It is folly personified to believe one can make a definitive list of the 10 best moments in U Sport in 2016.

Here, though, is what comes clearly to mind when one tries to recapture moments that exemplified what the spirit of university sport. People who are focused on high performance but also want to keep some space for personal growth that often gets more compromised in the corporatized NCAA. People who know the social value of sport, of representation. It's hard to reduce all of that to 10 bullet points, but at least we know the greatest U Sport moment of the year was not a press conference.

(Yes, really. Someone thinks that.)

To put it in perspective how long Brian Towriss has graced the Canadian football landscape: he started coaching the Saskatchewan Huskies right around the time that Laurier coach Michael Faulds was born.

Or if you'll indulge a personal note: my brother bought his first home this year. He was born in 1984, Towriss' first year at the reins in the Bridge City. Talk about longevity: 33 seasons, encompassing a record 315 games and 196 wins, with 11 conference titles and three Vanier Cups (1990, '96 and '98) is very self-explanatory. The hometown StarPhoenix mentions that Towriss' postseason record was very spotty over the last 10 seasons, but it certainly was not for any lack of trying. Saskatchewan also had a heartbreaking 39-38 loss to Calgary in the 2009 Hardy, which could have been a last hurrah.

With Saskatchewan bring in a new governance model for sports and athletics director Basil Hughton retiring in June (as noted by CBC), the timing is probably right to start a transition. Hughton's comment that Towriss is the "ultimate team player" alludes to that.

Saskatchewan will likely have a successor in place within the next two months.

The Bishop's Gaiters football team is moving to another conference, at long last.

Late Wednesday, Sébastien Lajoie of La Presse reported that the Gaiters, who have had only two winning seasons since the turn of the millennium, are leaving the RSEQ league to form a conference with the four Atlantic University Sport teams. It's long been rumoured as a logical step for the Lennoxville, Que., team, and now it's actually happening: a league with five like-minded, like-sized schools ("offrent toutes un programme d'études en « liberal arts », elles sont de même taille, ont la même réalité financière et des budgets similaires accordés à leurs équipes sportives," as Lajoie put it). In other words, the schools that are "primarily undergraduate" are actually going head-to-head, how novel.

HAMILTON -- From 0-1 to the last ones standing, Laval took a different path to its ninth Vanier Cup.

To an outsider, all the Laval football titles and Carleton men's basketball championships loop together. In the case of the Rouge et Or, it isn't until they take off those metallic gold helmets that could keep a stadium lit in case of a power failure that one remembers there are still young student-athletes carrying out coach Glen Constantin's grand design and they are mortal. This season, Laval had one of its youngest squads since its nascence -- "15 new starters, only three fifth-year kids," Constantin noted -- and still managed to win the national championship by defeating Calgary 31-26 at Tim Hortons Field on Saturday.

All of those down-to-the-wire grudge matches against the Montréal Carabins might have provided that critical bit of resilience against well-prepared Calgary.

"It built our character and we got to give it to the University of Montreal Carabins," quarterback Hugo Richard, who received the Ted Morris Memorial Trophy as offensive player of the game, said. "They give us great games every single time. We never know how it's going to end. It's a great rivalry that drives Quebec football in the right direction. This season, playing them three times, it showed us that regardless of the score or the situation we can always execute and come out on the top.

It would have perfect from if Adam Sinagra had finished the job for Jimmy Underdahl, as well as Andrew Buckley and Erik Glavic.

Instead, the Calgary Dinos were once again the chins-up runners-up after a 31-26 defeat against the Laval Rouge et Or at Tim Hortons Field on Saturday. No sense in pointing out that a five-point final margin was as close as Calgary has come against Laval in five tries since 2008. Would you rather have lost 59-10 like in the 2008 Uteck?! Or that these Dinos, after losing stars such as NFL wide receiver prospect Rashaun Simonise, probably got more from the sum of their parts than any of their teams over the past decade that have accumulated seven Canada West titles, four Vanier trips and three Hec Crightons. It was still crushing.

"This year we didn't have the big stars, we lost a lot of guys to the CFL and the NFL and all of a sudden we didn't have that big name player," Calgary coach Wayne Harris Jr. said. "They relied on each other. This is the ultimate team game and that's what they were able to become. Play together and united. They did everything that we asked of him.

"You don't always get what you deserve at the end but that's not what it's all about. It's about the friendships that they've built with each other and the trust they've built between themselves."

Canadian football stands apart from the more followed four-down bastardization with its capacity to stick a shiv right under the ribcage just once for good measure. Following Laval's go-ahead touchdown, the Dinos turned the ball over on downs at their 44-yard line. One first down likely would have iced the game, but on third-and-one, DT Jack McEwen helped stack up Rouge et Or QB Hugo Richard for no gain. That gave Calgary one final shot, 87 seconds to traverse 75 yards.

They reached the 23-yard line with 39 seconds on the clock. Ultimately, Laval's defence, which had been porous to the count of allowing 553 yards, hung on and induced three incompletions in a row.

"It's an ode to our character that we had the kind of year we had," Sinagra said. "We battled hard, we worked for everything we got. That's what brought us here.

"There was plenty of time at the end. A minute-30 at the end, it's a dream. We should have scored."

Calgary was clearly well-drilled on facing Laval and it showed up all over the stat sheet except for the day's smoking gun, the Rouge et Or getting 21 points off of turnovers in the Dinos' zone. Chances are, if you had told someone Laval would have such a huge benefit, you wouldn't have expected a five-point final scoreline.

Calgary has a distinguished coaching staff, with former CFL head coach Tom Higgins serving as defensive coordinator. Omen-seekers no doubt were aware that Dinos offensive coordinator Ryan Sheahan and receivers coach Justin Chapdelaine were part of the 2009 Queen's team that defeated Laval in the Mitchell Bowl.

The Dinos reached Richard from all angles while racking up seven sacks, with Nick Statz -- a defensive back -- being the only defender with two. On the first offensive play of the day, Underdahl delivered an 86-yard touchdown to Michael Klukas behind coverage.

Underdahl led another touchdown drive the second time the Dinos got the ball. The third and fourth possessions were more ominous.

Underdahl was intercepted in his zone by Laval halfback Adam Auclair, creating a short field for a Rouge et Or touchdown that cut the margin to 14-7. Then came an early turning point: an illegal procedure penalty negated a 50-yard reception by Hunter Karl. On the do-over, Underdahl re-injured his knee after being spun down for a sack by Laval DT Vincent Desjardins.

Day and Dinos career over.

Underdahl was injured in October and there was initially speculation his season might be over, but he came in to stimulate the Dinos offence during the Mitchell Bowl win against St. Francis Xavier.

"Jimmy has been an emotional leader for us," Harris said. "He did so much on the bench to help Adam while he was hurt," Harris said. "He was playing on one leg. We knew he was going to have surgery; we had three guys playing today who are going to have surgery. Unfortunately it just took a twist and it flared up too much for him to play."

Sinagra was 21-of-38 for 276 yards with one interception, commendable numbers, but the Dinos never reached the end zone again, kicking four field goals. Second-year running back Jeshrun Antwi also had 25 rushes for a career-best 177 yards as Calgary's offensive line, in the last game of a season where its positional depth chart has been a moving target, largely controlled the line of scrimmage.

Sinagra is also the Dinos punter. The true turning point might have come in that phase. Calgary was punting from its 49-yard line with 4:30 left when Laval backup cornerback Raphael Robidoux blocked Sinagra's punt. Christian Dallaire got a clean recovery and a return to Calgary's 15-yard line. Three plays later, Richard scored the decisive touchdown.

"I could see it coming," Harris said. "The mesh point for Adam was a little high and the backs (the personal protectors between the line of scrimmage and punter) were a little too deep. Their guy got a great vertical and blocked it.

"Another six inches and it's not a problem."

That's football. The margins are razor-thin and one never knows where they might come. One November, they will come Calgary's way.

The upside of a down year for Vanier Cup attendance is that Hamilton will be host for the 2017 title game, so they have a chance to figure out why so many of those seats are unoccupied.

Forget about how great a game Laval and Calgary engaged in; it is alarming that there was such a step backwards, with the lowest attendance in the event's history. Attendance as never announced, but there was no way that the glutei-in-seats count matched the record-low of 8,184 from 1997.

