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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