CIS Countdown 2011: Calgary Dinos

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.
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