Let's be real; of course every player and coach on all 11 teams has worked hard since January and is sweating through the two-a-days while internalizing all the schemes and concepts and pre-snap adjustments. Overall, though, football is the game where success is most tied to support from the top down, and it is hard to play it straight when there are so many underlying factors for why OUA is a three-, or four-, or five-tiered league.
Someone has to speak truth to power and tell the bankrollers, your Stu Langs and David Sidoos and David Braleys and Jacques Tanguays, that their enthusiasm is great, but the growth needs to be more level across the full 11, and the full 27. Three teams went winless in 2015. David Dubé is the best example of a patron of the sweaty arts, since the Saskatchewan Huskies alumnus has invested in getting Canada West back on broadcast TV and in trying to get interlock play off the ground, even if OUA didn't want to hear out anyone on the latter.
That probably comes across negatively, but CIS needs everyone pulling on the same rope. Hence the pet idea of a not-for-profit collective to improve competitive standards across Canada. Will never happen, of course.
There are more talented football players than there has ever been in CIS. There is better coaching. There are more people employed full-time as coaches than there has ever been. Yet it is undeniable that the growth has not been even. Roughly one-third of games across the country are perfunctory and predictable, and that is holding the sport back at the amateur level, and keeping it from getting the audience it deserves.
Well, that and the toothless CRTC deciding Canadian sports networks are not obligated to show truly Canadian competition. At least three games are getting on City TV this fall, starting with the Western-Queen's inaugural game at new Richardson Stadium on Sept. 17.
As far as how it plays out on the field, the bowl rotation pits the Yates Cup winner against the Dunsmore Cup winner, which is a bad omen. Ontario is 1-6 in that matchup since Laval came into being. It can be done; Western almost did it in 2010.
The other framing device for an OUA schedule, is Know Your Non-Combatants. And know the combined 2015 records of the teams your guys are missing:
- Carleton: Guelph, Queen's (12-4)
- Guelph: Carleton, Waterloo (5-11)
- Laurier: McMaster, Ottawa (9-7)
- McMaster: Laurier, Windsor (6-10)
- Ottawa: Laurier, Toronto (7-9)
- Queen's: Carleton, York (6-10)
- Toronto: Ottawa, Western (11-5)
- Waterloo: Guelph, Windsor (9-7)
- Western: Toronto, York (4-12)
- Windsor: McMaster, Waterloo (6-10)
- York: Queen's, Western (13-3)
Snap reaction: the rotation worked out well for Carleton, which is due to be coming of age in Season 4.
Now we come to the point where we sum up every team with a Simpsons quote, in descending order of likely finish.
- Western: "You know Mr. Burns, you're the richest guy I know. Way richer than Lenny." "Yes, but I'd trade it all for just a little more."
The 'Stangs will gain more yards in the rushing phase than some teams gain aerially. The defence is laden with linchpins: Rupert Butcher in the middle of the D-line, Ottawa Redblacks draftee John Biewald on the edge, Jean-Gabriel Poulin at the second level and Jesse McNair roaming centre field. Buffalo transfer Chris Merchant should be OK at quarterback. Or a little more than OK.
Let's not write off OUA's chances in that semifinal. Montreal has a new quarterback. Laval lost a lot of guys.
- McMaster: "Her idea of wit is nothing more than an incisive observation humorously phrased and delivered with impeccable timing."
Are people sleeping on Mac after a 6-2 third-place showing? Greg Knox seems like the classic case of the defensive coordinator who could have been a head coach long ago if the timing had worked out. Gary Jeffries was that type of guy at Laurier in the early aughts and that worked out well for everybody. Asher Hastings will throw for about a bajillion touchdowns, and Mac is loaded with seasoned receivers and pass defenders.
- Guelph: "This is the greatest thrill of my life! I'm king of the world!"
The Gryphons were Ontario's best team for the past two years, regardless of whose colours are on the Yates. There is talent out the yin-yang, and Kevin MacNeill has more than paid the dues to become head ball coach. Receiver Jacob Scarfone's ACL-related absence is a fairly big loss in the passing phase, where Guelph's always been more about speed than surprise.
Having Western and McMaster back-to-back (home Sept. 24, road Oct. 1) will be tricky.
- Carleton: "You hear me? No comeuppance!"
The Ravens got everyone's attention by outscoring Laval by three touchdowns during the 30 minutes that each team played their starters during the exhibition game last weekend. The top strata of their '12 and '13 recruiting classes (QB Jesse Mills, REC Nathaniel Behar, REC Wilson Birch, LB Leon Cenerini, DB Tunde Adeleke, and so on, and so forth) have come of age. Carleton's also going to be physical on both lines.
Fourth could be an undersell. Carleton opens at McMaster and then hosts Western on Labour Day weekend. They should run the rest of the table.
- Laurier: "Grade me! Evaluate and rank me! Oh, I'm ever so smart!"
The Golden Hawks are getting there; they hung in with Montreal in their exhibition game. No doubt headline writers are hopeful Michael Knevel ends up prevailing in the position battle at quarterback with Julien John. Whether they have 10- or 11-game staying power is tough to tell, but they should be at least 3-1 when they go to Western on Oct. 1.
- Ottawa: "I live in a single room above a bowling alley and below another bowling alley."
Record-setting QB Derek Wendel and the Gee-Gees get Guelph, Mac and Western at home, and their road slate includes Carleton. The good news: no 'good luck with that' roadies. The bad news, that's tough competition, and there isn't a lot of margin for error.
Ottawa should score a lot of points again, and Mitchell Baines should have a big year to help make up for Ian Stewart aging out. It has been a long while since Ottawa really played lights-out D against a good team.
- Queen's: "Yeah, you should be very proud, Homer, you, uh... got a beautiful home here."
Richardson 3.0 is small, but it will be a nice stadium, especially when the east-side pavilion is completed.
On the field, it's fair to say Queen's has been inconsistent for two seasons, and that 31-point qurter-final loss to Carleton was disspiriting. Quarterback Nate Hobbs struggled, and the defensive coordinator Greg Marshall's charges were a half-step behind the Ravens at every turn.
- Toronto: "For once maybe someone will call me 'Sir' without adding 'you're making a scene.' "
In an idealized CIS football world where the scheduling among the three Central/Eastern Canada conference was more apples-to-apples, U of T would play other brainiac schools (McGill, Queen's) along with AUS and OUA bantamweights.
It is an either/or whether York or U of T gets the best of the rest belt, which is actually an extension cord.
- York: "I'm tired of being a wannabe league bowler! I wanna be a league bowler!:
Lions coach Warren Craney has had some good gets on the recruiting front, most notably with DE Rossini Sandjong-Djabome, who was all-everything in CEGEP.
- Windsor: "Ahh. Sweet liquor eases the pain."
Waterloo play-by-player Adam McGuire, who might or might not have indirectly guilted someone into writing this post -- ah, the art of deflection -- believes the Lancers could finish 0-8.
Conference tackling leader Matt Gayer is down for the season with a knee injury. Windsor was last in OUA last season in 'disruptions' with a combined 26 fumble recoveries, interceptions and sacks. They'll need a few more takeaways to help out an offence whose only big commodity is RB Tarrence Crawford.
- Waterloo: "Is this how you imagined your life, Edna?" "Well yes, but then I was a very depressed child."
The Warriors have almost as many rookie recruits (49) as they had points (66) last season. Quarterback Lucas McConnell is a slender figure in No. 7, so he's always good for a gratuitous Matt Saracen reference. Friday Night Lights wrapped five years and four Warriors wins ago.