Just in time for today's CIS football opener, we've made our predictions for each conference champion, bowl game winner, and Vanier Cup champion:

(Click for a larger version, and click through to read more about our picks.)

Our panelists, listed above in no particular order, are:
Andrew Bucholtz
Mike Radoslav
Neate Sager
Evan Daum
Brian Decker
Rob Pettapiece
Perry King
Jim Mullin

Only three of us are predicting a repeat of last year's Vanier matchup, but we all chose either McMaster or Laval to win it. As expected, there is more disagreement on who will win the Canada West/OUA bowl game than there is on whether Laval will win (or, in one case, Montreal).

Also, no two ballots are exactly alike.

Some assorted comments from our panel:

There are 10 teams capable of making it to the big game; Laval, McMaster, Calgary, Regina, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Queen`s, Montreal, Western and Sherbrooke.

AUS: Acadia over SMU... Axemen have the momentum and the best QB in Atlantic Time Zone.
RSEQ: Laval over Montreal... Sene vs. Fred-o and AGN. Two versus one isn't fair.

OUA: McMaster over Queen's... A young (Golden) Gaels team comes of age with an upset in the playoffs, but Quinlan and DiCroce are too much at Joyce.
CW: Calgary over Saskatchewan... The Huskies upset the Rams on the road, but don't have the horses to push around a team with 7 of 8 All-Canadian returning.

AUS v. RSEQ - Laval over Acadia... This mismatch makes the case for reformation of the CIS playoffs.
OUA v. CW - McMaster over Calgary... This game will be the most epic matchup of the season and will not disappoint. I only give this to Mac because of home field advantage.

Vanier: Laval 28 McMaster 26... Predicting a score on a national championship game three months out makes me a fool or it could be a desperate cry for attention.
-- Jim Mullin


RSEQ: Laval (easy, but automatic, considering who they are)
OUA: Western (Kyle Quinlan may be back at Mac, but the Mustangs will a lot of pressure to perform—I'm guessing they will be able to succeed)
AUS: St. FX (not a strong schedule, so they'll have a chance at topping Acadia)
Canada West: Calgary (with UBC maybe making it close)

Vanier Cup matchup: Western vs. Laval (the dream matchup!), with Laval winning a close one.
-- Perry King


AUS: Acadia. Great continuity from a 2011 team that won the conference and had the eventual Vanier champs up against the wall early in the Uteck Bowl, plus some star power with Kyle Graves.
QUFL: Laval. I'm also looking forward to seeing many Fredo Plesius highlights this year, and also, they're Laval.
OUA: McMaster. The balance of power in the OUA has fully shifted to Hamilton, but so have the expectations - something they were able to avoid most of last year. Still, too much firepower for some improved OUA squads to take down.
CWUAA: Regina. Would be great to see Marc Mueller come back and play like he was expected to last year before his injury.

Vanier: McMaster

The fourth and final instalment of the Kyle Quinlan Show should be great (and hopefully less turbulent than 2011). Recent injuries are a concern - Chris Pezzetta was subtly a beast in their Vanier run [Ed. note: but is out for the year -RP], and Mike DiCroce starting the season on the sidelines is a concern - but they're so deep and creative on offence it shouldn't be a problem. Between Quinlan, a suddenly seasoned defence and great overall depth, it's hard to best against Mac in 2012.
-- Brian Decker
Join us at 1:00pm ET as Jared Book takes a look at the Quebec conference heading into the season opening weekend.
Our look at the AUS football season continues with St. F-X and Acadia. See Part 1 (Mount A and SMU) here.

What makes the AUS so difficult to predict is that three out of four teams make the playoffs, so anything can happen. Teams play each other so frequently that the games truly are chess matches. With the loss of the second interlock game, some teams now face each other three times. This year, the three-game matchups are St. Francis Xavier vs. Mount Allison and the reigning champions in Acadia against Saint Mary’s. This scheduling could be the difference-maker in deciding who gets home field advantage in the semifinals.


