Dzwilewski when need be. His 763 yards last season was good for second in the conference, and those totals should only go up this season as part of a well-balanced Calgary offence. This very well could be the Calgary native's breakout season as a fourth-year player.

Coach & coordinators: Head coach Blake Nill is still the sideline general for the Dinos, and with that comes the guarantee of a hard-working, hard-hitting squad that is going to perform at key moments. The biggest change for the coaching staff this season comes in the form of new offensive coordinator Greg DeLaval who rejoins the Dinos' coaching staff after three seasons leading the University of Toronto. Calgary's offence shouldn't miss a beat under DeLaval given his history with Calgary — he coached the Dinos special teamers and was an offensive assistant in 2006 and 2007 — and the talent he will have to work with.

Off-the-field factors: Calgary has one of the highest budgets in the country for their football program meaning funding isn't an issue in Cow Town. This team has all the tools at their disposal to be an elite program, and that's translated into great success over the last several seasons.

From last season's preview: "with almost every offensive player back, and some key additions on the defensive side of the ball, you can't say the Dinos' fortunes are trending down. Calgary looks ready to battle, yet again, with an equally impressive Saskatchewan Huskies squad for the conference crown in what should be an exciting race"

While the Dinos didn't finish first in the conference during the 2010 regular season, as expected, key veterans helped lift Calgary to another conference title and a win in the Mitchell Bowl.

2011 outlook: This is another talented group of Dino players with the ability to contend for a berth in the Vanier Cup again. Expect the running game to factor heavily into the game plan on offence with an athletic quarterback that should give defences around the conference fits. That will be coupled with the explosive playmaking ability of Walter and Steven Lumbala in the backfield.

Calgary won't have as much as experience as they've had in years gone by, but the talent level will still be elite, making this team a threat to put up big numbers offensively. At times the defence was questionable last season, struggling to control the big play through the air. If the defence makes some strides during the year, this team will be ranked inside the CIS top four come season's end.

Swing games:

Friday, September 16 @ Regina: This game should tell us a lot about Canada West this season. Regina seems poised to build on a strong season ago, and with a fifth-year quarterback in Marc Mueller the Rams should battle for top spot in the conference. Calgary of course is the defending champs and Regina will be looking to prove they've improved enough to be considered a legitimate threat to make it past the first round of the playoffs. The Dinos won both games against Regina a season ago, and a win in this game will go a long way to proving last year's Canada West champions are still better than the Rams.

Friday, September 23 vs. Saskatchewan: If their game against Regina is important, then regardless of what the outcome of that matchup was, this game against the Huskies will be huge. Saskatchewan got the best of the Dinos both times last season, and this game at the end of the first half of the season will be a separation game for both teams.

Stock up or stock down: It's hard to say the Dinos' stock can go up after a national runner-up finish last season, so the outlook has to point to a slightly down year in Calgary compared to years past. The Dinos will be very good, likely a first or second place team at the end of the regular season, but with some key veterans missing and an improved Regina team, their Hardy Cup run could come to an end.
In 50 words or less: It's the last year of eligibility for three offensive leaders and it seems like the best chance in years for Regina to advance to a national bowl game.

Burning questions:

1) HOW MANY penalties will hurt this team in 2011, after being whistled for 112 yards per game in 2010?

2) HOW FAR can they go with this defence (20 forced turnovers last year, fewest passing yards allowed) and the veteran-heavy, Mark Mueller-led offence?

3) WILL they grab their first playoff win in four years?

2010 recap: 5-3 in the regular season, lost to Calgary 40-33 in the conference semifinals.

The Rams certainly didn't have a bad year, losing only to Calgary (three times) and Saskatchewan (splitting their series). They had their way with the rest of the conference, beating Manitoba 45-11 and 41-19, UBC 41-6, and Alberta 40-8 — and all those wins helped their point differential, as they finished seventh nationwide in SRS (+9.4 points per game).

As mentioned, their playoff loss came at the hands of the Dinos, 40-33, which sounds close but not when you remember how they got their last 15 points. Or, more importantly, when they got them: with fewer than five minutes left in the game, the Rams were still down 40 to 18. After the first quarter alone it was 16-0; at the half, 26-10.

The year before they were destroyed by Saskatchewan, 53 to 23. In 2008 they rode eligibility issues to the fourth seed and actually had a lead late in the game, but lost to Calgary 24 to 17. You have to go back to 2007 to find their last playoff win, 19-13 over Saskatchewan, but eight days later they lost, um, by a lot to the Vanier Cup-winning Bisons.

Departures: The Rams return most of their starters, but defensively they lose S Matt Yausie and MLB Bruce Anderson.

Arrivals: Among their recruits, OL Joel Hrycyk was an All-Canadian in the CJFL last year and has the opportunity to start right away. That link has more of their arrivals; also see here for more arriving players.

Keep an eye on: RB Adrian Charles. I'll get into his extracurricular activities below, but 2011 is his last year of eligibility and he led the conference in rushing last season. DT Benton Gieni and CB Jamir Walker also return, and both took part in the East-West Bowl in May.

Coach & coordinators: "Head Coach Frank McCrystal is the only head coach the Rams have known since they entered CIS football back in 1999. McCrystal has been the head coach of the Regina Rams Football Club dating back to 1984 when they were members of the Prairie Junior Football Conference. McCrystal guided the Rams to a Hardy Cup championship and Vanier Cup berth back in 2000 in only the program’s second year competing in CIS, and in 2007 he was recognized as both Canada West and CIS Coach of the Year. The Rams coordinators are: offensive coordinator Bernie Schmidt, and Paul Dawson on the defensive side of the ball."

(The above was copied from last year's preview, which was itself a copy from 2009's preview. 2008's preview, then an Out of Left Field production, contained much of the same information. If they change the coaching staff, we'll change the paragraph.)

Off-the-field factors: Two months ago, Adrian Charles was "acquitted on drug and weapons charges after the judge in the trial threw out key pieces of evidence." These weren't the first set of charges he's faced (sorry, "legal troubles"), and the acquittal here wasn't quite due to a technicality — Charter rights, they're important — but if people keep asking questions during the season (not that they do now) it may prove awkward for the team. It wouldn't be in good taste to make a "criminal element" joke, so of course I won't.

From last season's preview: "With [Jordan Sisco] gone, big losses to the defense, and two games against Calgary and Saskatchewan to contend with, the Rams will have a slog getting to .500 this season, even with their intriguing additions." — Justin McElroy.

Thankfully for Regina, the four games against the bottom of the division were all very winnable, essentially guaranteeing a .500 finish or better.

"While [Adrian Charles] looked good during spring camp in May, there's still little word out of the Rams' camp of where he'll fit into their plans for this season."

