CIS Countdown 2011: Manitoba Bisons

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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