Better to be slightly late on the epiphany than the last to know, eh? Western has to be No. 1, what with being the last undefeated team after Calgary went through the motions and lost — wait for it — 53-3 against Alberta in a game that was immaterial to the Dinos' standings.

The rule of thumb when a 7-0 team that is locked into first place loses is that is shouldn't affect the ranking if the score was respectable. It can be a canary in the coal mine (see Western losing 37-0 against Queen's in its finale in 2011, before losing the Yates Cup at home by three touchdowns three weeks later). It can also be a one-off, or even "a well-orchestrated loss" as Queen's coach Pat Sheahan termed it following his team's national championship season in 2009.

But 53 to three, that looks rather abject for Calgary. It's also a huge feat for Alberta, which is making strides toward respectability under coach Chris Morris. All that shook out to send in a Top 10 ballot as follows:

The reigning gridiron-football gurus out in western Canada were right to believe the Western (Ontario) Mustangs are Canada's best.
That is the way it goes. The FieldTurf always looks greener on the other side of the country.

The bullet points on this Saturday of action:
  • Alberta 53, Calgary 3. That happened. The Golden Bears, who were 0-4 at one point. won by a sufficiently large enough margin to get the last Canada West playoff berth and a semifinal date against none other than Calgary,. Whether Alberta will be competitive now that Calgary will face actually stakes remains to be seen, but the transformation is enlivening. Receiver Tylor Henry scored four touchdowns and Ed Ilnicki increased his rushing tally to a Canada West-record 1,468 yards. That's 184 per game.
  • UBC will host Regina in the Canada West semifinal. The Thunderbirds scored 35 points in the second quarter and routed the Rams 44-15. They'll play again. Quarterback Michael O'Connor was out of the game after 2½ quarters. 
  • Laval strengthens its case for No. 1; then again, Westenr's got stronger. The defending national champions blew out Concordia on Friday night; the run for a repeat begins at home next week against Sherbrooke. 
  • Lyons roars for No. 7 McMaster. McMaster and Laurier will meet in the OUA semifinal again, after the Marauders' 12-9 closer-than-it-should-have-been win against Queen's. Running back Jordan Lyons tied OUA's single-game record for carries (39) and had the second-most yards (319) in a Canadian university playoff game. Still, it wasn't in the bag until Sam linebacker Eric Blake intercepted a pass at Mac's 35-yard line with 1:20 left.
  • No. 9 Guelph gets another shot at No. 3 Western. The only team that has been able to hang with the 'Stangs will get another shot at doing so next week in London. Guelph, with QB James Roberts returning from the brain injury he suffered four weeks ago against McMaster, rolled by 22 points against Ottawa.

O glorious Saturday! First-time starter Tristan Arndt led Laurier to a beatdown of McMaster in Ontario's bye bowl, two teams aren't in first place anymore and couple are not in the playoffs.

And did Arndt ever say buh-bye to the Marauders linebackers and D-backs on a 53-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter. Scramble, wheels, celly!

The Saturday in SportsBall:

  • Laval upended Montréal 22-0 in the No. 3 vs. No. 1 matchup, wresting first place in Quebec and possibly the No. 1 ranking, although there are two other teams worth considering for that spot. Sounds like it was grind time. Led by Gabriel Ouellet who made a national record-tying four interceptions, the Rouge et Or D had six INTs and held the Carabins to 227 yards.
  • Acadia will host the Loney Bowl after a 10-point victory against No. 10 Saint Mary's. Acadia went Wright at SMU, one could say. They ran Dale Wright on 10 consecutive plays during a drive midway through the first half. Ultimately they were stopped on downs, but that tenderized the Huskies defence and, soon enough, quarterback Cody Cluett led Acadia on a 23-0 run in the second quarter.

    Huskies QB Kaleb Scott left with an injury but is likely to be available for SMU's final regular-season game. 
  • OUA's playoff field will be 1) Western 2) Laurier 3) McMaster 4) Ottawa 5) Guelph and 6) Queen's. Waterloo (4-4) and Carleton (3-5, but how about that Panda Game?) playing left out.
  • No. 2 Calgary and No. 4 Western each made a case for first-place votes. The Dinos sealed first in Canada West with a 42-30 win at Regina, where not unlike their roadie last week, they really only went full-throttle for a quarter. They are the ranking still-undefeated team.