It was not just the luck of the draw that is having a Calgary-Laval matchup in a championship game in Southern Ontario. It's also not that people in Canada don't care about football; the size of crowds at conference championship games and rivalry games such as the Panda Game refute such defeatism. On Twitter,  #Vanier52 was trending more strongly than Michigan and Ohio State in Canada.

With a nearly wholesale change in leadership at U Sports Canada and seemingly little collaboration between the organizers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the attendance is not surprising. The glass-half-full take on stadium-nearly-empty is that everyone probably realizes more work could have been done. Whether there will be action remains to be seen. And hey, what should be the most important day in the university sports calendar, especially so with the rebranding, is at least going to get some much needed support from the Ontario government in 2017 (a $100,000 tourism grant to help with having some, any, promotional ramp-up throughout the season).

Full disclose: it is tough typing a blog post with two sets of crossed fingers on each hand. One always hopes against hope each national football semifinal will be good, since it is one of the few times all season that Canadian university football gets any sort of media platform.

As long as football is 12-on-12 and young adults are playing the games, there is always a capacity for surprise -- just ask a Western alumnus, eh.

The subtext for Saturday's semifinals, with Laurier going up to Laval and St. Francis Xavier carrying the AUS banner across three time zones to take on Calgary is all the talk and inaction about creating a level playing field nationally.

The second-last Saturday of the season seldom delivers on its promise, except to complete cynics. When it does -- Montréal and Manitoba trading haymakers in the 2014 Uteck; Saskatchewan ending Laval's three-peat ambitions in the 2005 Mitchell -- it's a Choose-Your-Own-10-Dollar-Word-Damnit thrill ride. Of course, a great team playing a perfect game in front of its fans (Saint Mary's two semifinal wins against Laval in 2001 and '07) is exhilarating in its way.

More often than not, though, the semis are just prologue. It is worth mentioning this since it will show how unexpected it will be if, indeed, Laurier defeats Laval and/or St. Francis Xavier shocks Calgary. I guess I'm writing this as a plea to the people involved that it would be more refreshing if there was more adult conversation about why the semis are often predictable, instead of feeding a false line about plucky underdogs.

The past does not necessarily predict the future, but down below are tables that show the national semifinals have seen greater winning margins over the last 15 seasons than in the previous two decades. Of course, a more sophisticated analysis would try to project whether this is likely to continue, but doing that would involve having data sets that include more meaningful interconference play. (You see what I did there.)

For what is worth, the 'average aggregate' (combined margin of victory) in the semis from 2001-15 was 45.93 points, with a median of 42.

In the previous 20 sets of semifinals (1980-2000, with 1983 excepted since the Atlantic conference forfeited), the average margin was 29.95 points, with a median of 27.

That represents a 50 per cent increase in the wrong direction, since the goal is presumably to have closer games. A greater mind can figure out The Laval Factor: their average point differential in 12 national semifinals is 12.25 points.

(The 2001 season was a good starting point, since that was the first season every Ontario team played in OUA. The Mitchell Bowl was called the Churchill Bowl through 2002; the eastern-most semifinal was renamed after Larry Uteck in 2003.)

MarginUteck HUteck VMitchell HMitchell V

Consider the chart above a literally calculated act of someone who knows he would make a poor hype man for a major sports network. One season in the last 15 when both games were close (and in 2014, McMaster played to the level of Mount Allison, likely accounting for the 12-point margin) is kind of bad.

Averaging a pair of three-touchdown games for a decade and half is, at best, a reflection of the challenges of staging a national championship in a country with so much geography and so much institutional inertia about Nopuck sports. At worst, it shows a complacency with the status quo. There are probably a lot of other things to do to get more people to care about the Vanier Cup that do not involve lucking into some 40-38 games in the semis. Also, having one bad weekend in November is not a reason not to enjoy September, October and early November (the good regular-season matchups and conference playoffs).

There are 20 sets of semifinals from 1980 to 2000. That's good for these purposes, since it's an even number and '80 was the first season the O-QIFC -- Queen's, Carleton, Ottawa and the Quebec schools -- had its own trophy game. In that era  the Atlantic Bowl was at a fixed site in Halifax. For simplicity's sake, the three extant conferences are referred to by current abbreviations:

The average swings three points either way if you discard either of the anomalies, 1985 and '87.

MarginAtlantic HAtlantic VChurchill HChurchill V
*Played at SkyDome

If you hung in for all of this, you can jump to your own conclusions about whether this could be remedied or if it's just the reality of university sport. A solution is not as simple as "bring back the Atlantic Bowl, bring back the O-QIFC, add water and stir."

At least the trends show there is reason to be untethered from the conference-champs-only format. Now just reflexively being against the so-called The Usual can create its own set of problems (see: the result of the U.S. presidential selection).

The other subtext for Saturday

There is no chance the rights holder will mention this in depth on Saturday, perhaps beyond some cutesy graphic that shows that Calgary's administrative staff (4,964) is larger than the population of Antigonish proper (4,524).

Laurier was among the OUA schools that fired a broadside in 2014 about "the arms race in OUA football," which was also aimed at Laval and Montréal driving up the cost to compete. Now the Golden Hawks are getting their shot to play Laval, so that theme has been revisited this week.

St. Francis Xavier is probably the strongest rep AUS has had since the age cap (i.e., the "seven years to play five seasons rule") took full effect. I'm not sure how much stock can be put in the fact that St. FX hung in with Concordia, Quebec's third-best team, on Sept. 24. The effects of having a deeper roster and a bigger budget increase as the season progresses.

Anyway, here's hoping for a couple of 40-38 games.

Oh, and just to complete the Buzz Killington hat trick, one more table, which is more or less Ontario vs. Everybody. Well, actually it's how the OUA has fared over the years in semifinals against opponents from Canada West and Quebec.

All told, the conference is 2-11 in such instances. Each win was a home game.

2007Western ManitobaAway2052
1996GuelphSaskatchewanHome 933

* O-QIFC team
BOLD-won Vanier

Laurier's Kurleigh Gittens Jr. makes the game-tying touchdown receptions. (CHCH TV images)
Never forget: Western was ahead 40-19 in the Yates Cup.

Shelby Blackley was on-site for (these are working titles) what could either be called the Michaels Miracle after Laurier's head coach and quarterback, or the Great Mustang Meltdown.  If you are clicking here, you likely know that the Golden Hawks forged one of those only-in-Canadian-football comebacks in the Yates Cup, upending Western 43-40 with three touchdowns in the final 8½ minutes left and a last-play field goal by Nathan Mesher. The against-almost-all-probabilities rally sets up a Laurier-Laval Uteck Bowl next week in Ste-Foy, Que., while Calgary will host St. Francis Xavier in the Mitchell Bowl.
The anatomy of a comeback, sprinkled with fun facts (warning: facts will not be fun if you live in London, Ont.):
  1. For nearly 50 minutes, it went as many neutral (hah!) observers had anticipated/feared. With 10:14 left, Western led by 21 points. Laurier coach Michael Faulds used a timeout before a third-and-five play. Obviously, quarterback Michael Knevel converted that do-or-done play.
  2. Laurier led OUA in third-down conversions (58 per cent) during the regular season. They went 4-of-4 down the stretch, even though the average yards to go was 8.25. Brentyn Hall caught a 29-yard touchdown on third-and-18 for the first touchdown. Knevel scrambled to convert a third-and-4 on the drive that pulled Laurier to 40-33.
  3. The reverse! Western is power, power, power all day, apparently until it matters most.

    With 1:36 left and second-and-six on their 27. Coach Greg Marshall's Mustangs called a handoff to Alex Taylor with slotback Myles Rombough looping for a reverse pitch. Any play with multiple handoffs is risky at the best of times, never mind when it is tight-sphincter time and the opponent has momentum and a feeling of nothing to lose.

    Hawks DB Isaiah Guzylak-Messam stripped the ball from Taylor as he was trying to pitch it and made a fumble return to Western's three-yard line. On the next play, Knevel threw a teardrop back-shoulder fade to Kurleigh Gittens Jr. for a tying touchdown.
  4. Even if the ball had got to Rombough, a converted running back, the play depended on  Mustangs QB Chris Merchant to block 260-pound lineman Rashard Henry. That seems ... sub-optimal. (Replay also shows Henry did not overpursue the play.)
Western versus Laurier. Greg Marshall versus Michael Faulds. Teacher versus student. Veterans versus rookies. Consistent returners versus newcomers.