Either they were keeping him under wraps or they didn't know how explosive he would be, because Charles broke the team's rushing-yards record with 972, good for second in the country.

2011 outlook: It could be Regina's year. (For what it's worth, 29% of respondents to the Canada West online poll as of Sunday evening think Regina will finish first.) It's not out of the question. The Huskies may take a step back, the Dinos have a lot of turnover, the Bears aren't quite there yet, the Bisons aren't expected to break out, and the Thunderbirds are maybe playoff-bound but not much more than that.

Swing games: Sept. 9 at Saskatchewan and Sep. 16 vs. Calgary. The rematch in Regina against the Huskies (Oct. 22) may matter just as much, but not if the Rams get off to a 3-0 start (they play UBC first). Their last five games are Alberta-Manitoba-UBC-Saskatchewan-Manitoba, and you have to think they'll win four or five.

Stock up or stock down: Up. They certainly look like they could end up hosting a few November games, don't they?
[Originally posted Aug. 14.]

The calendar has flipped over to August, the unofficial start of a new year at The CIS Blog. (Our fifth year covering university sports, by the way.)

And August usually means the start of football. Of course here on the blog we are no different, and our football previews — also a multi-year project — will start soon.

But before we get into our contributors' thoughts on the 2011 football season, we want to know your thoughts. We have put together a form where you can enter your predictions for each team's W-L record and your best guess of who participate in and win each of the bowl games and Vanier Cup.

The two-part contest will award one No-Prize for being the closest to each team's W-L record, and another for guessing the bowl game participants and winners correctly.

And that prize is precisely that which is awarded for the MUBL: bragging rights. So enter now!
In 50 words or less: Jerry Friesen is out as head coach, and offensive coordinator Jeff Stead now has the reigns of the Green and Gold. Once again there's renewed hope in Edmonton that the Bears will make real strides towards being Canada West contenders, but there's lots of work that needs to be done to make that happen.

Burning questions:

1) WILL an offensively-minded head coach help the Bears move the ball consistently and keep the defence fresh?

2) CAN QB Julian Marchand reach his potential as an athletically gifted athlete?

3) HOW will the Bears fill the gap left by kicker extraordinaire Hugh O'Neill?

2010 recap: 3-5 (4th place Canada West); lost to Calgary in the Hardy Cup

After coming out of the gate fast with two wins on the road to open the season — including an impressive 31-6 victory in Winnipeg week two — the Bears went into a funk losing four consecutive games. Losses to Calgary and Saskatchewan back-to-back weeks at home didn't come as a shock for Alberta, but a 40-8 drubbing at the hands of the Rams in Regina represented the low point of the regular season for the Bears.

The Green and Gold surrendered nearly 500 yards of total offence that fateful October night at Mosaic Stadium in the Queen City, and crawled home losers of three straight. The next week was another poor showing for Alberta, losing at home to UBC thanks to 13 T-Bird points in a span of 1:47 in the fourth quarter, including the winning TD with only 11 seconds to go.

The Bears would then go onto split their final two games of the regular season, downing Manitoba at home before a 37-5 loss at the hands of the Dinos to head into the playoffs at 3-5.

Alberta went into their Canada West semi-final game against Saskatchewan as the heaviest of underdogs, and for three quarters it was obvious why, as the Sled Dogs went into the fourth quarter with a commanding 30-10 lead. That fourth quarter, however, would be one of the most remarkable in Bears playoff history as Alberta mounted the greatest comeback of the Jerry Friesen era. The Bears scored 21 unanswered points to walk out of Griffiths Stadium with a stunning 31-30 win.

That win set up an all-Alberta Hardy Cup, which would be a 180-degree swing in terms of emotion for the Bears after their stunning semi-final win. Calgary put it on the Bears, dismantling the Green and Gold in an abysmal football game that ended in a 56-3 final and gave Calgary their third straight conference title.

Overall it was a remarkably up and down season for Alberta, with the biggest of losses and one of the most incredible wins in recent program history.

Departures: Kevin Chave, Craig Gerbrandt, Matt Jarvis, Jean-Marc Jones, Terriss Paliwoda, Dale Stevenson, Blaine Bartoli.

Arrivals: High schoolers - Brandon Foster, Michael Hansen, Connor Ralph (of the famous Ralph football family), Greg Severin, David Beard, and Tyler Lewis.

Keep an eye on: KK Sonuga. Chris O'Leary of the Edmonton Journal has been all over Bears football camp this week with some articles on potential standouts for Alberta, and Sonuga is one of them. A linebacker in high school, Sonuga toiled on the special teams side of the ball for the Bears his first two years with the team before getting some time at the running back position last year compiling 256 yards on 25 carries. That was before an MCL sprain sidelined the promising option in the Bears' backfield.

With an average of over 10 yards per carry last season expectations are sky high in Edmonton for this local high school product who has all the athleticism to be an elite CIS tailback. Sonuga, who will be one of the Bears captains on the offensive side of the ball, has come into camp in the best shape of his career and put on 10 pounds of muscle over the offseason. The starting job is his, and now he'll truly be looking to run with it.

Coach & coordinators: Jeff Stead has stepped in as interim head coach of the program, but he's taken the position with anything but a one-year stint on his mind. Stead has paid his dues in the CIS coaching ranks with more than a dozen years of experience, and is looking to take control of a program that has been far from impressive over the last several seasons. His personality seems perfectly suited to lead the program in a new direction, and his energy should translate to a different brand of football on the field.

Alberta will be a faster, albeit smaller team at certain positions, but will definitely be more exciting than last year's edition. Stead will continue to guide the offence, and expect somewhat of a new direction on the offensive side of the ball, as Stead will have free reign to mould the offence how he sees fit.

Off-the-field factors: There's no real off-the-field factors to speak of at Alberta. The fact that Stead is leading the program on an interim basis could be considered something that could pose challenges, but from the way things have gone so far that isn't the case. Athletic Director Ian Reade has had interim coaches in the past, and it hasn't seemed to hinder the teams.

One factor that is an issue for the Bears is their funding situation which is pennies compared to the budgets of Calgary and Saskatchewan who do a tremendous job of bringing in dollars to their elite programs. That financial hurdle is one the Bears will have to deal with for years to come.

From last season's preview: Oddly enough I was on the mark with my prediction for the Bears last season saying they'd be down slightly from a 4-4 record in 2009. I had a feeling Julian Marchand's development would be slow after being under utilized, and that seemed to be the case.

2011 outlook: Like I said earlier, there's hope in Green and Gold land. Alberta has a new head coach who is hungry to turn this program around, and it seems his players are ready to shake their mediocre past. Jeff Stead will run a faster, more exciting offence that should feature lots of no huddle. On the defensive side of the ball, speed will also be a key element of the Bears attack.