The strength of schedule, or lack thereof, is not the only reason why I have the X-Men on the rise from last year's 2-6 finish. X is easily the most athletic team in the entire conference and are loaded with studs across the board. They have the talent to compete this year and hopefully their team has matured over the offseason. If they disappoint, the excuse cannot be because of their inexperience. Their coaches also have to step up this season. Last year, word around the AUS was that the X-Men ran some awful schemes. Their failure to adjust to certain formations or the lack of an offensive identity can only be placed on the staff. If they are going to compete for the Jewett Trophy this year, head coach Gary Waterman and his staff will have to improve.

The X offence has the potential to be one of the best in the AUS this year. The strength of their offence is their receiving corps led by 2010 AUS rookie of the year Jordan Catterall. He is joined by former quarterback Andrew Hickey and Devon Bailey. I think Bailey has the ability to break out this season: he is a tremendous player when he uses his 6-5 frame to his advantage and is drawing comparisons to former X standout and current B.C. Lion Akeem Foster. The X-Men also had a pleasant surprise with running back Ashton Dickson, last year's rookie bowling ball out of Ottawa.

The biggest question mark for the X offence is at the quarterback position; no one has stated who the starter will be this year. Last season Jahmari Bennett and Cory Wensley split time and each had marginal success. They have also brought in two quaterbacks from the CJFL. Yannick Rickli spent last season with the Ottawa Sooners, while 6’4 Clayton Masikewich (Calgary Colts) is a former Prairie Football Conference rookie QB of the year. As mentioned earlier, X is extremely athletic at the skill positions. If the offensive line can give their young quarterbacks some time, this team could put up some impressive numbers.

The most exciting part about this X-Men club, though, has to be their defence. If anyone saw what Dylan Hollohan did at the CFL combine they got a glimpse at why regular AUS observers are so high on X’s athleticism (JP Shoiry was impressed, too). He returns this year after missing 2011. The X secondary is going to be without standout Raye Hartmann, a conference all-star who has reportedly transferred to the NCAA. On the defensive line, Nate Annan is expected to continue his dominant play since arriving in 2009. Annan was fifth on the team in tackles in 2011 and will be responsible for keeping two of the best linebackers in the conference clean. Those two linebackers, the best in a strong group, are Brett Hubbeard and Ron Omara, both expected to compete for all-conference spots in 2012. Omara is only entering his second year and is already living up to his Henoc Muamba comparisons. If Omara and Hubbeard can meet or exceed their preseason expectations, this unit could be tops in the AUS.

I may have set the bar high for the X-men this year due to their potential, but as they say: “potential only gets coaches” — or bloggers — “fired.” If X can get one of their quarterbacks to find his inner Steve Snyder and they stay healthy on defence, they could be hosting a semifinal game. For this to happen they would need to sweep their matchups vs. Mount Allison and at least split vs. SMU.

Prediction: 4-4, second place.

Disclosure: I played for Acadia from 2006 to 2010.

The fear in Wolfville this offseason was that the CFL was going to stall their resurgence. Jake Thomas, Kyle Graves, Brett Haenni, and Mike Squires were all in training camps this past June but thankfully for Acadia all but Thomas returned. Reigning CIS coach of the year Jeff Cummins boasts one of the most talented offences in the country as they return most of their key players. The goal for Acadia this season is Vanier or bust, and it looks like they will have all the tools to get another shot to play in the Uteck Bowl.

On offense, it all starts with Hec Crighton candidate Kyle Graves. Graves had an exceptional season in 2011, securing the conference MVP, and also garnered an invitation to the CFL combine last March. Graves and Kyle Quinlan were both signed to contracts by the Montreal Alouettes, in Graves' case largely due to his impressive combine performance. Back with the Axemen, he should be able to surpass his 2011 totals and finish out his career with another shot at the Vanier. Another CFL hopeful was Haenni, now making the move to fullback after his brief stint with the Edmonton Eskimos. Lining up behind him is running back Zack Skibin, who looked to be unstoppable once he secured the starting spot midway through last season with 502 yards on 75 carries in AUS play from October 15 on. With those two in the backfield, Acadia should be difficult to stop in short-yardage situations.