Whichever way you write the narrative, Saturday is surely going to be a show. At least, we hope.

The Laurier Golden Hawks — along with the assuming support of nine other OUA teams — will be looking to knock off the Western Mustangs. You may wonder, "well, Guelph knocked them off their pedestal last year. It's a new season."

Saturday, Western will have hosted the Yates Cup five times in the last nine years. Not exactly the parity we want to be speaking about.

But this time around, it's not the Guelph Gryphons or the McMaster Marauders accompanying them in the final. It's a team that hasn't seen the Yates Cup final in 10 years, and hasn't held it in 11.

It's also a team that has a coach that turned them around from a 1-7 team to a 7-1 team in four seasons, and one of the top-ranked CIS USport players, and was named OUA Coach of the Year Thursday.

I wrote for The Cord that win or lose, Michael Faulds and the Hawks have exceeded expectations. It's true — they got through the McMasters and the Guelphs and the Ottawas and the Carletons of the OUA. They finally figured it out — at least this far.

But winning will put a stamp on this season and finally give the OUA something that doesn't include "Western" to promote.

The matchup, however, leaves a lot of questions and uncertainty.

  • The Mustangs and Golden Hawks have battled for the Yates Cup 12 times in the past, including eight conference finals as well as four division finals between 1974 and 1978, when the trophy was shared by the East and West division winners. 
  • Western currently leads the series 8-4
  • The game will be the second of the season. On Oct. 1, Western defeated Laurier 45-26
  • The two teams are meeting in the post-season for the second straight year as the Mustangs downed the Hawks 32-18 in semifinal action last November in London 

  • Western had 44 touchdowns during the 2016 regular season, top in the OUA. Right behind them was Laurier, who scored 43 touchdowns for the first time ever. 
  • Western had 4,358 yards of total offence in the regular season, first in the OUA. Laurier had 3,904 yards. 
  • Western and Laurier were around the same for rushing yards — Western having eight extra yards — but Western had more passing yards (2,377) than Laurier (1,754).
  • Laurier's defence had 16 interceptions in the regular season and 62 disruptions (combined total of fumble recoveries, interceptions, sacks), which was first in the OUA. Western had nine interceptions — fifth in the OUA. 
  • Laurier averaged 108.6 yards of penalties per game, the third-most in the OUA. Western had 94.4 yards per game in penalties.
  • On their 16 interceptions, Laurier accumulated 444 yards, the best in Ontario. On Western's nine interceptions, they accumulated only 62 yards — third-last in the OUA.

  • Both teams dealt with quarterback competition. Michael Knevel took over for Julien John as the Hawks' pivot, and Chris Merchant took over starting duties as the season ramped up. 
  • However, Western often switches between quarterbacks Merchant and Stevenson Bone. Bone is often put in the game for QB sneaks.
  • Laurier's Eric Guiltinan went down against McMaster and no update has been given for him. His status is questionable for the final.
  • But, as Morris Della Costa wrote for the London Free Press, injuries are common among the 'Stangs. The list of Mustangs players who left the field at various times include running back Alex Taylor; offensive linemen Gregoire Bouchard and Sean Jamieson; receiver George Johnson; defensive tackle Rupert Butcher; defensive end John Biewald; and yes, even quarterback Chris Merchant was on the turf several times writhing in pain.


Western's offence is fully loaded. Laurier's defence is beyond words. Western needs to stay healthy. Laurier needs to stay healthy. Laurier needs to look to depth and defence. Western needs to capitalize on their depth. 


The last few times these teams have met, the season matchup has been a blowout while the playoff matchup came down to the wire. Too close too call, but discipline and consistency will win the game. Sloppy play will cost the team a ticket to the national semifinal.

Follow @shelbyblackley on Twitter for live coverage of the Yates Cup. 

Three of the four conference finals are rematches: Calgary-UBC for the second year in a row, Mount Allison-St. Francis Xavier for a third and Laval-Montréal for a fourth.

What happened to all that parity chatter? Western is also hosting the Yates Cup for the fifth time in nine seasons, which is roughly the same rate as during their halcyon days.

Not to be more of a buzzkill, but it is hard to get excited about seeing the same thing. The larger point is that the effects of the 'arms race' in university ball become apparent once the knockout games begin. The smaller one is that the pet idea about adding a wild-card week to the national playoffs needs to be refreshed.

The idea is pretty simple. The conference runners-up who were the highest in the final poll of the regular season become wild cards. They play two conference champions in the national quarter-final, and the two conference winners who were highest in the poll get a bye before hosting the Mitchell and Uteck semifinals. Basically, it is the CFL playoff format and it is also increases the inventory of games to offer to media partners and sponsors from three games to five.

At this writing, we're looking at a distinct possibility of a rehash of 2010, when Laval and Western played a nailbiter of a Uteck Bowl and Laval coolly crushed Calgary in an unwatchable Vanier Cup. The two best teams played a week too soon.

This season, the two best teams, Laval and Montréal, are playing two weeks too soon. The survivor likely plays the third-best team in the Uteck Bowl.

Here is how the eight teams left would be seeded, based on the Top 10 poll taken at the end of the regular season:
  1. Laval (RSEQ)
  2. Montréal (RSEQ)
  3. Western (OUA)
  4. Laurier (OUA)
  5. Calgary (Canada West)
  6. St. Francis Xavier (AUS)
  7. UBC (Canada West)
  8. Mount Allison (AUS)

In this hypothetical, the Laval-Montréal loser is going to be the 5 seed and the Laurier-Western loser will be the 6 seed. Having the fallback is not going to strip out the emotion of a championship game, since defeat still means having to regroup very quickly to go out of province for a playoff game -- a terrifying notion for any OUA program located west of the 401 turnoff for Madoc.

Let's presume the higher-ranked teams each win on Saturday. Here's our bracket:
  • Montréal is going to Wester,n for a quarter-final; Laurier plays St. Francis Xavier in the revived Atlantic Bowl. Laval and Calgary are the bye teams.
  • One concession to tradition might be assigning the two byes in rotation in the manner of the Uteck and Mitchell hosting. I am not opposed to that. There is a scenario where a 4-4 team wins their conference and ends up getting a bye while, say, an 7-1 or 8-0 team has to play, but other university sports have seeding criteria for nationals that put all the weight on conference playoffs and very little on the entire body of work. The efficacy of that something-for-everyone approach is debatable, though.

    The problem of having the best teams meet too soon would still occur, though. That is the problem to be solved.   

Point being, there is a better way.

The worst Vanier Cup in pertinent memory, in terms of the crowd and the game, was 2004 in Hamilton. The Wikipedia entry summarizes it well. Now may we never speak of it again.

The game will surely be better than the touchdown-free turnover-fest Laval and Saskatchewan, loosely speaking, played 12 years ago. The crowd was announced at 14,227 that clear Saturday afternoon ... and one hopes that won't look good by comparison in 20 days' time.

Hometown rooting interest McMaster is out; you know that since the Mac was the only OUA semifinalist with a press release up within a hour of the games ending on Saturday, but that is a post for someone else. There is also a distinct possibility of losing the boost from having an OUA team involved, since the Yates Cup winner (cough, Western) will have to win the Uteck Bowl against Laval or Montréal.

Suffice to say, one might want to be braced for the possibility of a very small crowd at Tim Hortons Field on Nov. 26.
The coaching matchup is going to be the built-in storyline for the Yates Cup, but what's more to the point is wondering what chance Laurier rates of beating Western on the road in November.

The Mustangs continued a characteristic Greg Marshall late-season run with a clinical and convincing 51-24 win against the Carleton Ravens. Laurier, in a game that almost projects as a microcosm of an Ontario University Athletics season full of parity, shaded McMaster 21-19 in the other semifinal, meaning Hawks honcho Michael Faulds will go to his first Yates as a HC after going 2-2 in them as Western's quarterback from 2005 through 09.

Convenience sample: in 2015, Western defeated Laurier by 50 points in the regular season and by 14 (with a backup quarterback) in the semifinal. They won by 19 in the regular-game, so ipso facto?