    Remember how everyone laughed at TSN this week for the click-bait question about whether Auston Matthews gets enough credit for the Toronto Maple Leafs' fast start, literally one day after its lead Sportscentre story was about — wait for it — Auston Matthews? Wondering whether Western got enough credit for its regular season might seem to be in a similar vein. But the Mustangs finished with an average winning margin of 35.1 points whilst out-gaining the opposition by 320.5 yards per game. They gained more yards in the rushing phase than their D has allowed in total.

  • UBC and Regina will have a Second-Place Showdown next week in Vancouver. Winner hosts a playoff rematch seven days hence.
  • Laurier earned a week off, and likely a place back in the top 5.  The Golden Hawks were impressive, while their avian brethren, No. 6 UBC, squeaked out a win.
  • Guelph got a character win going into the playoffs, surmounting a 13-point deficit to overtake Carleton 28-23. Defensive back Derek Drouillard sealed the win with a third-down tackle with 13 seconds left when Carleton was vainly trying to march for a game-winning, season-saving touchdown. 
  • And Carleton Twitter fell silent. Carleton set out five years ago to emulate a privately bankrolled Quebec conference team. Which they have, only it's Sherbrooke instead of Laval.

    It's a totally-Ottawa thing — "world's biggest village" — that 90 per cent of the people who basked in the glory of a fourth consecutive Panda Game victory likely did not even notice that Carleton missed the playoffs.

    What is true above all else is that the university game is better for having schools attempt an ambitious football reboot. Also true: Carleton has yet to play in a Yates Cup after five seasons. After five seasons, Laval had already played in three conference finals and had a Vanier Cup banner.
  • Queen's is the first team in 10 years to make the playoffs after an 0-4 start. One could really be cynical here: the Gaels won out against the same four non-playoff programs that Western knocked off during the media-created Mustang Miracle in 2007. Their schedule lacked both Laurier and McMaster. 
How does all this affect the Top 10?
Sending out what one cannot hold in...

  1. "Our buddy Gord." Gord Downie, 1964-2017.The best songs will always take one back to a particular point in their life's journey. So while The Tragically Hip long ago became Canada's Band, no subset of Canada took death of Gord Downie harder than people my age, Generation X and Xennials, who grew up in Kingston, Ontario.

    Some of that was the circumstances of where I was born and where I grew up, in the Kingston area as the 1980s ended and the '90s began. The Hip came along to offer something that was imbued with more brain cells than the hair metal that bounced off the walls of hockey dressing rooms before our games, but they were less nihilistic than grunge. And while we were a bunch of white kids embracing rap, the Hip reflected the better versions of our true selves, within the corner of the world we were born into.

    The particular, for me and not a few other people whom I grew up with, came from knowing that Gord Downie was an Amherstview boy had once sat in the same classrooms I sat in at Ernestown Secondary School and played minor hockey at the Henderson Arena when his family lived in Amherstview before moving "into town," Kingston. Gord belonged to Kingston, and the country and the world, but one aspect that should be covered off is that he had roots "out in the sticks" too.

    I was neither musical nor athletic, but I wanted to be in the creative class, so Gord was a beacon. He was doing it, so maybe I could to, in some genre.

    At the Henderson Arena, the trophy case in the lobby contained the team photo of an Ontario championship-winning Ernestown Township bantam team from 1979. Gord was one of the goalies, sitting in the front row. I could never quite connect that smiling boy-next-door with the shaggy hair with the mic stand-twisting popinjay from the Hip's live performances, but hey, goalies are different. But empirically, I knew it was true, and it told me that one day, I would get to be myself, not the nerdy loner who knew everything about sports except how to be good at them. (Thankfully, there's no deadline for that.)

    What I know now, of course, is that I wasn't a good athlete because I played scared. You can write scared; afraid of losing the reader, afraid of missing a deadline, that works in the short run. In the long run, though, you have to not be scared of making people feel uncomfortable or threatened by what you say. Of course, I know this because the Hip made a song about it.