Whether or not they can compete in all of their games with the conference's elite from last year remains to be seen, but the Bears should be a playoff team this year again. Don't expect a 6-2 campaign from this team, but they could push above the .500 threshold. Either way, Alberta should finish with at lest a 4-4 record, and will do it in far more exciting fashion this season.

Swing games:

Saturday, September 24 vs. Regina
After being absolutely dismantled by the Rams last year in Regina, the Bears will be looking to avenge that loss at home in Edmonton. The game also marks the end of the first half of the season for both teams, and should be a true test of where Alberta is when it comes to their new look defence taking on quarterback Marc Mueller.

Saturday, October 29 vs. Saskatchewan
Another home game will be key to the Bears' season, as they'll play host to the Huskies to wrap up the schedule. By this point the playoff picture could already be solidified, but regardless of that this game will be huge in determining whether or not Alberta will have a chance moving into their semi-final matchup — which very well could be against these Huskies.

Stock up or stock down: Up. There's some energy back in the Bears for this season, and that's a much needed change. They will improve on their three win total from last year, but there's still some building to do before this team is among the conference elite. Regardless, it's shaping up to be a better year for Alberta.
Quarterback Andrew Gillis returns to lead his U of T Varsity Blues football team this season. Courtesy Matt Wright.

In 50 words or less: After years of being awful, the Varsity Blues are now mediocre. They want to move up to "competitive" but it won’t be easy.

Burning questions:

1) HOW will the Blues show that their win over the Ottawa Gee-Gees was not a fluke?

2) WHAT challenges lie ahead for new Head Coach Greg Gary?

3) WHO will step up on the defensive side of the football?

2010 recap: 3–5 (T-6 in the OUA); missed the playoffs

What began as a year with no expectations turned out to produce one of the better Blues football campaigns since the mid-1990s. While their forfeit win against the Laurier Golden Hawks was not so impressive (it was a 37-6 loss originally), and their march over the York Lions, 24–19 on Sept. 18, was expected, the Blues can hold their heads high. A 40–35 shootout win over the highly-ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees is not something to scoff at. In fact, the Blues nearly won their game against the Guelph Gryphons, but lost on a last second field goal, and could have upset the Western Mustangs and McMaster Marauders, in games where they had halftime leads.

“I know ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda, didn’t,’” said John Engel, the Blues' offensive co-ordinator, who is happy with the season’s results, but looks at them with skepticism.

When it came to the Gryphons loss: “we had Guelph beat, let them off easy.” The loss to the Lancers: “Windsor got up on us by three touchdowns because we were just flopping all over the place, and they ended up beating us by four.” Even the wins were uncomfortable for Engel. “Ottawa needed three more minutes. York played us real tough, we pretty much played our worst game of the year, they played their best game of the year. That wasn’t a comfortable win. Those are the ones that disappoint you, York is where we were six years ago. There’s no way we should be breaking a sweat, but we did.”

But, I swear, the coaching staff are excited to get out there and get those wins this season. More below.

Departures: The Blues have more than just wins to smile about. Hard-hitting S Hugo Lopez was drafted and signed by the Edmonton Eskimos this offseason. That made the coaching staff pretty happy. But, many other players did leave and they were big losses. Graduated S Kyle Kennedy “was like having a coach out on the field” for Engel. All-purpose DB Derek Batchelor, also a graduate, was one that stuck out most for the staff. “One of the best football players I’ve ever been around,” said Engel. “His training habits weren’t ideal, but in terms of just a guy going out there and playing the game, he’s probably one of the best football players I’ve ever been around.”

RB Walter Cariazo, OL Josh Gibbs, OL Ross Asaro, and DL Mark Evans also graduated.

Arrivals: The coaching staff dialled back the recruiting in terms of quantity this summer, opting to recruit for need in specific units. “Linemen, defensive and offensive linemen, you never have enough,” said Engel. Even the dominant programs, they have issues getting the right kind of guys, the right amount of guys that they want to get in.”

Some key recruits include OL Brendan O’Brady, FB Brooks Wilson, DL Cory Rutledge, and QB Richard Quittenton—potentially the quarterback of the future. Toronto also had a few transfers, most notably S Dorian Munroe, who comes from the Florida Gators.

Keep an eye on: There are a few that deserve a look this season, if they get significant snaps. S Trevor Harvey was a recruit, who injured himself before the season, last year who could be filling in the gap left by Kennedy and Batchelor’s departures. S Willie Sharpe has been testing better in the weight room and could have a breakout season.

Offensively, we have our eyes trained on QB Andrew Gillis, who will be looking to build off the confidence of last season’s wins, and HB Aaron Milton (below), who has a skill set similar to the Stampeders' Joffrey Reynolds. Michael Prempeh should also get honourable mention.

In limited time last season, Aaron Milton (left) was very effective. Expect more of it this year. Courtesy Dan Epstein.

Coach & coordinators: Your eyes are not fooling you. There is a new head coach for the downtown Toronto squad. Greg Gary, a former linebacker coach for the Blues and a successful coach in the Ontario Varsity Football League, is looking to pick up where former coach Greg DeLavalwho resigned to take a job with the Calgary Dinos—left off.

This is a big change from the OVFL, but Gary appears to understand the challenge. “The actual coaching part remains the same, you still coach football. It’s a little more sophisticated at this level, but it’s still about relationships,” he said. Gary considers himself a “relationship guy,” and he will need that. “There’s a lot of holdovers from last season, so trusting the guys we have does pose the biggest obstacle.” The schemes will also be more complex, but Gary sounded confident about his learning curve.

Then again, Gary did not have to overhaul his coaching staff. Engel, a York Yeoman alum (don’t let that factoid spread too quickly) and former Etobicoke Eagles coach, is bringing a new scheme to the offense this year. “We’re going to put an emphasis on speed, flying around and we got some great athletes at receiver and tailback,” he quipped. Engel is also the Director of Recruiting. Defensive co-ordinator Donnavan Carter, a Northern Illinois alum who played in the CFL for eight years, is a sharp mind. He previously coached with the Toronto Argonauts. A lot of the focus for the defense should be on discipline. The Blues ranked in the top 10 in penalties and penalty yards.

Off-the-field factors: How this team tests in the weight room and on the practice field pose the biggest factors for their success this season. Engel says that recruiting true linemen studs are difficult, and the team is slightly undersized at key positions, but the current crew should be able to hold ship. Gary says that his team wants to be more disciplined and well conditioned for fourth-quarter football, making fast smart decisions on key plays.

From last season's preview: Mike Radoslav had the pleasure of writing about one of the oldest football programs in the country. His preview was probably as optimistic as my preview is in tone. Many of last season's key arrivals actually did play due to injuries. With few roster changes over the winter, I can see the same guys stepping up.