Western's offence, with quarterback Chris Merchant settled in, is working at ludicrous speed. Nothing is guaranteed in football but one can almost start skipping ahead to wondering whether they can finally match up well against a non-Ontario team in the Uteck Bowl. Will what wins in OUA work in Laval or Montréal on Nov. 19?

Paraphrasing Bud-Lite Kaminski in the 1993 cinematic masterpiece The Program, "Great Week 9 in OUA football -- wish I'd seen it."

(Half-full disclose: the stuff one watches on YouTube on the weekend while packing up to move to a new city and also tracking down Canadian divers who are 12 time zones away in Malaysia  never ceases to amaze.)

Long story short, OUA shook out in way that could have been foreseen in August: Western in first, Laurier, McMaster and Carleton getting a home playoff game, and Ottawa being inscrutable Air Raid team. The Ravens will have their first on-campus playoff game since 1986, while the rivals in the nation's capital will meet in the post-season for the first time since '96.

Anyway, now that the IV drip of Red Bull is inserted, we have narratives:

  • Western got a good scare from McMaster, a potential Yates Cup opponent, after squeaking by 19-18 in a first-place battle. It was a wind-affected game, which certainly hurt the probability of success, but chances are the weather will not better for the Yates on Nov. 12.

    Chris Merchant, Alex Taylor and Co. were 30 points and 200-plus yards below their seasonal average. And as Morris Dalla Costa's column notes, "with third-and one with 30 seconds left, for some reason, the Mustangs’ left Simon Bahru all alone in coverage. The Marauder receiver got behind in but quarterback Asher Hastings missed him." Western typically doesn't repeat mistakes or leave their leaks unattended, which is why they are always playing into November.

    Western prevailed on the margin of a missed field goal single after John Biewald got downfield to make the tackle two yards deep in the end zone.  
  • One is welcome to the Hot Take that a Carleton-Western semifinal would be a de facto championship game. Those are the two squads with the best offensive lines, and capable front sevens on the other side of the ball. Each has explosion play capability in the third phase.
  • One presumes Laurier defensive coordinator Ron VanMoerkerke might have glean some things from seeing how McMaster defended against Western. The upshot for the No. 2 seed Golden Hawks is they have the bye, but the three-score loss in London still has some stickiness.

    Many good teams have got it right the second time. Four of the last eight OUA champions finished second in the regular season (2008 and '10 Western, 2011 McMaster and 2015 Guelph).
  • Only Western, in 2007, has won the conference without benefit of the bye.

    The Carleton Ravens' path to the Yates goes through two teams they have defeated, Ottawa next week and potentially Western in the semifinal (although Western in November and Western on a hot summer night on Labour Day weekend ain't one and the same).

    The way McMaster and Mike Kashak (11½ sacks) get after it gives them a strong shot at being the second. (If they get upset by Guelph, this bullet point never happened.) Likewise, being in the 4 seed might work out for Carleton.
  • To the Jim Mullin Red Book! It can be ascertained that an Ottawa-Carleton postseason matchup has happened twice, in 1986 at Keith Harris Stadium and 1996 at Frank Clair Stadium. Each was a 4 vs. 1 semifinal, and the home team prevailed each time.

    In 1970 and '73, Ottawa and Carleton also finished first and fourth respectively. In 1967, they were second and third in the 12-team Central Canada Intercollegiate Football Conference (where were the marketing people to shorten that name?)
  • Coach of the week honours to the Gee-Gees' Jamie Barresi, one for going for the high-reward all-or-nothing plays twice to defeat Queen's 42-41 in overtime.

    As you might have heard, all-Canadian candidate Mitch Baines grabbed a tipped pass for the winning two-point convert.


    As Barresi explained: "It meant everything to get that sixth win. The fact of the matter is that we learned from last year’s overtime against Carleton. That was a big lesson learned because we should have ended it then. Today, the players on the bench were in my ear a bit to go for it – we knew had a play. We all felt confident about it, and they urged me on to do it. But right away I thought about that Panda Game last year."

    Barresi and the Gee-Gees also went 'double or nothing' on the last play of the first half. Queen's Chris Osei-Kusi fumbled while trying to return a well-short 55-yard field goal attempt and Ottawa recovered with 10 seconds left. Ottawa worked the shallow cross / wheel combo pattern perfectly so that Bryce Vieira was wide-open for an easy touchdown, cutting Queen's lead to nine points.

    The Gees had a lot of mental outs: bad loss to Western, dank weather, the prospect of being locked into fifth place since Carleton was 99.98 per cent likely to win at Waterloo. They made it matter.
  • A sign of being in the upper quadrant of second-rate minds is believing Queen's can be held to account for the Homecoming "debacle," while having a heart for the coaches and players.

    A season-ending  walk-off  must feel devastating. Queen's defensive back Jason Shamatutu, who tipped the ball, did his job by reading and side-shuffling into the window Derek Wendel had to throw to Baines. The ball just happened to deflect right to a likely all-Canadian receiver.

    The Gaels hung in while losing starting QB Nate Hobbs, and having another injury-dictated change in the kicking game. Kyle Gouveia had a decent 17-of-26, 172-yard, two-TD passing line in relief on a wet day. They also had a contacting the kicker penalty that extended Ottawa for a field goal drive in the third quarter.
  • So Baines put Queen's out of the playoffs, and put Guelph and his brother, OLB Riley Baines, into the playoffs. 
  • Wendel upped his CIS single-season completions record to 232. Regina's Noah Picton has 197 heading into his final game at Manitoba on Saturday.

    There is a chance, then, that Wendel could have a national record nicked by a Canada West QB. Last season, of course, he got the passing yards mark with 3,136, which set the bar for Calgary's Andrew Buckley to go off against Alberta and finish with 3,162. 
Enjoy the playoffs.
For the third time since it was established in 1906, the governing body for university sports in Canada is changing its name. Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) - which was born 110 years ago as Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union Central, dropped the Central moniker when it became a national organization in 1961 before changing to the CIS in 2001 - will now be known as U Sports.

Cue the "Who are U again?" quips. I kid.

After 15 years with the former name, the overseer of university sports is now University Sports Canada. Or #USports on the Twitter:
A name change is in keeping with the idea that, as a product the sports-consuming public enjoys, university athletics needs a reboot. Of course, it will take a lot more than moving the offices to Toronto hanging out a new shingle to effect change, but that's another post.

For the first time, I had no pangs of missing something while being otherwise engaged during Queen's Homecoming game. Part of that was being focused on handling the play-by-play for another game, Western at Ottawa.

It was also a defence mechanism against the knowledge that the events at new Richardson Stadium (3.0) were not the genuine article. The new stadium is an absolute jewel, by all accounts. What creates the Queen's Homecoming game atmosphere, which made me a made member of the Tricolour mafia, was not gold bucket seats at midfield or a sky-high price-point.

It was the people who came back year after year, with generations of Gaels mingling. Thanks to Claude Scilley calling it out months ago, it was known that "one of the grand traditions of Homecoming," the halftime alumni parade, had been shelved. No track, so no parade. No capability of finding a creative workaround, or 'not at this time' as communications professionals are wont to say.

One of my more vivid Queen's memories is from 1997, the last Homecoming game that I watched from the 'student side' bleachers before getting tangled up in campus media. I was fortunate enough to squeeze down to the front of the grandstand when the alumni paraded around a halftime, leaning out and high-fiving alumni from as far back as the Class of 1937.

With limited free student tickets, it was apparently a nearly student-free homecoming game. After years of anticipation about the new stadium, Queen's said it had a "sellout" but a photo post from The Queen's Journal depicts swathes of empty seats.

Beyond all that, though, there was a realization -- OMG, it's become self-aware -- that the function of the new stadium turns Homecoming into a misnomer. It's about creating value in the future. One might like being pulled into that, but liking it doesn't enter into it.

How Danny Maciocia played the Laval-Montréal endgame is indefensible in any language, even if his Carabins hold the tiebreakers in the RSEQ's two-horse race.