The Axemen, as hinted above, also return most of their talented receivers, led by Squires and Taylor Renaud, two big physical receivers who put up dominating numbers last season. Not returning are two graduates: slotback A.J. Durling, who had a productive season, and the dependable receiver Stu Clow. The offensive line had no significant losses aside from the graduation of Travis Miller and will hope to build on last year’s success when they gave up only 10 sacks all season, half as many as the second-best team. The biggest loss for the Axemen was co-offensive coordinator Tom Flaxman, who is now the OC for the University of Toronto.

Acadia will need their offence to continue to build on last year to overcome some of the losses on the other side. Going into last year, much of the hype around Acadia was that they returned 10 defensive starters. This year, Acadia only returns six. Losing defensive tackles Andrew Frazer and Jacob Thomas (a current Blue Bomber, and fan of the blog) will be the most difficult for the Axemen. Linebacker Drew Morris will be expected to replace President’s Trophy nominee Tom Labenski, who graduated in 2011. The strength of the Axemen defence will be at the defensive end positions, where John Wilson should have another big year, and in the secondary, where they return All-Canadian Cam Wade, cornerback Chris Cull and halfback Alex Graham. Dual-sport athlete Sean Stoqua, also the point guard for the basketball Axemen, will be competing for the starting field corner position with a host of rookies. Acadia will hope to reload like they did after the '05 championship in contrast to the five-year rebuild they went through after. They will have to go through some growing pains this season but I still feel their defence will be as strong as it was in 2011.

If this team wants to make a name for themselves nationally, and have a chance to put the rest of Canada on notice, they are going to have to have a big game right away: in week two they travel to PEPS to take on Laval. Acadia has not fared well vs. teams outside of the AUS (aside from beating McGill in ’07 and ’11, but that's McGill). They have been blown out a few times by Quebec teams in past seasons, and haven't even played Laval since 2008. That match up in Quebec should be a preview of this year's Uteck, as I foresee the Axemen having to make that long trip twice this year.

Many do not respect AUS football and that shows in the first edition of the national rankings released today (where Acadia was ranked 9th). If the Axemen could stun Laval, or come close, look for people to start buying into the hype.

Prediction: 7-1, first place.
We start previewing the AUS football season today. Up first: the Mount Allison Mounties and Saint Mary's Huskies.

The Atlantic University Football Conference saw many changes in 2011. For the first time since 2006, the Saint Mary’s Huskies failed to represent the league in the semifinals: their five-year reign ended in Wolfville when the Acadia Axemen un-seated the perennial powerhouse. As opposed to recent years SMU was forced to deal with some instability when they decided not to retain three-time AUS coach of the year Steve Sumarah.

Mount Allison faced a similar obstacle in 2011 as it was the first year without star receiver/returner and former league MVP Gary Ross. That loss compounded with injuries led to a disappointing season while St. Francis Xavier took advantage and moved into third place. The young and exciting X-men could be a sleeper team this season as they return the most athletic squad in the AUS.

The Acadia Axemen know all too well about being a surprising club and hope that their wealth of talent on offence will be able to carry them to another conference title and a chance at redemption. The AUS this season has no shortage of storylines and in this two-part preview, I will break down each team in the conference and, at the risk of being completely wrong, I will offer up some predictions for the 2012 season.


Life after Gary Ross has been rough for the Mounties, much like their Pre-Gary ways. After they finished the 2010 season with a .500 record and hosted a playoff game, they found themselves winless in 2011. A large reason for that disappointing season was the loss of linebacker and defensive leader Ben Halpern. Halpern played a pivotal role in the Mounties' resurgence but losing him in week one last year crushed an already inexperienced defence. Return him and first-year standout Jacob LeBlanc, who was the AUS rookie of the year and a member of the Canadian team that recently took home a World Junior title, and the Mounties should have some stability in their front seven. And even if Halpern is the glue of the defence, the star has to be defensive end Ryan Downe. Downe is my pick for the AUS sack leader and has a legitimate shot at becoming the Metras award nominee for lineman of the year.

The defence does have talent, but some question marks have to be brought up about the secondary which had struggles when stretched deep or when facing physical receivers. Furthermore, I do question their depth across the board. Last season no one could replace Halpern, and I wonder if they could recover if any of their stars were to miss a significant period of time.