As well, unlike past seasons, the Blues were not shut out in 2010. They were blown out, but that's another issue.

2011 outlook: Meeting with Engel and Carter in March, Gary wanted to hash out a strong football identity for his squad. “I think that the athlete that ends up at the University of Toronto is a smart athlete. These guys have been challenged academically most of their lives, there’s a lot of overachievers. What we want to do, we want to draw on that, the brainpower,” said Gary. “We want to be able to make adjustments quickly, we want our team to be smart, and we want to be relentless.”

“It’s just going to be five seconds of fast football.”

They seem to have it more together than the average team trying to adjust to a new coach. With that said, forecasting their season is pretty difficult. I say they finish 3–5, avoiding any blowouts, but losing some tough games. The team should also excel, relatively speaking, at home: their two non-forfeit wins last season were at the Varsity Centre.

Swing games: The team begins the season with two road games in six days, including a grudge match against their city rivals at York on Sept. 10. Not pretty. Luckily, the first three games are all winnable in theory. The Blues will have to win at least two of those games to consider themselves competitive for the rest of the season. Otherwise, they get the Gee-Gees, Queen’s Golden Gaels, Marauders, and Mustangs in four consecutive weeks. Not a pretty part of the schedule.

Stock up or stock down: Up. Like the coaching staff, I need to see better results on the field. We should be careful not to get too high on the Blues, but three wins is still a step in the right direction.
In 50 words or less: Brad Sinopoli is not walkin' through that door and the Gee-Gees' window for winning a championship might have closed with his departure for the CFL. Ottawa should still be competitive, but it was built to win last season, plus it has a very tough road schedule.

Burning questions:
  1. WHO becomes the new quarterback to replace Hec Crighton-winning Sinopoli, Aaron Colbon or one of four newcomers?

  2. WILL the ground game of hometown tailback Brendan Gillanders and returning Franck Marvel and a retooled defence tide them over until the passing game takes wing?

  3. ARE there sufficient replacements ready to step in and replace the five fifth-year seniors who graduated on both offence and defence?

  4. WILL they ever get a fair shake with the plethora of penalty flags?

2010 recap: (8-2 overall, 7-1 OUA).

The Gee-Gees' campaign had more cliffhangers than Game of Thrones. Half of their games were decided in the fourth quarter, including a one-point win over Western and a one-point loss to the Mustangs in the Yates Cup 10 weeks later which ended their season. The best spin one can put on it is the word frustration contains the letters f-u-n for a reason. The Gee-Gees were a compelling team that bore watching since they had a potent offence centred around Sinopoli (2,867 yards, 22 TDs) and could tap into a deep well of emotion whenever a team put them in a corner. That doesn't change that sometimes the team which put them in a corner were the guys in garnet and grey, be it through turnover and/or penalty problems or getting drawn into the other team's kind of fight for 2-3 quarters.

Led by Sinopoli, they showed true grit by winning four games where they trailed in the fourth quarter, shading Western (20-19, on a last-minute TD pass), McMaster (43-35, after scoring 26 unanswered points and overcoming four INTs), Queen's (27-25 in overtime) and Laurier in the semifinal (32-31 on a late field goal). It worked all the way until the Yates Cup, when they scored 15 consecutive points in the fourth quarter to take a late lead over Western but couldn't keep the Mustangs from converting a field goal with two seconds left to prevail 26-25. Given that Western almost beat Laval a week later in the Mitchell Bowl with no passing game, people will longer wonder whether Sinopoli and Co. might have taken out the Rouge et Or and gone on to win the Vanier Cup.

Departures: Well, Brad Sinopoli made the Calgary Stampeders as the third-string quarterback, leaving a very big and obvious hole at a key spot on the depth chart. Remember, he was their leading rusher, too. On top of being a victim of their own success with QB1, about 10 fifth-year starters are gone from last season. All told, the departed include O-linemen Patrick D'Amico, Philippe David and Nick Randall along with the glue-fingered quartet of Cyril Adjeity (584 yards, 15.0 per catch), Matthew Bolduc (704 yards, 16.4 avg.), Alex Fortier-Labonté (183, 20.3 per catch) and Ezra Millington (295 yards, 16.4 avg.).

Over on the dark side, the defence, team sack leader Sébastien Tétreault, linebacker James McNaughton, shutdown cornerback Chayce Elliott and D-back Lee Shaver saw their Gee-Gee tenures end with the Yates Cup loss. Also exiting were interior linemen Brandon Lowe and Erik Chibuluzo.

Additionally, former star running back Jordan Wilson-Ross has opted to pursue professional rugby in England. It's a shame he and Sinopoli only played in the same backfield for one season, 2009.

Arrivals: Ottawa's key recruits include D-tackle Keven Carmichael (Collège François-Xavier-Garneau) and linebacker Alexandre Labonté (Valleyfield). Seeing as they're CEGEP transfers, one would think they'll be expected to have an impact right off the top. The Gee-Gees also took advantage of having the junior Ottawa Sooners as a finishing school for local players, adding all-star offensive tackle Matt Bergeron.

Among the hometown kids, two worth rooting for are tailback Matt Chartier and wide receiver Mitchell Baines. Each led his high school team to the Tier 2 city title in Ottawa.

Keep an eye on:
  • The linebacking group of Nick Lecour, Tyler Sawyer and Trevor Seal could be one of the OUA's best second-level trios over time. It makes sense to lead off with them, since the Gee-Gees' D might have to carry the offence at times this season. Neither Lecour (second year) nor Seal (third) looked intimidated as youngsters. Lecour was given current CFLer Mike Cornell's No. 44, so that should tell you something about what he's expected to become.

  • DBs Chris Daly and Soonbum Cha have also been integral parts of the secondary pretty much since the day they arrived on campus; they'll take on more with Messrs. Elliott and Shaver having moved on to bigger and brighter things. In a development that will shock no one, Ottawa does have a fifth-year transfer, with former Acadia Axemen DB Matt Kassner coming aboard. At least he's got experience.

  • DLs Roberto Almonte and Andrew Randall have the most experience along the front four. The group has huge hole with Tétreault gone after starting for half a decade, but it only takes a couple big sacks for someone to make a name for himself, eh?

  • WR Steven Hughes looks like he'll be the No. 1 receiver — and possibly No. 2 and No. 3. The three-time OUA all-star tallied 664 yards last season, although he'll likely draw a lot more double coverage than he did last season. Ottawa might show a five-receiver look less often this fall; preseason talk has been that they'll feature fullback Alex Morrison much more frequently. Beyond Hughes, Bogdan Raic (210 yards, 17.5 per catch) is the second-leading returning receiver. Sherbrooke transfer Maxime Lepinay is one to watch. The receiving crew also includes Ramon Monsour, who was a top 100-metre sprinter in high school.