The Rouge et Or's and Carabins' season series is essentially a university football take on a Champions League tie -- a two-game total-point series. Laval prevailed 22-19 at CEPSUM on Saturday, returning the favour for Montréal winning 24-21 on their field in September. That means, once they each finish 7-1, home-field advantage for the Dunsmore Cup (and Uteck Bowl, potentially) is going to go to the third tiebreaker: Si toujours à égalité, l'équipe ayant encaissé le plus petit total de points contre elle dans l'ensemble des matchs de la saison régulière. Fewest points conceded. Montréal has yieleded 67, 10 fewer than Laval with 77. The next tiebreaker, in the s

Nevertheless, what Maciocia opted for on third-and-one at Laval's 20-yard line with 20 seconds left all the more confusing. The Carabins left the offence in, and QB Samuel Caron was stopped cold on the line plunge by DT Marc-Andre Ouellet to essentially end the game.

The smart, if not totally stand-up play, would have been to line up in field goal formation, then have the kicker boot the ball through the end zone for a single. Lose by two, but definitively have the first tiebreaker. That was the point of taking the wind in the fourth quarter at the expense of kicking off in each half, right? To have the wind in case it came down to a kick? And then you don't kick?

The vote was getting too easy. Laval has the most recent win in the Battle of Quebec, so it should be No. 1. Western won by 51 and Calgary won by 57, but the Mustangs beat a better team, so there's your 3-4 slots. A three-spot drop by Regina seems justifiable.

  1. Laval Rouge et Or (5-1 RSEQ, prev. 2, host Bishop's on Sunday): QB Hugo Richard threw two interceptions against the Carabins, but Laval played well enough to win on the field they will likely return to in four weeks for the Dunsmore Cup.
  2. Montréal Carabins (5-1 RSEQ, prev. 1, host Laval): Running back Sean Thomas Erlington was limited to seven rushes for nine yards on Saturday. That's unheard-of for the Carabins feature back. The upshot is Caron, with little to no rushing phase, was an INT-free 27-of-38 for 304 yards. 
  3. Western Mustangs (6-1 OUA, --, at Ottawa): Beat Laurier by 19 when they were both 4-0. Beat Ottawa by 51 when they were each 5-1. Now they have McMaster at home with both coming in 6-1.

    Chris Merchant has found a rhythm with his receivers, and 6-foot-5 former Ottawa RedBlacks draft pick Jamal Kett has rejoined the receiving corps. Actually, he might have been the only Mustangs receiver who did not score during their 68-17 win in Ottawa.  
  4. Calgary Dinos (5-1 CW, prev. 5, host Saskatchewan): Scoring 63 points against Manitoba gets everyone in attendance free frogurt. That's good. Quarterback Jimmy Underdahl is out for the season with a knee injury. That's bad. But they are back in the driver's seat to host the Hardy! That's good. The frogurt is cursed. That's bad.
    Adam Sinagra, of Pointe-Claire, Que., and John Abbott College, is stepping into the breach.
  5. Carleton Ravens (5-2 OUA, prev. 6, at Waterloo): Jayde Rowe is exactly 100 yards ahead of Western's Alex Taylor for the rushing title heading into Week 9. Taylor faces McMaster's OUA-leading rush defence, and Rowe is facing Waterloo. How long Carleton exposes Rowe to potential injury will be awfully interesting.
  6. McMaster Marauders (5-1 OUA, prev. 7, at Western): Should McMaster upset Western next week, they finish first by dint of owning the common-opponent point-differential tiebreaker against Laurier

    The Marauders' and Golden Hawks' common foes: Carleton, Guelph, Queen's, Toronto, Waterloo, Western and York. Margin of victory is capped at 33 points. McMaster takes a 6-0 record and plus-163 differential into next week. Laurier is 6-1 and plus-102.

    McMaster also comes out ahead in the three-way head-to-head with Carleton and Ottawa.
  7. Regina Rams (4-2 CW, prev. 4, host UBC on Friday): After weeks of surviving on the margins, the Rams lost 19-18 to heretofore winless Alberta despite a 200-yard edge. Three lost fumbles and three missed field goals, including a 52-yard try on the final play, will do that to a team.

    The Golden Bears' Josh Taitinger gets our nod as man of the match, with a fumble recovery with 1:48 left that set up the winning field goal. Taitinger also made a goal-line tackle in the fourth quarter that led to Regina taking the 11-yard field goal to go ahead by two, instead of potentially going up by a converted touchdown.

    The Rams' Daniel Scraper erred on two field goals in the first half. Regina took the points twice from Alberta's 10-yard line or closer, and also lost a fumble at the 10. Sometimes those are just the breaks. It probably shouldn't have come down to who would make a kick at the end, but Alberta's Brent Arthur hit the go-ahead kick with 18 seconds left, and Regina's Thomas Huber, couldn't connect from 52 at the buzzer.

    Just like that, Regina went from having a shot at home-field advantage to needing to defeat UBC to retain second place.
  8. Laurier Golden Hawks (6-1 OUA, prev. 9, at Windsor): It was boom or bust on offence against Guelph, where Levondre Gordon had 12 rushes for 193 yards during the 27-25 win. Their defence made just enough plays to seal the win.

    Laurier's playoff equation is simple. Defeat Windsor and they get a bye.
  9. Ottawa Gee-Gees (5-2 OUA, prev. 8, at Queen's): It was never really close against Western, as the scores by quarters attest: 14-0, 38-10, 48-10. The Gee-Gees got stuffed on third-and-one at their own 49 on their first possession and it went downhill apace.
  10. St. Francis Xavier X-Men (5-1 AUS, --, at Acadia): Just stay healthy for the Mitchell Bowl, X-Men. Kaion Julien-Grant had 230 receiving yards against Saint Mary's. The X-Men defence housed two interceptions, which was two more touchdowns than they permitted.
Unranked team of the week: Alberta (1-5 CW). Of course a D-lineman named Lucky Daniels would recover the fumble that set up the tide-turning touchdown. The Golden Bears defence spent almost 34 minutes on the field, but had the resolve to hold Noah Picton and Co. to one touchdown. Always nice to see a struggling team salvage something from its season. Alberta played better as the game went on, with QB Ben Kopczynski leading an 86-yard drive at the start of the fourth that probably took a toll on the Regina D.

No one is going winless in Canada West. Yay!
The upside of crawling out of a tryptophan coma is that there is no reason to change the ballot.

The top half of my ballot were all on bye weeks. The second half all won, by an average of 35.8 points.
Week 8 includes a 'first and third' scenerio with Western visiting Ottawa, who are each unblemished apart from road defeats against Carleton.

Meantime, Guelph is up against Laurier, and Windsor's is at Queen's. Three of those four teams are fighting for their postseason life.

1. Western (5-1). Remaining: bye, @Ottawa, McMaster 

Styles make fights. Western's juggernaut rushing game, accentuated by Chris Merchant, goes against a fast but undersized Gee-Gees defence on Saturday. Meantime, Derek Wendel, who made a 514-yard night look routine against York, will try to test the Mustangs defence.

If this game were Sept. 15, Ottawa would stand a stronger shot. The seasonal change probably works in Western's favour, but a Jamie Barresi offence should make the Gees a tough out at home.

t-2. Laurier (5-1). Remaining: Guelph, @Windsor

The Golden Hawks, back in the day, were everyone's second-favourite OUA team. Wonder if that will be the case when they have a chance to help Guelph appreciate the concept of sic transit gloria.

t-2. Ottawa (5-1). Remaining: Western, @Queen's 

The million-dollar questions about the Gee-Gees stem from the line of scrimmage, on each side of the ball. Their biggest O-lineman, Ibra Ndiaye (brain injury protocol), was held out against York. Sack leader Sam Randazzo also did not play. Ottawa is first-rank in the passing phase with a varied repertory among the receivers and some fluid coverage in the second and third levels. The offensive line and the pass rush count as question marks.

Ottawa had a punt blocked against York. Western will surely try to block another.

t-2. McMaster (5-1). Remaining:  @York, @Western

Getting 36 points against Queen's with one offensive touchdown, that's pretty amazing. No one seems able to contend with The Power That Is Mike Kashak, who had 4½ sacks and a 'hockey assist' on a defensive TD after forcing a fumble that was recovered in the end zone. The lack of finish in the score zone is concerning.

McMaster (+8) has the tiebreaker advantage over Ottawa (+2) and Carleton (-10), should they all end up either 5-3 or 6-2. Carleton would have it over Ottawa, since they won the head-to-head matchup.

5. Carleton (5-2). Remaining: bye, @Waterloo

Carleton is closing in on a home game, although it is likely contingent on an Ottawa defeat.