On offence, the Mounties struggled when no one could replace Ross’ production. Jake Hotchkiss, the talented lefty struggled immensely as he tied for the CIS lead with 15 interceptions, roughly one pick for every seven completions. Word out of Sackville in the spring was that Hotchkiss was not returning, which would have been devastating for the program, (à la Kelly Hughes’ surprise departure in 2009), but he is on the team in 2012. Hotchkiss is only two years removed from his conference all-star season in 2010 but needs to prove that he was not a product of Gary Ross.

Gone is dependable All-Canadian wide out Adam Molnar, but added is Jordan Botel of the junior Vancouver Island Raiders. Botel was a 1000-yard rusher for the Raiders, and he looks to be sharing the backfield with former Acadia running back Nick Lauder. Lauder finished second in voting for rookie of the year in 2008 with nearly 500 yards on 99 carries, then after another year in CIS played with the Raiders as well last year.

The biggest issue for the Mounties will be their losses on the offensive line. They lost Mike Filer to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ practice roster (via Calgary in the draft), as well as Aaron Harper and Chris Munn. Mount Allison’s o-line only gave up 20 sacks despite having the second most pass attempts in the conference (albeit just two ahead of Acadia's 216). If the Mounties cannot protect Hotchkiss as well in 2012, they will be in for another long season.

The goal of head coach Kelly Jeffery this season will be to compete for a playoff spot and win a playoff game. To do so they will have have to continue their success vs. X. They face St. Francis Xavier three times this season, a team that they have played tough in the past so that experience could prove to be beneficial. More importantly, two of those meetings are on the treacherous turf at MacAuley Field (those who think that is hyperbole obviously haven’t seen that field after some heavy rain) Even so, I just don’t see the Mounties taking that next step this season because of instability on the o-line, the lack of a true playmaker on offence for Hotchkiss, and the lack of depth on defence. If this team stays healthy and gets some breaks, they could steal a few, but I think that may be asking too much.

Prediction: 1-7, fourth place.


First off, if my prediction comes to fruition and they do finish third with a 3-5 record or worse, it will be interesting to compare what would happen to newly-minted head coach Perry Marchese, seeing as former Huskies and current Carleton Ravens head coach Steve Sumarah was fired after a 6-2 season and a spot in the AUS championship. The botched “worldwide" coaching search conducted by the Huskies' front office is the largest reason why I see them taking a step back. They fired Sumarah on December 5th, and after a host of candidates were rumored to be the next leader of Huskie Football, they finally got their man on February 23rd, right in the heart of recruiting season (not something you can blame on Marchese). The excellent Monty Mosher reported that former Bishop's head coach Leroy Blugh was supposedly picked by the SMU selection committee but obviously he did not get the job. So even more pressure was put on Marchese, and I think that's especially true if he doesn't win the AUS this year.

The Huskies' defence has been the strength of the ball club for the past six years. Their ability to get teams into 2nd and long situations and force the opposition into turnovers is a combination of their excellent front seven and disciplined secondary. A large part of this success has been thanks to All-Canadian defensive tackle Dan Schutte. Schutte’s mix of athleticism, strength, smarts, and correct guessing forced opposing offensive linemen to be on their heels every play, keeping his linebacker brethren clean. With the loss of Schutte (and Mark Holden, a former All Canadian who was limited in 2011), the Huskies will rely heavily on Rob Jubenville to create havoc in the offensive backfield. Jubenville was in camp with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and will be expected to build on his record-breaking-season where he recorded a team record, 10 sacks in 2011.

In the defensive backfield, the Huskies play a sophisticated match coverage which has allowed their ball-hawking defensive backs to excel. Their secondary this year is led by free safety Neil King, who quarterbacked the defence in 2011. His ability to cover centre field yet remain a threat as the eighth man in the box made him extremely valuable to the defence. Also returning is second year standout Kayin Marchand-Wright, who went All-Canadian in his rookie season, and will be expected to build on that excellent year.

Overall, though, I believe Saint Mary’s may have a letdown year on the defensive side.