    Playing scared always meant looking for some good-luck ritual. So from time to time, after dropping my duffel bag in the dressing rooms on the ground floor of Henderson Arena, I would go upstairs, look at that team photo and tap the glass in front of Gord's hockey-haired head.

    Then there was the connection through the high school, where I had some of the same teachers who had Gord in their classes when he briefly attended Ernestown. The death announcement alluded to the joy of getting to make music with friends he made in high school at Kingston Collegiate, but that stopover was enough for me to feel a connection.

And boom went the tryptophan for No. 2 Calgary and No. 5 Laurier, who have each stumbled around in an apparent turkey coma after not playing during the holiday weekend.

The Dinos and QB Adam Sinagra are in the driver's seat for home-field advantage throughout the  playoffs regardless of whether it comes back to defeat Manitoba (!). Calgary, trailing much of the way, has scored 14 unanswered points to take a late 34-27 lead.

No need to remind anyone that Calgary won by 59 points in their first game; Manitoba certainly did not forget.

In central Canada, Guelph demonstrated why it was a Top 10-worthy despite three losses with a 24-14 win against Laurier that can only be described as thorough. The end result is that, apart from Western having first place locked, the other five playoff slots in Ontario are completely in an uproar. McMaster, the tortoise to Laurier's hare, can wrest the second-place playoff bye by defeating the sagging Golden Hawks in Waterloo next week.
Until Twitter gives us 280 characters and focus more on curbing the white nationalists instead of Rose McGowan, thoughts go in this space; #notstickingtosports. 
  1. Competitive balance starts with collective bargaining. We begin with the CFL, where the East is now 7-27-1 against the West — hey, a winning percentage above .200 — this season. In all the why-ing about the disparity, it seems like the difference in cost of living is seldom raised. A dollar stretches farther in four of five western markets (Vancouver being the exception) than in any four of the eastern cities (Hamilton is beginning to get pricey. .

    That must be a factor in signing players to a rookie contract, and retaining and attracting veteran free agents.

    The CFL's negotiation of its next collective agreement has the obvious hook that commissioner Randy Ambrosie was once on labour's side of the table.

    Player safety is expected to be one of the main issues, but one that ought to come up is exploring whether it's actually the best policy to have a hard salary cap. Every city and tax jurisdiction is unique. This has been a protracted phenomenon that seems to supersede quality of teams coaching.
  2. So how would you change the CFL playoff format? Picture yours truly sitting here with a convoluted idea about how to reward the best regular-season performances and keep an East-vs.-West motif for the Grey Cup. Then Venerable Wally Buono piped up last weekend (before his team lost at home against an East team, natch):
    "We want national sponsors, we want national appeal. If that’s the case, then, the formula, in my mind, would be the first-place teams get a bye. The next four teams make the playoffs. So you could have the second- and third-place team in either division host a playoff game. We’re still in a society where we reward excellence, right?" (Postmedia, Oct. 7)
    So in that scenario, the East's first-place team with a losing record still has the more direct route to the Grey Cup. Still not fair, but fairer. The division semifinals, semantically, become cross-over quarter-finals. Winnipeg (second-best overall record) would host a game against the sixth overall team, which is currently the B.C. Lions. The fourth seed would host the fifth seed.

    If the playoffs were beginning today, these would be the matchups:

    Cross-over playoffs:
    (6) B.C. at (3) Winnipeg
    (5) Edmonton at (4) Saskatchewan

    East final:
    Highest remaining seed at (2) Toronto
    Lowest remaining seed at (1) Calgary

    The league has market placement at either end of the country on the penultimate Sunday of the season — everyone happy, or at least, less upset. 
Cinderella has turned into a pumpkin in Ontario, right on time for Thanksgiving weekend. It was fun buying in on Waterloo while it lasted, but they are who we worried they were.

Waterloo has allowed an average of almost 59 points and 548 yards over the last four weeks. Their only head-to-head tiebreaker among the teams likely to end up in the anticipated logjam for the final OUA playoff berths is against Carleton (thanks to that 45-43 win on Sept. 23). But that could be potential be taken out of play, since Queen's now comes out ahead in a three-way tiebreaker scenario with Waterloo and Carleton.