Only flies on the was a slow start during the 53-10 rout against Windsor. It was 4-4 early in the second quarter. Then, p

t-6. Queen's (2-4). Remaining: Windsor, Ottawa 

Legit playoff team, or are they just collecting W's against weaker teams? Queen's did little to disabuse any of the latter suspicion while going touchdown-free against McMaster. Queen's has scored 20 or fewer points in 4-of-6 games.

t-6. York (2-4). Remaining: McMaster, @Guelph 

There is talent in Lions territory; Brett Hunchak has a fantastic arm at this level and his 329 yards on Friday was the most any team has had against Ottawa. York under offensive minds Kyle Quinlan and Kamau Peterson is playing exciting football, even when they they are losing by 20.

The degeneration on defence was stark. On top of the 741 yards (528 aerially) against Ottawa, the Lions committed some undisciplined penalties. There was a bad hit to the head on Gee-Gees cornerback Ty Cranston while he was catching a short punt.

t-6. Windsor (2-4). Remaining: @Queen's, Laurier

Tallied only 231 yards against Carleton, and 164 came through Tarrence Crawford. As an observer, it was frustrating to see an underdog miss opportunities.

Both of their sudden-change takeovers inside Carleton's 30-yard line only produced Clark Green field goals. On the first instance, Nick Vincent recovered a fumbled punt on Carleton's 27. An illegal procedure penalty negated a first-down completion, and then a swing pass to Crawford on second-and-11 only got 10 yards. On third-and-1, Windsor kicked the field goal.

In the third, an end-over-end kickoff ricocheted off Windsor's Evan Martin and rolled to Kaeden Walls, who turned a broken play into a 71-yard return to Carleton's 25. All the Lancers could do with that fluky play, and a defensive holding on the next down, was a two-yard rush and an overthrown fade route that someone who never played football could tell was coming.

Does anyone else get annoyed by that?

t-6. Guelph (2-4). Remaining: @Laurier, York

Guelph-Laurier is essentially a playoff game. The Gryphons are playing for their postseason life, and the Golden Hawks would stay in the bye hunt.
Montréal and the next four slots are locked in, since everybody won. The Carabins, with backup QB Pierre-Luc Varhegyi tossing up a jump ball that Regis Cibasu ran in for the winning 53-yard touchdown, survived Mother Nature's monstrous creation that is the natural grass of Sherbrooke with a 27-20 victory.

You know what that entails: No. 2 Laval at No. 1 Montréal in two weeks, with each team having had two weeks to prepare. And boom goes the tryptophan.

Six through 10 is contentious, although whether it includes bona fide contenders is debatable.

Bad things come in threes. Or fours. The #cawlidgehockey folks all need to have their monocles replaced after some discord during CIS-NCAA exhibition men's hockey on Saturday.

Just the facts:
The first two instances are a bad look, and then some. This isn't an automatic thing; Carleton and Holy Cross' exhibition was pretty sedate.

Striking power was the story of the day, as Carleton and Western each had pull-away wins in rivalry games.

In front of a Panda Game crowd of 23,329, Carleton defeated Ottawa 43-23. By halftime, when the margin was still eight points, it was evident the Ravens' collective experience and individual talent in the passing phase was going to win the day. Sure enough, Carleton coach Steve Sumarah indulged a taste for the jugular after stalling early in the third. Botteur extraordinaire Mike Domagala flipped a shovel pass to Wilson Birch on a fake punt for a 33-yard gain into the red zone. That set up Nate Behar's second TD catch to stretch the lead to 28-13.

And, of course, Ottawa only ended up with 23 points. Gee-Gees QB Derek Wendel and his receivers were held in check by Carleton's secondary, with cornerback Nathaniel Hamlin delivering an all-star effort. The lack of finish led to the implosion early in the fourth. Normally automatic Lewis Ward was wide left on a 37-yard field goal try. Tunde Adeleke reeled off a 120-yard return touchdown, which, remarkably, is the second time in his career he has housed a missed field goal in the Panda Game.

Western handled Laurier 45-26. It was a seven-point game in the third. George Johnson, the fifth-year receiver, broke off a 54-yard reception. Western only got a field goal out of that, but that was the start of the familiar pattern, where Western starts scoring and over. They scored consecutive touchdowns and were soon ahead by 24.

With McMaster dropping Guelph to 2-4, there are four one-loss teams and five others in contact with the playoff pack heading into Turkey Week. Here's a look at what everyone is looking entering the first full week of October:

Twenty-five university hockey rookies. Thirty-one months since they last hosted a game on their campus rink.

Counting that up underscores the scope of the Ottawa Gee-Gees men's hockey relaunch. While the media coverage at that time implied otherwise, the University of Ottawa acted correctly early in 2014 when it suspended after it learned belatedly about a sexual assault investigation of an incident following a road trip to Thunder Bay. (Two former Ottawa players are scheduled to go to trial in August 2017.) It looks even righter 2½ years later, but not because the Crown laid charges. It looks righter since scandals at Baylor, USA Gymnastics and further revelations about Penn State have led to greater consciousness of how the sports world acts very slowly in regard to sexual assault.

That's the big picture. The small stuff, which is what's fair to ask players about, revolves around how coach Patrick Grandmaître and the players are warming to the job of re-assembling a team. The horse pulling the cart is representing the university.

Challenge for this week: Montréal is ensconced at No. 1 like so much velvet, while Calgary, Western and Laval are all power programs with a less-than-one-score loss against a good team. How high should Regina climb after taking down the Dinos? Laurier and Ottawa also still have a donut in the loss column, although maintaining it is going to be difficult for both.
  1. Montréal Carabins (4-0 RSEQ, --, at Sherbrooke): Sherbrooke will probably also present little difficulty for Les Bleus. They outscored Acadia 63-1 and outgained them 632-96. The scary thing was that Acadia's return and coverage teams played with actual axes in the second half.
  2. Laval Rouge et Or (3-1 RSEQ, prev. 3, host McGill): Also crushing it
  3. Western Mustangs (3-1 OUA, prev. 8, host Laurier): Dominated Guelph on the road, and the Gryphons took Ottawa to double overtime.  
  4. Regina Rams (3-1 CW, prev. 10, host Saskatchewan): For now, the Rams move into No. 4 after Noah Picton passed for 452 yards to buckle Calgary. Will it last? It might not even last a week. This is about performance to date, not predictions.
  5. Calgary Dinos (3-1 CW, prev. 3, host Alberta): Calgary has been chided for not finishing drives, and that was exactly what happened in the endgame against the Rams. A three-spot drop for a close loss seems fair. They came one play from completing an audacious comeback against the Rams, converting two third downs on the last-chance drive.
  6. Ottawa Gee-Gees (3-0 OUA, prev. 4, at Carleton): Fifth-year defensive end Sam Randazzo was a beast down in Windsor. Ottawa did enough to win comfortably, without cornerback Jamie Harry.

    Now the question about Ottawa is how it holds up in October against the big O-lines that Carleton and Western have clearly the way, respectively, for Jayde Rowe and Alex Taylor. Ottawa's given up back-to-back 100-yard games, with Windsor's Tarrence Crawford getting a century game only 15 totes on Saturday.
  7. Laurier Golden Hawks (3-0 OUA, prev. 5, at Western): That formidable defence is about to get a very stiff test in London. 
  8. Carleton Ravens (3-2 OUA, prev. 9, host Ottawa): The Ravens' Twitter game was a little more on-point this week. Recency accounts for having them ahead of McMaster, despite the one-sided Week 1 loss.
  9. Manitoba Bisons (2-2 CW, prev. unranked, at UBC on Friday). There is that buzzsaw named Deezar. The three Bisons touchdowns drives that Theo Deezar orchestrated in the second half of a 38-17 win against Saskatchewan lasted 1:16, 1:49 and 40 seconds.
  10. McMaster Marauders (3-1 OUA, --, bye week): Nothing to say. They didn't play. 
Dropping out: Saskatchewan (2-2 CW, prev. 6, at Regina on Friday). Who was covering Manitoba's Shai Ross in the third quarter? Answer: no one. The Bisons receiver had a 44-yard catch and a 37-yard TD in the span of three plays.