  • RB Brendan Gillanders, a former Wilfrid Laurier star (the east-end Ottawa high school, not the high school-sized university down the street from Rob's alma mater) is expected to have a bounce-back year after losing much of last season to injury. He had 132 rushing-receiving yards in the Yates Cup. Franck Marvel, formerly Ngandui, showed some breakaway speed by times last season, counting 487 yards at a 6.3-per-carry clip.

  • QB Aaron Colbon is the only pivot with CIS game experience among the five in training camp; he didn't really play enough last fall for anyone to get a read on him. Of the newcomers, Derek Wendel has pretty good notices; he played at a school in central Ontario (like Sinopoli!) and he could play some receiver (like Sinopoli!).

  • OL Shavin Fernando is being touted as the line's anchor. Kevin Magee, who played defence last season, is listed an offensive linemen; when veterans switch sides, that's not a great sign.

Coach & coordinators: Asselin passed his audition as an interim coach and now a new brain trust is in place. After the 29-year-old head coach was confirmed as the permanent hire, Ottawa hired 18-year coaching veteran coach Cory McDiarmid, who was part of a Vanier Cup winner with UBC in 1997, as assistant head coach/offensive coordinator. McDiarmid has a core of returning talent (29 defensive players who were around last season) to try and mould into a typical athletic Gee-Gees defence. Offensive coordinator Chris Coulson is considered a passing-game guru; he and former Ottawa standout Josh Sacobie, the quarterback coach, are busy at this training camp.
Off-the-field factors: As if being hung like a horse wasn't good enough, there were two positive turns for Gee-Gees football this summer that fell into their lap. The first was That School Across Town announcing its return to gridiron football and the second is that the NIMBYers from the Glebe section of Ottawa have run out of ways and money to delay the inevitable fight the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park.

Like the CFL's B.C. Lions, the Gee-Gees might have to go camping for a season or more until they get their new digs. It's likely stadium construction will be underway in September 2013, meaning the team might not have a home the very season the reconstituted Carleton Ravens kick off. That's a small price to pay, since the new Lansdowne might be one of the nicest football/soccer stadiums in Canada, maybe North America.

There are a number of angles to having Carleton as a competitor again, beyond just seeing the Panda Game revived. The big one which people haven't talked about much is that is that the Gee-Gees need Carleton as an opponent, but they can almost take or leave southern Ontario schools, aside from heavy hitters such as Laurier or Western. Carleton coming back in might kick up talk of both playing in the RSEQ for football and some other sports, restoring something like the O-QIFC of the 1980s and '90s. Carleton has more of a history with Bishop's, Concordia and McGill than it does with OUA teams.
From last season's preview (by Andrew Bucholtz): "With less competing star power under centre for OUA teams, this could be Sinopoli's year to shine." Sinopoli had already established himself as a first-rate QB in 2009, but he did go on to win the Hec Crighton Trophy ... "The Gee-Gees' secondary is one of their youngest areas, but they do have experienced leaders in fifth-year DBs Chayce Elliott and Lee Shaver ... if inexperience somewhere is going to hurt Ottawa, it might just be here."

Anyone else read that and flash back to all those medium-sized chunks of yardage Western continually bit off in the Yates Cup, including on the final drive?

2011 outlook: The Gee-Gees better hope the old axiom about reloading rather than rebuilding applies to them. The upshot is that most of the accoutrements of a championship team seem a little lacking, such as veteran offensive and defensive lines, a quarterback and receivers who know each other well and a coaching staff thats been together for a few years. That being said, Ottawa has turned out winning teams consistently since the mid-1990s, seldom finishing in the red. A 4-4 or 5-3 finish seems realistic.

Swing games: Looking over the schedule, Week 2's renewal of the Rideau Canal Rivalry against Queen's is a measuring-stick game for both teams. The road schedule is a sadist's dream. Ottawa, which has perhaps the biggest deviation between home and away performance in the OUA, draws a playoff team every road game: against Guelph (Sept. 5), Western (Sept. 17), Laurier (Oct. 1) and McMaster (Oct. 22). Only the first seems like more than a 50-50 proposition. On the plus side, they don't have to travel two weeks in a row during the regular season.

Stock up or stock down: Down, given how much talent they lost. Ottawa typically rebounds relatively quickly, though.
In 50 words or less: After posting winless seasons in three of the last four years, the Redmen will at least be competitive in 2011.

Burning questions:

1) CAN QB Jonathan Collin recover from last year’s season-ending knee injury?

2) WILL the Redmen be able to improve upon their 3.5 yards-per-carry average from last season?

3) WHO will emerge from the largely unknown receiving core to replace WR Charles-Antoine Sinotte?

2010 recap: 0-9, McGill’s third winless season in the last four years.

After posting a 3-5 record in 2009, the Redmen were expected to contend for a playoff position in 2010. However, those expectations were shattered when sophomore quarterback Jonathan Collin was injured in the first game of the season.

Backbreaking losses to Bishop’s (in overtime) and Concordia (on a fourth-quarter punt return TD) sapped what little resolve the Redmen had left. They were outscored 196-34 in the last five games of the year.

Departures: Most notably, the CIS leader in career receptions, Charles-Antoine Sinotte. The prolific receiver graduated last year, but remains with the team as an assistant coach.

Coach Sinotte will have his work cut out for him, however, as the Redmen also lost WR Justene Edwards. Edwards finished second on the team in both catches and receiving yards in his rookie year, but is currently attempting to transfer to the University of Ottawa.

KR Jeff Thompson, OL Michael Pilon-Piquette, OL Jonathan Bower, and LB Julien Lefebvre are also no longer with the team.

Arrivals: OL Elliott Leeflang, QB Dallon Kuprowski, QB Jeff Tichelman, and DB Louis-Mikael Marandola.

Keep an eye on: QB Jonathan Collin, the 2009 QUFL Rookie of the Year. The Redmen are playing coy with some media outlets, but barring a setback Collin will be under centre for the first game of the season. McGill sorely missed the 6-foot-5, 230 pound quarterback last year, after he tore his ACL, LCL, and hamstring in the first game of the 2010 season. While the ligaments have mostly recovered, Collin is suffering from drop foot — a nerve condition that affects the ability to flex one’s ankle and toes, and therefore impairs both running and pivoting. The coaching staff and Collin have indicated that he will change his style from that of a run-oriented quarterback to a pocket passer, but will he still be effective?

If Collin can’t play effectively then things will get interesting. Ryne Bondy started 8 games last season, but played poorly (2 TDs, 10 INTs) and finished as the second-worst quarterback in Rob Pettapiece’s surplus yards rankings. Behind Bondy on the depth chart are two recruits that Redmen Coach Sonny Wolfe called “the best high school quarterbacks in the country last year.” Either Dallon Kuprowski, a product of the Ottawa Junior Riders, or Jeff Tichelman, out of Vancouver College, may see time as 18-year-old emergency options.