On offence, coach Marchese is reunited with his former student: quarterback Jack Creighton who returns for his 4th season. Former quarterback Jesse Mills transferred to Carleton and fumed all over Saint Mary’s as he exited: "I don’t know if they still want to be known for the football part of Saint Mary’s or if they want to go for being more of an academic kind of school. I’m not sure but what I committed to isn’t there right now. That’s basically how I stand on it.” (And here I figured all universities were “academic kind of schools.”)

Creighton, who himself had a little bit of transfer drama recently, will have the keys to the penthouse this season (Western transfer and former Sackville High standout Ben Rossong has to sit out a year after transferring). He has all the tools to be a star quarterback in CIS, and can make all the throws when he has time, but sometimes he makes costly errors when under duress. The one that immediately comes to mind is in the 2011 Loney Bowl when he was pressured from the backside, fumbled on the rollout, picked up the fumble, then proceeded to throw an underhanded interception to Graeme Richardson (7:17 of the video).

The biggest question I have about the Huskies' offence goes back to my belief about offences in general: What will their identity be? Standout running backs Craig Leger and Devon Jones have both graduated leaving doubt at the tail position. Under Sumarah, the Huskies were unapologetic in how they played offence — sometimes rushing over 60% on 1st and 10 and sometimes over 90% on 2nd and less than 5. Having never seen a Perry Marchese-coached offence, I can only speculate on what their style will be, but I think it will be more pass-oriented than in the past. For Saint Mary’s to be successful on offence they also need former Hec Crighton nominee Jahmeek Taylor to have a big year outside of special teams. Last year, he did not have much of an impact in the passing game with only 13 receptions, fourth on the team. In 2010, Taylor was the most exciting player in AUS football and a worthy MVP. If he can duplicate that season, the Huskies could be going to Quebec in Novemeber.

This should be a rebuilding year for the Huskies. Their recruiting season was cut down out of Halifax say the team is going away from scouting the junior ranks for talent due to the ‘seven years to play five’ rule. Developing talent from high schools is successful in the OUA but there can be growing pains when programs decide to switch over. While I do not believe SMU will be down for long, they do have a tough schedule. They face Acadia three times this year, and I think they will split the season series with X. Acadia hasn’t had much success at Huskies Stadium, scoring just 28 points in their last four games in Halifax (all losses), but I think that will change in 2012 and because of that I see the Huskies on the road in November.

Prediction: 3-5, third place.
You knew this was coming after the first piece.

Somewhat surprisingly, only four teams have dropped the equivalent of three or more wins in a year (per 8 games) recently.


4. McGill Redmen, 2009 to 2010 (-.375)

Record: 0-9
The year before: 3-5, no playoffs (we covered this season in part 1)

Did we see it coming? Not at all. Jared Book wrote, "McGill seems to be hitting their stride as the rest of the conference is rebuilding. Anything other than a playoff appearance would be disappointing." He figured the improvements would continue.

What went wrong: Just about everything. They were last in the conference in points scored, points allowed, passing yards per play (offence and defence), turnover margin, turnover margin, and even third-down conversions. Their closest game was probably an OT win over Bishop's, called by our Matt Chesser (he wasn't ours then, but just go with it), or the Concordia game the following week.

Did it continue? But of course. They were winless last year too.

3. Alberta Golden Bears, 2010 to 2011 (-.400)

Record: 0-8
The year before: 4-6, knocking off Saskatchewan in the Canada West semifinal.

Did we see it coming? Again, not at all. Evan Daum knew they wouldn't be 6-2 (well, that was right!), but said, "Alberta should finish with at lest a 4-4 record, and will do it in far more exciting fashion this season." To be fair, Alberta was one of those teams our readers were off on, too — only one of the contestants in our prediction contest had them pegged for less than two wins.

What went wrong: A combination of offensive and turnover woes, per Evan's post-season recap. They also allowed 9.6 yards per pass attempt, which means that the average pass play by their opponents basically resulted in a first down — including incompletions.

2. Mount Allison Mounties, 2010 to 2011 (-.444)

Record: 0-8
The year before: 4-5, AUS semifinal playoff loss (also covered in part 1)

Did we see it coming? Sort of. I actually wrote this preview, and centred it on the departure of all-everything receiver Gary Ross, while also pointing out that their .500 regular-season record in 2010 was a little inflated. The eventual conclusion was that "it's more likely that they finish third or fourth with at most three wins" and that "you can't lose Gary Ross and expect things to get better."