Unranked team of the week: Bishop's (1-3 RSEQ, at Concordia). The Gaiters have a win! Jaeden Marwick pieced together a victory drive to beat Saint Mary's 30-29. Not a bad way to get one's first win as a starting quarterback.

Pour one out for the stat crew in Lennoxville, though. The game had 44 penalties (26 for 226 yards against Saint Mary's and 18 for 167 against Bishop's). If that is not a record, then I don't want to know what the record is.
Separation Saturday has been set up for Week 6 in Ontario. Whether the 'new order' lasts until Thanksgiving weekend probably comes down to whether Laurier has enough oomph in their offence to hang in with Western.

The Golden Hawks have the most talent on the defensive side of the ball in OUA, and should hold up reasonably well. Kwaku Boateng, et al., will probably be better off if they don't have to play 80 plays, or endure frequent back-to-back ball-control drives. Western's size and shiftiness just wears out opponents.

Ottawa has a physical Panda Game against Carleton, which has played the pass very well but did give up 500-plus to Derek Wendel last season.

McMaster can also push Guelph toward looking forward to the hockey season.

The first three were easy -- Montreal is rolling everybody, Calgary is finding ways to win and Laval, well, Laval is Laval.

Canada West slots into the Nos. 2, 6 and 10 spots. Calgary won by one point against Saskatchewan on Friday, but the Huskies were hella good considering that All-Canadian WR Mitch Hillis was injured and unable to play. Regina also dispatched UBC at the Thunderbirds' homecoming, so they draw in at now 10.

Fortunately for OUA, Western is at Guelph this week, which will help with the sorting job.

Slotting five OUA teams boils down to weighing Ottawa's two quality home wins (McMaster and Guelph) against Laurier's one quality road win (Carleton).

The second involves trying to size up OUA's co-leaders in all three phases. Laurier, with Kwaku Boateng, et al., might have the province's best defence, but their offence has yet to produce in the passing phase against a quality team. Ottawa's D has allowed only two TDs, one thanks to a botched long snap and the other on a late-game third-down gamble. Ottawa can also pass and rush.

Rain puts a damper on attendance but is also a great equalizer on the football field, so Ontario University Athletics presumably wants precipitation every Saturday.

Something one learns in therapy is that people are pattern beings, and seldom truly change as much as they speak of needing to do so. What that has to with the price of grain, or standings in OUA football ("The parity in this conference right now is probably as good as it’s ever been," Carleton coach Steve Sumarah said after losing a one-pointer against Laurier) might seem unclear. However, last Saturday pointed up that one unstated reason for why the games are tauter than in seasons past is that most, if not all of the league, is favouring a very controlled style of offence.

The parity line, not without some justification, is that capping in-season rosters at 90 players is freeing up players who might have enrolled at a powerhouse, got buried on a depth chart and faded out of the game entirely. What might not being getting as much play is the feeling that there is a strain of close-to-the-vest strategizing in the league, which is also understandable.

No. 2 Western lost to Guelph in the 2015 Yates Cup, but their season should not have ended at that point. (CHCH photo)

Which comes first: the expanded national championship, or a true national interlock? The answer might surprise you. Or not.

Few people can honestly argue the best display of CIS is reaching a national TV audience with the conference-champions-only final four. To some extent, that stems from the nature of football in cold weather: it's a Dickensian struggle with dime packages, but that's the hand we have to play in Canada.

There seemingly diametrically opposed ideas that aren't necessarily in conflict, the Northern 8 interlock idea and the notion of expanding the Vanier Cup bracket to eight teams, have four shared goals. The difference is on how to achieve them. Those could loosely be labelled:

  • A TV property cannot be built on three games per year (semis and Vanier); 
  • The current conference-champions-only structure, where the bowl hosts and matchups are done in rotation, probably hinders competitiveness more than it helps it;
  • Something practical needs to be offered to a broadcast partner (while not knowing what broadcasting will entail in four years, never mind 15);
  • How is this being funded (which could actually be Nos. 1, 2 and 3)?

Since all news is local, it is understandable why power programs in OUA and RSEQ have yet to cross the Rubicon on interlock. There was a fear of the unknown of trying to market a game against an unfamiliar outside-the-region opponent. That is how we roll in the centre of the country.

With regard to a football Final 8, there are issues. Conference championship games would be marginalized, and years of work at the conference level to build the profile of those events goes poof.

Reaching eight teams means the Canada West, OUA and RSEQ runners-up would each get a berth every year. There might even have to be a semifinalist to fill the field, since AUS is likely a one-berth league. That deprives those games of the drama essentially to get people to care. And why strain yourself for a banner when the real thing is waiting? To use a basketball example, only seven of Carleton's 12 championship teams have won the Wilson Cup, the OUA title. Beyond seeding, the only motivation to win a Wilson Cup is if a coach's program has never savoured any success.

The Final 8 format would not mesh with football, which embraces the crushing finality of one-and-done -- triple zeroes on the clock, other team celebrating, an unprocessable swirl of emotions, hugging family for support that doesn't quite fill the void.

But we know the last four teams standing aren't always the four most deserving. Or the four who exemplify the growth of CIS football. There has to be an expansion.

From a broadcaster perspective, they probably would prefer to have only two games in that extra week of playoffs. Four quarter-finals is unwieldy.

You can probably intuit where this is going: go to a Final 6. The four conference champions, and two wild cards, who would be the conference runners-up with the highest rankings in the final Top 10 of the season. The conference champs who were the highest in the poll(s) advance directly to hosting the Mitchell and Uteck semifinals. The third and fourth seeds each host a quarter-final.

It's the same playoff format as the CFL and a conference bracket in the NFL -- six teams, top two get a bye.

The value of a conference title is protected. A team who wins on Conference Championship Saturday knows their Vanier Cup dream is extant, and they might have even earned a important week to allow injuries to heal before the first national playoff game. The losing team has a hellish few hours of wondering whether their ranking, and the outcome of the other three games that weekend, will provide a second chance.

For sake of clarity, some seeding provisos will be needed.
  • A wild card cannot receive the bye to the Uteck and Mitchell. You went 8-0, scored more than 500 points, were everybody's No. 1 but failed to seal the deal in the one game you had to win? That's great, and you should be very proud. Now take a lap and get ready to host a quarter-final next week.
  • A wild card must be seeded lower than the team it lost against in the conference final. This further incentivizes winning the conference.  
  • No same-conference matchups in the quarter-final. However, two conference rivals may be on the same side of the bracket.
In other words, the first wild card could be no higher than No. 3. The wild cards could be the 3 and 4 seeds, if a 4-4 or 5-3 team goes on a Cinderella run like Manitoba did in 2014.

It's best left up to someone with a true mathematical background (i.e., not me) to hash out how to weight the simple Yes / No ("Did you win your conference?) and a team's national ranking at the end of the regular season. It's like a professor deciding how much weight she should give to a final exam vis-a-vis regular classwork: thirty, 40 or 50 points on a 100-point scale?

There would be some trepidation about incorporating the Top 10 poll, but if it exists, then why not use it? It also wouldn't necessarily have to be just the last poll. Using the final three weeks, with a recency factor, seems like a good way to account for a good team which played their toughest opponent last, or who laid low for a week if they clinch first or second place early (which happened in OUA in 2009, '11 and '14).

The other reason there would be opposition to using the Top 10 results is perceived (if unproven) regional bias. You can hear it already: Ontario and Quebec would always have the two wild cards. Well, OUA has nearly double the teams of any other conference, so it has a case to have two spots in a six-team tournament, like it did under the old format of the men's hockey University Cup.*

(* Well-aware that was because one spot was technically the RSEQ's. Details.)

Moreover, one struggle for a Top 10 voter is comparing teams in different conferences (see previous posts). That brings us to an a-ha moment: if conferences are worried that their second, third and fourth-best programs don't receive enough exposure outside their conference, then how can they still be against true interlock play?

With meaningful non-conference games, suddenly there's a better way for a voter to make comparisons between Ottawa and Saskatchewan. Or Concordia and Laurier, and so forth. Over time, there would also be enough data (i.e., interlock results) to generate RPI and SRS that could also factor into determining who hosts quarters and semis, and who has to charter a plane.

