In 50 words or less: A better-than-usual season is in the rear-view mirror of this Mount Allison team, and they aspire to once again be the tweeners of the Maritimes.
1) CAN they squeeze out another .500 season or is it back to the cellar of the country's worst football conference?
2) WILL quarterback Jake Hotchkiss be included in a country-wide top-10 list again?
3) WHAT will happen to the defence, which returns just seven players?
4) NO GARY ROSS?
2010 recap: 4-4 in the regular season then lost their only playoff game, at home to Acadia. On the fourth OT attempt, someone finally put points on the board; unfortunately for Mount Allison, it was the Axemen. It was the Mounties' first .500 or better season since 1998.
As befits a .500 team, they won and lost to every other AUS team at least once, including a Sep. 25 23-21 win over SMU in Moncton. (You think the Huskies might want those two safeties back?)
That .500 record is a little misleading, actually: they were third-worst in Canada in SRS and sixth-worst in RPI, which both account for the relative weakness of the Atlantic conference.
Departures: Most notably, receiver/returner Gary Ross. He's moving on to dentistry. Ross is second all-time in receptions, fifth all-time in receiving yards, and third all-time in punt return yards (PDF). More critically, the Mounties' status as one of the better offensive teams in the conference last year can somewhat be attributed to Ross' skills (the team as a whole had 7.7 yards per pass attempt; Ross had most of those). They also say goodbye to RB Matt Pickett, who was second in the conference in total rushing yardage in 2010, and fourth in 2009.
Defensively, they lose DB Bradley Daye, DL Akwasi Antwi, and DB Jermaine Oram. Daye was an all-star last year, leading the team with four interceptions. Antwi recorded four sacks and 47 total tackles last year, leading the team in the latter category.
Arrivals: With the loss of Daye and Oram, DB Donovan Saunders may find himself with a large role in his first year. On the offensive side, they welcome OL Richard Smith, WR Morgan McIsaac, and RB Iain McMillan.
Keep an eye on: QB Jake Hotchkiss, a first-team all-star. Also, DE Ryan Downe, who has five of the team's 12 returning sacks from 2010.
Coach & coordinators: Head coach Kelly Jeffrey, entering his fourth year (6-20 overall), is one of a few CIS coaches with NCAA experience, and last year knocked off SMU's three-in-a-row winner Steve Sumarah for AUS Coach of the Year.
Off-the-field factors: Their once-held status as "New Brunswick’s only university with a football team" isn't quite true anymore, since both UNB Saint John and the main campus in Fredericton both have club football programs, along with Moncton. Their goal "to build a fence around the Maritimes" may have taken a hit if some players decided to go play in a competitive league rather than inevitably watching Saint Mary's win the Loney Bowl every year. It's a while back now, but Mount Allison did appear in two Vanier Cups, though granted they were in 1984 and 1991, presumably before the cabbages from Zontar ruined the purity of Canadian collegiate sports for then-athletic director Jack Drover.
From last season's preview: "QB Jake Hotchkiss might be primed for a breakthrough season" and "RB Matt Pickett might also be one to watch." Andrew got them both right; both players were named all-stars, with Hotchkiss leading AUS quarterbacks (okay, all four of them) in passing yards with 1602 and combined passing-rushing yards with 1781.
2011 outlook: Despite what the Cape Breton Post might tell you, Mount Allison isn't one of the Atlantic football powers. Having said that, 2009 was a bad year, so it's possible 2010 is more representative. I think it's more likely that they finish third or fourth with at most three wins.
Swing games: Basically all of them?
Okay, fine. The St. F-X games on Oct. 1 and Oct. 21, to see if the X-Men are going to recover this year, and the season opener against Saint Mary's, to see if lightning will strike again.
Stock up or stock down: Down. Not to oversimplify, but you can't lose Gary Ross and expect things to get better.