Coach & coordinators: Head Coach Sonny Wolfe returns for his 5th season at the helm, sporting an unflattering 3-30 career record with the Redmen.

Wolfe replaced all but one of the offensive coaches in the offseason, after the Redmen offence scored only five touchdowns last year. Danny Laramee, formerly of the Saint Mary’s Huskies and Ottawa Gee-Gees, takes over as the offensive coordinator, while Sonny Joshi will handle the running backs and special teams. Former Alouette Paul Lambert will share offensive line coaching duties with ex-McGill star Matthieu Quiviger (the only offensive coach spared from falling on his sword), and the aforementioned Sinotte will coach the receivers.

The defensive coaches remain the same as last year, led by fourth-year defensive coordinator Clint Uttley.

Off-the-field factors: The football program’s reputation has yet to recover since Chuck McMann left the Redmen in shambles in 2007—leaving behind few quality recruits and the stench of the “Dr. Broom” hazing scandal. But Wolfe has had five years to rebuild the team and excuses aside (McGill’s tough admission standards handicap them relative to the rest of the conference) needs at least three wins this year. Furthermore, on campus, the football program is (sometimes unfairly) ridiculed. A competent season would solve many ills.

From last season’s preview: “Anything other than a playoff appearance would be disappointing.”

2011 outlook: A playoff appearance in 2011 would be nice, but after many years of rebuilding, the Redmen just need to be respectable. Only one game against each of Laval and Sherbrooke will help.

McGill’s strength should be an above-average defence. All but one of last year’s defensive starters are back, led by All-Canadian DT Ben Thompson and LB Alex Bernard. However, as in years past, the quality of the defence won’t matter if the offence can’t stay on the field.

The offensive line is probably the best McGill has had in the last five years, as Robert Ravensburgen, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, and rookie Elliott Leeflang are all potential CFL prospects. They should help RB Taylor Kuprowski improve upon his 4.4 YPC average from last season, and will need to buy time for an unheralded group of receivers to clear coverage.

Swing games: Four of McGill’s last five games are against either Bishop’s (Sept. 30 & Oct. 22) or Concordia (Oct. 8 & 29). They’ll likely have to win at least three of four if they hope to make the playoffs.

Stock up or stock down: Up. The last five years have been rock bottom for the McGill football program. If Collin is healthy the Redmen will challenge for a playoff spot, but likely fall short; if he’s not healthy they should at least avoid another winless season.
In 50 words or less: This is the start of a new era for Sherbrooke. They made a great step to make it all the way to the Dunsmore Cup and almost beating Laval. Now, there is nothing but high expectations. Can they meet them?

Burning questions:

1) CAN top recruit Jeremi Doyon Roch step in for JP Shoiry and lead what is otherwise a veteran-laden group as soon as this season?

2) HOW will Sherbrooke deal with the heightened expectations?

3) HOW GOOD will this Sherbrooke defence - which brings back nine starters - be?

2010 recap: 5-4, 3rd regular season, W 33-26 vs Montreal in RSEQ Semifinal, L 22-17 @ Laval in Dunsmore Cup

Sherbrooke last year was Shoiry and a bunch of newcomers. Receiver Simon Charbonneau-Campeau made a long name for himself last season and they beat Montreal for a huge playoff win and almost beat the Rouge et Or on the road in the Dunsmore Cup. They used that success to reel in a top recruiting class and build on that momentum.

Departures: WR Alex Poirier, QB JP Shoiry, DL Steve Paquette, DT Yan Genest, DT Dave Lovius

Arrivals: QB Jeremi Doyon Roch, WR Alexandre Piche, WR Ismael Bamba, DL Jean Christophe Gagnon, LB Dempsey Jutras

Keep an eye on: Doyon Roch. He is touted as the messiah. After re-writing the CEGEP record book at Vanier College, Doyon Roch steps in for an underappreciated quarterback in Shoiry. How quickly he adjusts to the university game will dictate how successful the Vert et Or will be this season.

Coach & coordinators: Andre Bolduc has turned around this Sherbrooke program. He won their first playoff game last year and he has a young team but with a lot of returning starters.

The offensive coordinator is David Lessard. His offence last year was a great success and he has a talented group returning. He has been with Sherbrooke since 2007.

Marc Loranger returns as defensive coordinator, the position he has held since 2007 and held with Bishop's from 2000-2006. He also led recruiting at Bishop's during that time and surely knows the area and helps the Vert et Or in that regard.

Off-the-field factors: The Vert et Or share Sherbrooke/Lennoxville with Bishop's and battle for recruits on their own scale. After Leroy Blugh left Bishop's at least two to three defensive players left the Gaiters to come straight to the Vert et Or. If the Vert et Or continue their upswing, it will help their recruiting in their backyard.

From last season's preview: "They might have relied on Fils too much in the past: he accounted for nearly half of their yards from scrimmage in 2009-10. So losing him may not be as damaging to their offence as it seems, especially with an excellent (fifth-year) quarterback. Ultimately, it might be their D that keeps them at fifth or sixth, rather than third or fourth." - Rob Pettapiece

Rob was right. They had a great year with Shoiry and his receiving corps. Their defence was probably better than people thought and led them to a short playoff run.

2011 outlook: The Vert et Or do have some question marks as they still are a young team with a lot of second or third year players in key roles. They are talented and got a lot of experience playing last year. They should have controlled optimism this year as their new quarterback gets acclimated.

Swing games: If they want to fight for home field advantage in the opening round, they have to at least split their games against Montreal. Their two games against Concordia and Laval will also be interesting to see whether they are closer to the top or the bottom of the conference.

Stock up or stock down: Up. Two years ago, I thought they were on the way up. Last year, Rob thought they were on the way up. They are still headed in that direction. I look for them to fight for home field in the first round. Anything else would be a disappointment.
In 50 words or less: Being touted as a young team with plenty of potential for years, after two consecutive 6-2 records and an impressive showing in the playoffs last season MAC must now step up and prove themselves as serious contenders.

Burning questions:

1) CAN Kyle Quinlan assume the role as one of — if not the — premier passers in the OUA and the CIS as a whole?

2) WILL the loss of three fifth year starters on the Offensive Line have an impact on how far this veteran squad can go?

3) CAN MAC surpass Western as the top dog in the conference following a narrow loss to the Mustangs to end their playoff run last season?

2010 recap: 6-2, third in the OUA. Lost in the conference semi-finals, to the Western Mustangs, 34-28.