Football has the most passionate season-long debate over national rankings. Expanding to a Final 6 is a practical way to begin channeling all that emotional equity into having a more dramatic end to the season that can better showcase the best of CIS football.
With a wild card, Montreal and Laval might have had a Vanier Cup rematch in 2014 when the title game was in Montreal. The mind reels.

Now who has two thumbs and is demented enough to re-seed replay brackets for the last eight seasons?

As an addendum to the post above, and as a working example, here are what the fields for a 'plus two' playoff structure would have looked like from 2008-15. It's some back-of-a-napkin stuff, since it's unclear how a Final 6 would be seeded, i.e., how is the weighting distributed between winning a trophy game and national ranking. Plus there's the question of whether to only use the last poll, or weigh the last 2-4 weeks.

The Week 3 ballot boils down to how much to ding McMaster, UBC and Concordia for getting blown out real good.

Well, that, and whether to be That Guy who ranks five OUA teams since no one out west or in Quebec is really showing they rate a No. 10 vote. Sorry, better say that in management-speak: taking ownership of the No. 10 slot. No wonder I'm not running Postmedia.

The plus side is that there have been some encouraging results across the country. Regina and Noah Picton outscoring Manitoba 41-38! McGill winning 19-18 at Sherbrooke, although it took V&O kicker Pierre-Antoine D'Astous missing twice from inside of 37 yards.

First up, McMaster, who were 47 types of prey in a 30-8 road loss against the Ottawa Gee-Gees. Ottawa went up and down the field through a 441-yard passing effort from Derek Wendel, while a seemingly improved defence contained Asher Hastings and Danny Vandervoort on the other side of the ball. It was a trap game for the Marauders: short week after the off-campus home game on Monday, then lose a practice day whilst venturing to the nation's capital to face a fully torqued Ottawa in its home opener in front of a large Frosh Week crowd.

The biggest challenge this week is what to make of Carleton knocking off Western 38-31 in the nation's capital on Sunday night.

There is only one other sample (i.e., game played) for each team, one that's unflattering to Carleton (the 30-point road loss at McMaster) and one that does little for Western's case (a glorified scrimmage with Windsor).

To get granular about the Ravens' takedown, well, Carleton dominated the passing phase and also made defining plays in the rushing and return phases. Western did a lot of stuff that was either out of character for a Greg Marshall team, or just goes unnoticed when they are beating up an also-ran.

Western slotted in as a default No. 2 on my Week 1 ballot, and I omitted Carleton since frankly, I wouldn't think much of a team that expected a ranking after getting blown out in their opener. To correct for the Ravens stepping up, and Western doing a lot to un-win, it seems fair to have the Ravens above Western for one week at least.

Ravens QB Jesse Mills averaged an adjusted 9.1 yards per attempt, and the Western QBs averaged 6.2. The Ravens also had the night's two biggest explosion plays through Tunde Adeleke's 85-yard punt-return touchdown and a 74-yard rushing TD by Jayde Rowe. On Rowe's scamper, the blocking left-side linemen Nolan McGreer and K.C. Bakker and some decoying by Nate Behar eliminated the pursuit so completely that Rowe was 15 yards downfield before he confronted a tackler.

Western had two touchdowns negated by holding penalties. Those drives netted three points instead of 14.

The Mustangs' play-calling after Carleton's game-tying 10-play, 95-yard drive in the fourth quarter was also odd. They took over at their 18-yard line with 5:37 left. Anyone who has seen the movie before knew to expect the ol' ground-and-pound peregrination. Rush until the opponent loads the box and/or forces a passing situation. Instead Stevenson Bone threw two unsuccessful passes.

After the punt, the Mustangs defence, minus injured middle linebacker Jean-Gabriel Poulin, went right back out to defend a short field. Carleton covered the 49 yards in just five plays.

Ironically, Western rushed on seven of the first eight plays on their last-ditch drive, when they had less time and greater urgency. It almost worked.

Anyway, Carleton ahead of Western for this week. It felt like a big deal, that is for damn certain. Here is what I sent in, complete with record, where I placed them on the Week 1 ballot, and upcoming opponent.

  1. Montréal Carabins (1-0 RSEQ, prev. 1, host Bishop's on Friday): Les Bleus won 24-21 at Laval after trailing by a more than one-score margin deep into the fourth quarter. 
    Samuel Caron
    , the first-year starting QB, had an adjusted average of 7.4 yards per pass, which is very heady stuff in a season opener.
  2. Calgary Dinos (1-0 CW, prev. 3, host UBC on Friday): They play defensive ball games out West every so often, just to know how it feels. Calgary's Boston Rowe had 11 tackles in the 23-14 win at Manitoba. Namesake players of the week, everybody!
  3. McMaster Marauders (2-0 OUA, prev. 4, at Ottawa): Get ready for a lulu on Lees Ave.: Mac and Ottawa have an encore after combining for 99 points and 362 yards in their 2015 matchup, which foreshadowed Asher Hastings setting a record for TD passes while Ottawa's Derek Wendel set marks for completions and yards.

    Mac is only going to have a two-practice week, while Ottawa will do well to work in three.

    Hastings probably has the better receiving corps of the two record-setting passers. See above.
  4. Laval (0-1 RSEQ, prev. 4, at Concordia): The question du semaine for the Rouge et Or is how much a young team sheds any baggage from botching the endgame against the Carabins. To review, Laval was in field goal range with eight seconds left. Quarterback Hugo Richard's primary targets weren't open, and time ran out before his incomplete pass hit the Stade Telus turf.

    Laval is young, and like John Edwards presciently pointed out years ago, we have always known the age cap would catch up to them eventually. Being away at Concordia is a good segue for Glen Constantin's guys.

    Also, has everyone seen Laval's metallic gold helmets? Did they get those at Baylor University's locker room sale? That would make sense, Baylor will need the cash for a certain lawsuit.

    Laval gets the legacy benefit of the doubt.
  5. UBC Thunderbirds (1-0 CW, prev. 8, at Calgary on Friday): Quarterback Michael O'Connor's ANY/A was a meaty 8.44 yards during the home opener, as UBC put up 39 points on Alberta without a great amount of strain. One can be at least 72 per cent confident that the T-Birds are a Top 5 team.
  6. Carleton Ravens (1-1 OUA, prev. unranked, at U of T): The short week between weeks 2 and 3 in OUA is daunting for everyone. The Ravens defence was out for 76 plays against Western, so picture a take-a-number training room. That said, they held up, with Kene Onyeka having a team-high 11 tackles after shifting from end to will 'backer give Carleton more size in the front seven.

    The win overshadowed confirmation that cornerback D'Sean Thelwell has a broken collarbone and is out for the season.
  7. Western Mustangs (1-1 OUA, prev. 2, host Waterloo): Three hundred and thirty-seven rushing yards and they lost. The upshot might be that this escalates the process of switching to quarterback Chris Merchant, who produced two touchdown drives during his relief stint against Carleton.
  8. Manitoba Bisons (0-1 CW, at Regina on Thursday): Played Calgary tough, but didn't execute in the red zone. It feels better to give the Bisons credit for a competitive loss and an exhibition-game rout of UBC instead of ranking the fourth-best OUA team.
  9. Concordia Stingers (1-0 RSEQ, prev. 9, host Laval): Analysis! Samuel Brodrique is good at football. The Stingers linebacker accounted for three of the eight takeaways during the road victory against McGill.

    Concordia got away with being very pass-heavy against McGill (47 dropbacks, 17 rushes). That might not play as well against the Rouge et Or.
  10. Laurier (2-0 OUA, prev. 10, bye week): Par-uh-what? The Carleton-Western and Windsor-Guelph results sparked some tweets about the increased parity in OUA. Laurier went up and down the field on York like a CrossFitter with really bad OCD. Final score: Golden Hawks 74, Lions 3.

    Laurier backs Eric Guiltinan and Levondre Gordon each went past the 100-yard plateau in fewer than 2½ quarters.  
Dropping out: Guelph (1-1 OUA, prev. 6, host Queen's) 

The defending Yates Cup champions lost 33-29 against Windsor and newby quarterback Jalen Brady, who was playing his first full game of Canadian football. That is bad. Having a holding penalty negate a go-ahead touchdown and fumbling in the red zone on the next play is also bad. Taking an OC for excessive celebration while still trailing by a touchdown with 2:30 left is bad, too.

Windsor's Frank Renaud caused the game-deciding turnover.
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