As each CIS football team is officially eliminated from playoff contention, we'll reflect on what they did this year and compare their results to our expectations.
Next up: Queen's, eliminated by McMaster in an OUA semifinal last Saturday.
Record: 7-3 overall, 6-2 regular season, lost 40-13 to McMaster in OUA semifinal.
RPI: 8th (out of 26)
Per-game stats (including playoffs):
Points for: 28.6
Points against: 15.3
Passing yards: 230.3
Rushing yards: 182.9
Passing yards against: 246.7
Rushing yards against: 89.7
Looking back at our preview questions:
Will the amount of time the young Billy McPhee has to pass behind a young offensive line have to be measured in nanoseconds?
The O-line was perhaps Tricolour's surprise unit, both in how far they came and what they did well. After Queen's couldn't find the end zone with a GPS in the first two weeks, they shuffled personnel, with younger talent such as Mike Sullivan and Blake Spero emerging as valuable starters and my fellow Napaneeans, left tackle Josh Prinsen and guard Derek Morris, becoming the anchors of the O-line. The plus side was that they cleared the way for tailback Ryan Granberg to gain 1,000-plus yards despite the fact he was a non-factor in those first two losses and missed the Toronto game on Sept. 30. (No other back in the country who only had an eight-game regular season topped 1,000.) On the downside, forecasts of pass-protection problems were somewhat on target. McPhee was sacked 12 times in the regular season, more than any OUA QB outside of those on the 0-8 team he would joined last year if not for, well, you know.
Granted, those sacks could have reflected that he's a second-year QB learning to go through his progressions, which can lead to hanging on to the ball too long. McPhee had just seven INT in 213 attempts, a very good ratio. (Don't be that guy who points out that's only one more pick than backup Ryan Mitchell tossed in 30 minutes against McMaster; he was a true freshman, which seems to have been lost on some drive-by media.)
Ultimately, the Gaels offence was peaks-and-valleys. It scored fewer than two TDs against McMaster (twice), Ottawa, Laurier and Toronto, the latter being as egregious as Arlen High failing to hit pay dirt against McMaynerberry. (McMaynerberry, Hank!) The line did exceed reasonable expectations.
Can a strong young defensive line, bolstered by the return of all-Canadian Osie Ukwuoma, put opponents in unfavourable second-and-long sitations more often than not?
Teams had a worse chance of doing ground-and-pound against the Gaels than I would of getting admitted to the university today with the 82 per cent average I had as a high school senior in the mid-'90s. Queen's front seven might have been its best since the 1992 national champions of Eric Dell and Mike Boone. They led the OUA in total and rushing defence, although that was abetted by not having to play Western in a meaningful game for the Mustangs. They also didn't allow a rushing touchdown until the first quarter of their 10th and final game. The likes of Ukwuoma, Derek 'The Gavel' Wiggan, John Miniaci, Frank Pankewich end-turned-linebacker Ted Festeryga and 'backers Steve Laporte and Sam Sabourin were very tough to run against. Their mates in the secondary did give up some big plays, but ultimately the D had four touchdown-free games and held three other teams to two TDs or less. Cornerbacks T.J. Chase-Dunawa and Andrew Lue also received OUA all-star nods.
How far away are they from another deep post-season run?
It's all in how you ask the question. How much will the D-line miss Ukwuoma next fall, and how long will older players such as Granberg, Laporte and all-purpose slotback Giovanni Aprile stick around? It says here it's optimistic to predict McPhee will be set to lead a championship team by next season, so the window will be more open in 2013, especially if receivers Alex Carroll, Justin Chapdelaine and Chris Patrician fulfill their upside. Of course, that's a season when the Yates Cup champion has to head west for the Mitchell Bowl. No one needs a reminder how long it's been since an Ontario team won a playoff game in Western Canada (43 years, although that could change this fall).