Entering the season the Marauders were expected to do well, but were also a dark horse to win the Yates Cup. They started off the season with a couple close, character-building wins over Queen’s and Laurier and only suffered losses on the season to the eventual Yates champions (Western) 50-19 in week 3, and Yates Cup finalists (Ottawa) 43-35 the following week. Both losses came on the road.

In the playoffs MAC looked strong with a dominant, 40-19 win over Queen’s before falling to Western 28-24 in an impressive bounce-back game against a Mustang team who dominated their earlier meeting. As a team MAC was strong on offence, finishing first in the conference for passing efficiency and third in the conference (fourth in the nation) in scoring with 36.1 points per game. Defensively the Marauders were strong in 2010, leading the conference in interceptions and coming in second in rush yards allowed per game.

Departures: OL Justin Glover, OL Michael Hoy, REC Kevin D’Hollander, RB Jordan Kozina, DB Byron Metcalfe.

Arrivals: REC Max Cameron, REC Andrin Mascotti, RB Chris Pezzetta, OL Sean Smith, OL Tom Sterling, DB Nick Shortill, LB Aram Eisho.

Keep an eye on: QB Kyle Quinlan, OUA Second-Team All Star last season. While focusing on Quinlan should be no surprise, he should compete for the title of best passer in the nation. He’s proven he can pass with 2018 yards last year, throwing 19 TDs to only 6 interceptions. This team’s success doesn’t rest solely on the arm of Quinlan, but to succeed at the highest level he will have to stay healthy and on his game.

Also watch RB Joey Nemet. He’s never had pull-away speed but he did average more than 5 yards per carry last season, moving the chains. With the departure of the explosive Kozina in the backfield and a retooled OL if Nemet can maintain success and keep the ground game moving on his own it will go far in determining MAC’s success

LB Ryan Chmielewski is one of the top linebackers in the conference, named an OUA First-Team All Star last season. He had 41 tackles last season (37 solo), 3.5 sacks and 3 interceptions. He anchors a veteran defence that was strong last season.

LB Ben D'Aguilar might not be one of the big names on the MAC D, but in 5 games last season he tallied 18 tackles (15 solo 6 asst) and had 3.5 sacks. Given a full season of play D’Anguilar has the chance to turn some heads.

Coach & coordinators: Stefan Ptaszek enters his sixth season as the Head Coach of the Marauders along with Offensive Coordinator Jon Behie and Defensive Coordinator Greg Knox.

Off-the-field factors: On the recent Cable 14 preview for the season (named after the team’s motto for this season, “Leave No Doubt”), it was mentioned how people in the community, including local businesses, are starting to get behind the Marauders program more and more thanks to their recent success. MAC once had a crowd of turn out to watch them play when they were based out of Ivor Wynne Stadium, and it appears the interest in the local community is starting to return.

From last season's preview:"As Queen’s proved last season, a core group of players that has a chance to grow together is always dangerous. Mac returns almost every key contributor from a very solid 2009 and is ready to make a run." - Brian Decker.

And they did, though not quite all the way to the Yates.

2011 outlook: MAC will certainly be playoff-bound and should fall near the top of the standings. They have even more veteran experience and will boast one of the best pivots in the nation. If the Marauders fail to make it to the Yates Cup game once after two solid regular seasons ended in the semi-finals, it will be considered a disappointment for the program. MAC will be one of the teams to beat in the OUA this season.

Swing games: Week 2 is their home opener, a rematch of last season's semi-finals versus the Western Mustangs. Both teams will battle for the top spot in the conference so this may determine home field advantage overall. Week 7 against Laurier at University Stadium in Waterloo should be a late season test, the Golden Hawks are sporting a veteran roster this season and playing at home will not be pushovers. And then Week 8 the season ends at home against Ottawa, and while the Gee-Gees will not be the same team following the departure of Hec Crighton-winning QB Brad Sinopoli, MAC cannot afford to look forward to the playoffs following the Laurier game.

Stock up or stock down: Up. Even following a 6-2 record, MAC has a lot of the tools in place to push for the regular-season conference crown and the Yates Cup. This team has the potential to be playing in at least one championship game this season. The environment at Ron Joyce has improved over the past few seasons which has created a true home field advantage, which could help foster success come playoff time.
Once again we welcome Chris Lund of Always OUA.

In 50 words or less: A team that isn’t really rebuilding or aiming to win now. This perennial basement dweller has only lost five starters from last season’s 2-6 squad, yet is still in the midst of uncertainty under an interim coaching staff.

Burning questions:
1) CAN Sam Malian play in something resembling a full season for the first time since his rookie year?

2) WHAT does nine returning starters on offence and 10 returning starters on defence mean for a team that only won two games last season?

3) WILL Joe D’Amore do enough as head coach to remove the interim tag and guide this program into the future? If not, who is the right person to take a historically mediocre team to the Promised Land?

4) CAN the Lancers find a way to replace the boot of Robert Eeuwes?

2010 recap: 2-6, 8th regular season, out of playoffs

As far as "predictable teams that played unpredictably last season" go the Windsor Lancers may be the crowning jewel. Going into 2010 it was widely speculated and well known that the Lancers would not be very good. What was NOT speculated or well known was that Windsor would keep the gaps against Yates Cup finalists Ottawa and Western to 15 points or less and get blown out by also-rans Queen’s, McMaster, Guelph and Laurier. Similarly, we knew it was a good chance they’d beat Toronto and York though I’d really like to meet the fellow who had them pencilled in to put up 61 points on York.

In sum, Windsor finished well out of playoff contention for the fifth consecutive season and witnessed the end of the borderline comical Mike Morencie regime. To put how bad it was into perspective, press releases detailing Morencie’s reign over the Lancers highlight the fact that he coached six players that graduated to the CFL in 13 seasons. Wins and playoff appearances need not apply.

Departures: DB Matt Bucknor, OL Nick Cicchini, K Robert Eeuwes, DB Daryl Townsend, OL Brandon Yohnicki

Arrivals: DL David Flewelling, DL Eric Kinnenen, DL John Moynahan, K Sebastien Rimbert, DB Marcus St. Aubin, RB Gilbert Stewart, OL Jeremy Veres

(Cap tip to Windsor’s Sports Info department for putting together a great list of arrivals and departures which made the composition of the above list much easier)

Keep an eye on: Receiver Jordan Brescacin was Windsor’s offensive MVP last season and with another year of experience under his belt and a more experienced pivot throwing him the ball – whether it is Malian or 2010 revelation Austin Kennedy – he will have an opportunity to be Windsor’s star on offence.

Linebacker Akeem Whonder has quietly become one of the most reliable defensive players in the OUA which means he is my odds-on bet for top defensive player who puts up huge numbers on a substandard team. I’d be looking 50+ tackles and five sacks from him in 2011.

