CIS Countdown 2011: Ottawa Gee-Gees

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.
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1 comment:

  1. I am a Gee Gee fan by default as the Ravens have had no football program the past decade or so.
    But I have to say the penalty woes U of Ottawa have suffered in the past were largely self inflicted.
    Sure the Gee Gees have been the victims of phantom calls and missed penalties like any other team but for the most part, the bad penalties Ottawa has taken has been their own damn fault 90% of the time.
    Things like needless roughing penalties, jumping offside on D with third down with less than five yards to go, no yards, illegal substitutions...stupid crap like that.
    Although Piche had a successful record during his tenure, I always lamented his team's apparent lack of discipline.