In 50 words or less: 2010's 1-7 campaign was a huge step back for the X-Men, who went 6-2 and won a playoff game in 2009 before losing to Saint Mary's in the Loney Bowl. Which season will they be closer to this year?
1) WILL youth be served? The X-Men played notable amounts of first-year players last season, which explains some of their struggles. Can those players develop into solid contributors now they have a year under their belts?
2) CAN the X-Men replace their departed star linebackers? Henoc Muamba was selected first overall by Winnipeg in the 2011 CFL draft, while fellow all-Canadian Tom Lynch has also left (to transfer to Saskatchewan and pursue graduate studies) and long-time LB/special teams star Jon Anderson has graduated. Those are big losses for any program, much less one that struggled even with them.
3) WHAT will the new AUS pecking order look like? After the 2009 campaign, X looked like perhaps the best prospect to knock off Saint Mary's at the top, but that obviously didn't happen. Acadia and Mount Allison each improved to 4-4 last year, while the X-Men fell back. Can they get back towards the top, or will they be stuck in the basement again in 2011?
2010 recap: 1-7, fourth in regular season. X's lone win was a 37-26 home victory over Mount Allison, but they lost their other two meetings against the Mounties, fell to Saint Mary's twice, lost to Acadia twice (including a 34-0 pasting in the second-last game of their season) and were wiped out 27-10 by Montreal in their Quebec crossover game.
Departures: LB Henoc Muamba, LB Tom Lynch, LB Jon Anderson, SB Kwame Osei, OL Stewart Walsh, OL Gordon Sawler, DB Reilly Penner,
Arrivals: DL Devon Marshall and DB David Culligan (both played for Nova Scotia in the Canada Cup), LB Ron Omara, RB Ashton Dickson, LB Corey Armstrong, DE Jesse Stevens and FB Jerome Stevens (all played for the CJFL's Ottawa Sooners), and plenty more: full list here.
Keep an eye on: The linebackers. With three members of last year's corps gone, there may be a chance for key recruits like Omara and Armstrong to contribute immediately. Both are highly touted.
Coach & coordinators: Gary Waterman is back at head coach for his third season. He's 7-9 in the regular season overall, so the question is if 2009's 6-2 showing or 2010's 1-7 record is more representative of what he can do. It seems Waterman will be handling OC duties again as well. Former Acadia OC/recruiting coordinator/director of football operations Josh Lambert (who also has a NCAA background at SE Missouri State and Marshall) is in as special teams coordinator. Jon Svec is back as DC.
Off-the-field factors: There's got to be some pressure on Waterman. He's the first alumnus ever to coach St. FX football, and he got off to a great start, winning his first five games in 2009, but his team's gone a combined 3-10 (regular season and playoffs) since then. Some of that's to be expected with young players, but the question is how much rope he has to work with.
From last season's preview: "They should have no problem with Acadia and Mount Allison, but that would make this year a lot like the last couple. Their goal has to be to make it out of the AUS, but it remains to be seen if they have enough this year to overcome key losses." - Jared Book
Jared was right about the key losses, but didn't see the improvement at Mount A and Acadia. To be fair, not a lot of other people did either.
2011 outlook: There's not a lot to inspire much confidence in the X-Men this season. Yes, they have some very promising recruits, but that didn't work out all that well this past season, and even if last year's rookies grow into their roles this year, there still are plenty of gaps. Replacing your best player and your whole linebacking corps isn't easy, either. They could very well pick up a few more wins if Mount A and Acadia regress, but I don't see them knocking off SMU just yet.
Swing games: The X-Men face Mount Allison three times again this year, and those games should be crucial to deciding who winds up where in the standings. The rest of their schedule is Acadia twice, Saint Mary's twice and Concordia in the interlock. It's hard to see them beating the Huskies or Stingers, so it's probably the games against the Mounties and Axemen that will matter the most.
Stock up or stock down: Up, but only slightly. There is some potential here given the talent they've brought in, but this is a 1-7 team that lost some of its best players. Keep those expectations tempered with some reality.