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.
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.