Coach & coordinators: D’Amore fits the mold of Lancer coach in that he paid his dues coming up through the regional high school system like his predecessors have before him. The fact he has moved to the role of head coach from recruiting coordinator means there hasn’t been as drastic a drop-off in incoming talent which is typical of spring coaching moves. He has been incredibly optimistic since taking over and a can-do attitude will only help a program desperately searching for an identity and hope.

Former Lancers quarterback Jon Dent assumes the role of Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach in his fourth season as a coach with the Lancers. Dent will have two quarterbacks and some intriguing weapons at his disposal. His experience at the OUA level should only help their growth.

Jim MacDougall returns to the Lancers staff after 13 years away from the team. He was most recently the head coach of Amherst High School. Ten returning starters on defence will bode well for his learning curve as he readjusts to the OUA level. With the right game plans in place, the Lancers D could be a headache for some of the more potent offences in Ontario.

Off-the-field factors: The obvious one here is the departure of Mike Morencie from the Lancers' head coaching position. While many players credit Morencie as a personal mentor and good coach, it was evident that the on-field product was not matching the off-field expectations. Whether you’re coaching in the NFL or your child’s Timbits hockey team it’s evident that one winning season in 13 tries will not bode well for your job security. Once administration had to start dealing with loud complaints from a vocal base of football alumni and a steep drop in fundraising dollars, the writing was on the wall. Morencie may have been a great influence on individual players, but it was time for him to go. Windsor football can finally move on.

From last season's preview: “Citing the need to find someone who wasn't going to "come in and change the world" Morencie stayed close to the program and selected D'Amore, a former Lancer Captain and standout receiver. However, one has to wonder, with the recent woes of the program, maybe a world changer is what the Lancers need.” – Luke Dotto

Hard to argue with that today, Morencie may be gone but a caretaker coach with the same mindset may be a hindrance to the development of this program. Provided they follow through on the hiring process, it would be prudent for Lancers’ brass to branch out of the Windsor area and bring in a fresh perspective.

2011 outlook: If they were to pick a season to clean house, this would be the one to do it. A fairly veteran team means that the program should avoid embarrassment well enough to attract future recruits in the region while a new staff lays down their Vanier Cup vision. While D’Amore and his crew will certainly give this season everything they have, you can be sure there is a group of Windsor faithful who are rooting for them to fail in hopes that winds of change come through town. A bottom of the table finish is to be expected once again, it’s just a matter of where they fit among teams from Toronto and the no-longer-on-hiatus Waterloo.

Swing games: Week one against Toronto will be an interesting test for Windsor. You could certainly make the case that had they played the Varsity Blues later in the season last year, the Lancers would have been a one win team. A victory against Toronto would go a long way for morale during the Lancers' transition year. Week four vs. Waterloo will also be an interesting test.

Stock up or stock down: Up. While there isn’t necessarily a whole lot to get excited about yet, the Lancers have a golden opportunity in front of them. They have rid themselves of a horrible coaching contract and will soon be free to pick the vision which will guide this program into the future. With the majority of the veteran talent on this roster in its third and fourth years of eligibility they should have two more years free from the growing pains of a total rebuild. If all goes to plan this season could be a turning point in the Lancers’ prospective ascent from the basement to the elite of the OUA.
We turn our next preview over to the Winnipeg Sun's David Larkins, a longtime CIS follower who maintains The Feed.

In 50 words or less: A team head coach Brian Dobie calls the youngest he’s ever had in 16 years at U of M.

Burning questions:

1) WHAT kind of leap can the Bisons freshmen running back trio of Nic Demski, Kienan LaFrance and Anthony Coombs make?

2) HOW quickly can a team with 61 players in their first or second years of eligibility hit the ground running?

3) HOW much will NT Adam Hindley’s presence boost the defensive line?

2010 recap: 2-6, fifth place, out of playoffs.

The Bisons scored their lone wins of the season against the UBC Thunderbirds, the team that finished tied with them for the last spot in the Canada West conference. Meanwhile, the six losses were by an average of 28 points per game, including a 64-3 debacle on the road against Saskatchewan. It was a startling drop for a team that had won a Vanier Cup just a few years prior.

Departures: RB Matt Henry, RB James Gerardy, FB Chad Young, LB Justin Clayton, LB Mike Taylor, DE Everton Black.

Arrivals: RB Nic Demski, RB Kienan LaFrance, QB John Kiesman, OL Shahpour Birjandian, OL Matt MacKay, DL Eric Dasset, OL Kieran Beveridge.

Keep an eye on: QB Khaleal Williams. An athletic and mobile pivot, Williams now has a year in Manitoba’s system under his belt and the luxury of having much of his receiving corps returning. The Canadian junior league’s outstanding offensive player in 2008, Williams will shoulder a lot of responsibility as a veteran this season.

Coach & coordinators: Brian Dobie, head coach; Stan Pierre, defensive coordinator; Ryan Urbanovich, defensive backs; Mike Chalifoux, defensive backs; Terry Watson, offensive line; Vaughan Mitchell, offensive coordinator/running backs; Lloyd Orris, running backs; Blair Atkinson, receivers; Lance Glover, defensive line/special teams; John Mackie, quarterbacks; Neil Fulgueras, running backs; Tim Kist, linebackers.

Off-the-field factors: The Bisons won’t move into their sparkling-new facility until 2012, but the repercussions are already being felt. The school has installed two FieldTurf fields alongside its indoor soccer facility that the team will use as its practice field. Meanwhile, the 33,000-seat stadium that will house the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Bisons has proven to be a big recruiting chip for Dobie.

From last season's preview: “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.” — Justin McElroy.

Last year’s predictions for the Bisons were fairly bang-on, however, one last sentence in taking stock of their 2010 chances proved to be a bit off. The final game with UBC proved to be nothing more than playing for pride.

2011 outlook: The Bisons get no favours in their scheduling, but then again there’s no hiding in the ultra-competitive Canada West. On offence, the Bisons are blessed with having most of their key playmakers return from a year ago, but it is still a unit that ranked last in the Canada West in scoring offence and total offence. Same goes for the defence, which was in the basement of the conference, but also returns its top seven tacklers from 2010. Among those is Hindley, the 6-foot-2 junior out of Thunder Bay, Ont., who Dobie expects to be an impact player.

Swing games: We’ll learn a lot about the Bisons right out of the gates with a road game against Alberta (Sept. 10) sandwiched between home dates against two-time defending Uteck Bowl champions the Calgary Dinos (Sept. 3), and the Saskatchewan Huskies for homecoming (Sept. 17).

Stock up or stock down: More than likely lateral. The Canada West looks to once again be an intimidating place to dwell, making it all the less likely that 2011 is Manitoba’s breakout year.
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