What went wrong: See part 1.

1. St. Francis Xavier X-Men, 2009 to 2010 (-.375)

Record: 1-7
The year before: 7-3 overall, losing the Loney Bowl to SMU

Did we see it coming? Nearly. Jared Book concluded as follows: "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."

What went wrong: Their offence got cut in half, scoring 98 points with Cory Wensley at QB (80/164 for 899 yards, 8 INT/5 TD), as opposed to 201 the year before with Steve Snyder (175/275, 2353 yards, 10 INT/11 TD). They did have a lot of first-year players in the lineup, but even then, four different players threw multiple passes for the X-Men, which isn't usually what you see from a team with a settled offence.

Did it continue? Basically. They finished 2-7 overall, but it was an interesting 2-7, with "studs all over the board" according to our Kevin Garbuio in his 2011 AUS recap.


What's interesting is it was easier for us to see the big improvements coming than it was for the big drops. Maybe there's a 3-5 or 4-4 team out there from last year who will suddenly fall to 1-7 or even 0-8 this year, a team that nobody figured would struggle so much.

Or maybe it's a team everyone thought would do worse. Could that team be Laurier? 4-5 overall last year, maybe fewer wins in '12? In our OUA preview just a few days ago, many of our contributors were down on the Hawks. Fraser Caldwell: "I dump on Laurier because Alex Anthony is now their best offensive player..." Neate Sager: "I asked one informed person about the Hawks and she just said, 'Young.'" Mike Radoslav: "For a team that is always in the playoffs they're in full rebuild mode this season."

Their homecoming matchup vs. Guelph was mentioned as the swing game, and it's certainly possible that WLU will find themselves out of the playoffs for the first time in a long while ... but, really, to pretend that we can identify who this big-collapse team will be in advance is to go against the spirit of these posts. Sometimes, you just don't see it coming.
Our preview of the OUA football season will start here at 7 p.m. EDT.

With Ottawa’s historic Lansdowne Park under construction in preparation for future CFL and NASL teams, the Gee-Gees football program will have to say so long to their home stadium for the upcoming season.

While the closure of the stadium for the upcoming year was no surprise, it was just announced in the past week where the Gee-Gees will host their OUA opponents. And it’s been called out-of-the-box and out-of-the-city thinking.

Yes, the Gee-Gees will spend 2012 playing their home games at (drumroll, please) Beckwith Park, just outside the town of Carleton Place. The field, technically located in the hamlet of Black’s Corners, is located approximately 50 kilometres from the campus, and translates into about a 40-minute drive.

While the university is offering shuttles to and from games, the idea of riding a bus for 40 minutes to the middle of nowhere may not have the same allure as the usual university football experience — and when I say the middle of nowhere, I do mean it.

I grew up only 15 minutes away and played youth sports in Carleton Place. Beckwith Park is located on a rural highway, and is even a five-plus minute drive to the nearby town of 9,500. Walking from there is not really an option, so fans hoping to stroll into town to grab a bite to eat or a pint are out of luck.

Aside from the geography, the facility itself presents problems for the Gee-Gees' ability to create an intimidating venue for visiting teams.

Currently, the stadium seats just 400. The university has announced plans to expand seating to 1,500, but that still puts the capacity at well under what the Gee-Gees are used to at Frank Clair. It also won’t rank that highly when compared with their other OUA competitors, as it will be the second-smallest stadium in the conference, beating only Waterloo’s Warrior Field (which seats just 1,100 but can accommodate up to 5,400 as spectators may sit or stand in other locations).

However, the Beckwith field itself is top-notch, and should not present any problems to athletes, with artificial turf similar to the kind used at the Gee-Gees previous stadium and wide areas on the sidelines to ensure player safety.

Luc Gélineau, the sports director at the University of Ottawa, told the Ottawa Citizen that, “This is a very safe field and the team will be able to play there for all the games, and there will be no flip-flopping from site to site. The other thing is that Beckwith Township was very enthusiastic about having us there.”

