Then I have to ask about the AUS, which—pregnant pause—has been difficult to do this year. There hasn't been much competition for Acadia, to say the least.
The three biggest storylines so far have been:
- Acadia traveling to Laval to play their first night game, while the Rouge Et Or were playing without their offensive coordinator.
- Concordia forced to forfeit all games after playing with an ineligible player, losing their two wins and putting St. Francis Xavier in a second-place tie in the AUS.
- A few significant injuries that have affected the season: SMU quarterback Jack Creighton broke his neck in Week One and since his 2011 understudy left, Saint Mary's has been unable to have much of a passing game. Acadia lost its all conference running back Zack Skibbin to a broken leg in training camp.
But overall, one of the biggest themes I have noticed this AUS season is the number of programs that are in flux. Three, in fact:
Much has been said about SMU's coaching situtation but their lack of depth has shown through this year. They were hit by the injury bug early on, and that when combined with a weak recruiting class mean the Huskies are running on fumes.
They are winning games by running the ball, which is a Saint Mary's mainstay but this team cannot pass. Jean Legault and Drew Jacobson have both struggled immensely. Just two weeks ago Jacobson threw for just 50 yards with three interceptions in a win vs. X. He found his groove vs. Mount Allison last week but they are still a one-dimensional team at best. The Saint Mary's defence is the strength of their team—Rob Jubenville is having a strong season with 7.5 sacks, albeit zero against Acadia—but if they get down a few scores early I just cannot see that offence coming back.
RB Melvin Abankwah has played extremely well at times but one of the biggest questions I have is: What happened to receiver/returner Jahmeek Taylor? Did he do something to upset coach Perry Marchese? Is he hurt? He has no offensive touches over the last two weeks and only a few returns. In a conference that loves to run the slot/wide receiver sweep the best player at running that play is not being used.
Yet in any other conference would we be saying Saint Mary's is the No. 2 seed? I had them in third in the preseason and that was with Creighton under centre.
ST. FRANCIS XAVIER
To continue on with teams in turmoil, St. Francis Xavier has easily been the biggest disappointment this season. I'm tired of saying this because I think Rob is starting to make fun of me about it [ed. note: never! -RP], but X is the most athletic team in the AUS. Yet in talking to past players who have played against this team they have all said the same thing: "X runs poor systems." I watched a few X games this season and offensively they should be better. They have had a few players quit already this season, including standout wideout Damone Williams, and if they continue to disappoint it will be interesting if coach Gary Waterman will be able to keep the ship afloat.
Not all is lost, and a few changes could help. They have deep threats at the receiver position and a star tailback in Ashton Dickson. I think they should give Tivon Cook an opportunity at quarterback as he has looked more comfortable at that position than Clay Masikewich. I still don't like their play calling: they run too many screens and short routes when they have players who could cause problems in the seams. Devon Bailey should be used like Akeem Foster, running posts inside the hashes.
On defence, they haven't been nearly as good as I expected. That could be because defensive tackle Nate Annan has been out with injuries, but I thought Ron Omara would have taken over as the next Henoc Muamba.
If they do not host a playoff game this year they should see this season as a disappointment.
I'd like to start by saying my favourite moment of the season so far was when Mount Allison beat X just two days after Alex J. Walling said they should shut down the program. Mount Allison is only two years removed from a .500 season yet some people think they do not deserve to exist?
While Mount Allison stalled out of the gates this season they have looked good at times and even better since QB Jake Hotchkiss left the team for the second time in less than a year. I like their new quarterback Brandon Leyh a lot; he reminds me of former Mount Allison quarterback Kelly Hughes and as former CFLer and current Acadia colour commentator Elliott Richardson said, "You have to be tough to be the quarterback at Mount Allison." I think RB Jordan Botel has the potential to be special but they are weak on the o-line and at wide receiver. They really need to start putting together some successful off-season recruiting to give themselves a chance.
They do some things well defensively: they rush the quarterback and Jacob LeBlanc is a beast at D tackle. However, they struggle at the corner and half position. They are still a long way away from contending for the AUS crown, but if they can win two of their last three (playing each team once), they might get a home playoff game or at the very least make it to the playoffs for the third time in five years.
That leaves us with the only team currently above .500 in the conference:
Disclosure: I played for Acadia from 2006 to 2010.
As mentioned, there has not been much of a foil for Acadia this season. Their chief rival, Saint Mary's, decided to tear down a winning program and, seemingly overnight, went from a CIS top 10 mainstay to a sub-.500 team that is fighting to qualify for the playoffs in a four-team league. Acadia is the top program in the AUS right now and it looks like they could be for awhile. The Axemen are certainly the most stable program in this struggling conference.
An issue that they have is they do not have competition this year. They have struggled more than they anticipated on offence and defence but are still dominating their in-conference opponents. They have yet to find their run game and on defence have bled yards in the air against weaker opponents, like when X threw for over 350 last weekend. They should probably finish the season at 7-1 barring any major upset but they probably will not be seeded higher than 8th in the top 10 rankings (I only had them 10th this week).
One comparison I have heard and liked was that the Axemen now get the Boise State treatment in that they cannot afford to lose one game if they want respect nationally. They have faced only one ranked team this year, Laval, and they lost 31-7, and will not face another unless they advance to the Uteck Bowl (which might be at Laval again). They have not beaten a team not named McGill out-of-conference since 2005 and that was Bishop's. The Axemen need to be ready for primetime in 2012 to be taken seriously.
Acadia, at 4-1, only needs one more win to clinch home field advantage in the AUS. The final three teams should be in for a dogfight. With X now "defeating" Concordia they are tied with SMU at 2-3 for second. I think that they should both make the playoffs but I would not be shocked if the Mounties make it in over the X-Men. SMU is the second-best team in the AUS. If they had the depth of a full recruiting class and a healthy quarterback Week Seven in Wolfville could be a big game, but here we are with one team over .500.
CIS AWARD NOMINEES (my choices thus far...)
Hec Crighton Trophy: WR Taylor Renaud, Acadia
President's Trophy: DL Rob Jubenville, Saint Mary's
J.P. Metras Trophy: DL Rob Jubenville, Saint Mary's
Peter Gorman Trophy: OL Chris Fanning, Acadia