The Gee-Gees better hope that enthusiasm translates into residents of the surrounding area coming out to support the team, otherwise home-field advantage may be nothing but an expression for the upcoming season. There will be a good test of that support right away, as the Gee-Gees will open their season at their new home away from home on September 15 against the defending Vanier Cup champion McMaster Marauders.
Our first conference preview will start later today, at 2:00pm Eastern. Join us below to discuss all things Canada West!

With CIS football season two weeks away, our fifth-annual series of football previews will begin next week.

(For those new to the site, here are 2011's previews, 2010's, and 2009's.)

This year, teams in the larger conferences will be previewed together in a live panel discussion with several of our own contributors as well as followers of CIS football from around the Canadian sports world.

Here are the dates for our previews:

Canada West
Live panel discussion on Tuesday, August 21 at 2:00pm ET / 11:00am PT.

Live panel discussion on Thursday, August 23 at 7:00pm ET / 4:00 pm PT.

We will be previewing the AUS teams individually as in past years, with two teams published on each of Monday, August 27 and Tuesday, August 28.

Live panel discussion on Thursday, August 30 at 1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT.

We will also publish our picks for conference champions and the Vanier Cup winner on Friday, August 31, in advance of the season opener that night in Saskatoon.


If you can't wait for a preview, the CIS previews (in most cases written by that team's athletic department) have already started and are available here.
It's almost time for CIS football season, and therefore almost time for our football previews, a tradition of ours since 2008. (It's the internet. Four years can be a tradition, right?)

While we pretend to be all-knowing, any sort of previewing or forecasting is, at its core, a mug's game. To illustrate this, and to provide a check on any overconfidence we may have in our seeing-the-future skills, here are the five teams in the last three years with the largest year-over-year improvements in winning percentage (including playoffs and bowl games if they played in them).

For each team we also include whether we saw their improvement coming in our preview for that year, as well as what actually happened to them after their year of improvement (if applicable).


5. Windsor Lancers, 2010 to 2011 (+.350)

Record: 6-4, including a road playoff win over Ottawa and a one-score loss to Western.
The year before: 2-6, missed playoffs.

Did we see it coming? Yes and no. Guest writer and Always OUA bon vivant Chris Lund had them trending up, saying, "If all goes to plan this season could be a turning point in the Lancers’ prospective ascent from the basement to the elite of the OUA." But a more likely outcome, in his view, was another below-.500 season: "A bottom of the table finish is to be expected once again, it’s just a matter of where they fit among teams from Toronto and the no-longer-on-hiatus Waterloo."

What went right: Oddly enough, a QB1 injury. Daniel Da Silva, in his recap of the Lancers' season, noted how second-year quarterback Austin Kennedy "went on to lead one of the most potent passing attacks in the country." In our not-yet-published 2011 quarterback rankings, Kennedy finished third in the country, but it wasn't just the air attack that helped Windsor: "On defence, they also improved by almost 100 points, cutting their yardage allowed by about 25 yards per game."

4. Queen's Golden Gaels, 2010 to 2011 (+.367)

Record: 7-3, beating Laurier in the first round and losing to McMaster.
The year before: 3-6, losing to McMaster in the playoffs.

Did we see it coming? Yes. Neate Sager wrote that the "Vanier hangover" should be over and that "Queen's will reverse its outcome and finish 5-3, winning out against the also-rans and knocking off a top-tier team." They actually went 6-2, with a very one-sided game against Western to end the season being one of their two wins over an above-.500 team.

What went right: A "peaks-and-valleys" offence that was more peaks with the running game and the protection enjoyed by tailback Ryan Granberg, and nine straight games without allowing a rushing touchdown.

3. McGill Redmen, 2008 to 2009 (+.375)

Record: 3-5, with no playoff appearance and no wins against a winning team.
The year before: 0-9 with an exhibition loss to Queen's, but maybe even worse than an 0-9 record suggests.

Did we see it coming? Not really. Jared Book's preview was more along the lines of "well, they can't possibly be any worse."

What went right: Um, as many games against AUS teams as against Laval and Montreal? Their three wins were over Bishop's, Mount A, and Sherbrooke, who went a combined 7-19 (or 2-6 per eight games). This might be the least significant improvement in our top five, especially since...

Was it sustainable? ...they've not won a game since.

2. Mount Allison Mounties, 2009 to 2010 (+.444)

Record: 4-5, losing in overtime to Acadia in the AUS semifinal.
The year before: 0-8.

Did we see it coming? Somewhat. Andrew Bucholtz gave them a "stock up" rating, writing, "It's tough to get worse from a 0-8 season, and there's plenty to be optimistic about with new recruits and an experienced coach like [Scott] Annand stepping in as the defensive coordinator."

What went right: Well, check these numbers out: 9.1, 8.2, 10.6, 6.7. Give up? Those are the number of yards allowed by Mount A per passing play, starting in 2007. Annand may have had a significant effect on that last number in 2010.

Was it sustainable? No. The next number in the sequence is 9.0 passing yards per attempt. Annand left after 2010 and was replaced with then-defensive backs/special teams coach Scott Brady. Not to put this all on one person's shoulders, of course — the indescribable Gary Ross departed after 2010, and, as related by Kevin Garbuio here earlier this year, another blow to the Mounties' 2011 chances was linebacker Ben Halpern's season-long injury.

1. UBC Thunderbirds, 2010 to 2011 (+.450)

Record*: 7-3, defeating Saskatchewan but losing to Calgary in the playoffs.
The obvious asterisk: In December, Canada West took away all of those wins retroactively, in a rather embarrassing situation for UBC, the conference, and CIS.
The year before: 2-6, no playoff games.

Did we see it coming? The forfeited games, no. The improvement, yes. Justin McElroy: "with so many senior players returning, the only thing that can stop this team from improving on their two-win total from 2010 is injuries." As well, he thought "the opportunity is there for UBC to break through in what will be a weaker Canada West conference than in previous years." Still, our readers as a whole pegged them as a 2-6 team, not 6-2, in our guess-every-team's-record contest.

What went right: Obviously Billy Greene had a great year. But aside from that, and as Justin writes below, there were two main positive developments:

  1. Team bought into Shawn Olson's system: Because they didn't hire Olson as coach until early 2010, last year was the first season where he had a full offseason with his team. 2011 showed after a disappointing first season that he's the right person for the job — players rave about him, and the locker room culture is a marked improvement over that under Ted Goveia.

  2. Offensive line stayed healthy: Led by Queen's transfer/first year law student Patrick Sullivan, the offensive line stayed injury free for the entire season, allowing Greene the time and space to execute their highly vertical attack.

Of course, balanced receiving core/healthy defense/lucky schedule (Mark Mueller's injury in opening series, played Alberta twice, final Calgary game was after they had clinched first) also were factors.

Greene was second, to McMaster's Kyle Quinlan, in those not-yet-published QB rankings.

And this is only marginally related, but do you think UBC are happy they didn't go with Gary Etcheverry, who later complained about Ottawa making him interview for a job there? Olson seems to have worked out so far.


So in three of these five cases, our writers saw some improvement coming. The other two were teams who started at 0-8, so you can't really take credit for predicting an increase.

If we look at all teams from 2008 to 2010, and divide them into four categories by winning percentage, we won't be surprised to see that on average, regression to the mean exists: the best teams get a little worse the next year (and the worst teams get a little better). Teams in the top group, averaging 6.4 wins per 8 games, fell to 5.7 wins the next year — 29% of the way to .500. Teams in the bottom group started at 0.6 wins and went to 1.6 the next year — also a 29% shift towards average, with only one managing to get there ('10 Acadia).

So not knowing anything else about a 7-1 team, we'd expect them to drop a win just due to regression, and ditto for a 1-7 team expected to improve to 2-6.

Of course, we do know more than nothing about these teams, and if you'd like to find out just how much, stay tuned over the next few weeks for our 2012 previews.
Round 2 ended with a near-upset of (supposedly-consensus) favourite Ilarion Bonhomme, and an actual upset of Jagger Nast. Three of the four No. 1 seeds still remain in this, the most-followed CIS Name of the Year tournament in history.

Round 3 voting is now open (see right sidebar to vote), and will be for the rest of the week. The updated bracket is below.

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