What might be the real downside of Waterloo getting exposed is that their four-win streak effectively ran cover for what's been a very according-to-form OUA season; no upsets, no to-the-wire scorefests. Western is rolling, even though some people believe they're not on the level of some of the teams that were Vanier-conversation worthy.

This will be succinct (ha!), since only four ranked teams are even playing over the holiday weekend.
Stuff that really needs to be on a podcast.
  1. Concordia-Montréal cancelled; Saint Mary's forfeits Week 1 win. Breaking news as the No. 1-ranked Montréal Carabins' have been sacked by "a very virulent gastroenteritis virus," leading to the cancellation of their Thursday home game against Concordia. It shouldn't be a forfeit; the Carabins literally do not have enough people to field a credible team and, pardon playing doctor on the internet, even the personnel who have not evinced symptoms could end up transmitting germs.

    The initial report is that the game will simply be abandoned. Details are very preliminary so it's unclear whether this would affect Montreal's next two games, against Sherbrooke (Oct. 14) and Laval (Oct. 21).
    There was a similar situation a few years ago in AUS and everyone carried on; all one can do is hope the virus is contained before it ends up tainting the season.

    The other news is AUS standings just got a little tighter. Saint Mary's forfeited its win against St. Francis Xavier on Aug. 25 over the use of two ineligible players. It was a self-disclosed violation.

    A forfeit is officially recorded as a 1-0 win, and of course Saint Mary's won the actual rematch against St. FX by one point. There goes the point-differential tiebreaker if both finish 6-2. 
  2. Football and chill? The Panda Game made for great television, what with the raucous crowds, tightly contested game and the cliffhanger finish — not the double overtime, but when everyone watching via TV was worried CHCH would go off-air at the 3½-hour mark. It was definitely something to share with a potential broadcast partner or a start-up streaming service looking for content to populate a schedule, à la TSN in its nascence in the 1980s and The Score (R.I.P.) in the aughts.

    This is as good a time as any to offer a reminder that broadcasters in this country were once required to dedicate funding/hours to amateur sport. And if the light-on-details Liberals can really get a half-billion dollars out of Netflix, what a half-million a year for 10 national broadcasts?
    Until then, the OUA will have to work with stations like CHCH, which will give them the air time for the games if the OUA pays for the production cost. Grace says costs to produce a football game are about $40,000.

    "As to the funding, the federal government providing funding of, I think, $500 million to Netflix last week to help encourage broadcasting and movie producing in Canada, which is great, it’s a great industry,” Grace said. “It would be great if we could get some funding to get ourselves off the ground. It’s a horse-and-cart thing. For us to create a product, we need some seed funding and then we create that great product. We could take it to market and attract sponsorships."
    (London Free Press, Oct. 3)
    (Clarification: it's reportedly Netflix investing the $500 million, not the other way around. Hold off on calling your member of Parliament.)

    The above-quoted mentions OUA's steps to pare the average game time to fewer than three hours. It is one thing for a major property such as MLB or NFL to be unable to guarantee a sub-three hour game, but the little guy has to work harder.
  3. Who are you, Joe Hollywood? Back in the day when people waited until a certain half-hour block of time on a certain night to consume their favourite TV show, broadcast executives talked about a "lead-in." It meant that on Thursdays, you showered, shaved and prepped for a night out during the half-hour between Friends and Seinfeld.

    It is striking that there is a missed opportunity for the Panda Game to be a lead-in for a Vanier Cup in Ottawa (in the future, not necessarily this year when Ottawa has the Grey Cup and an outdoor NHL game). Selling Panda/Vanier ticket packages would have to be approached delicately — i.e., without the shady "if you buy tickets to A, you have to buy tickets to B" sales tactic — but it would be one way to avoid another disaster like the '16 Vanier. 
A bold Calgary statement on a cold Friday night. The No. 2-ranked Dinos, on the margin of 21 unanswered in the third quarter, won 31-17 on the road against No. 6 UBC, which could help them cadge a few more first-place votes from idle Montréal. The Dinos received five in last week's poll, and had one two weeks ago.

Here's what I submitted.
Other, greater minds of more refined taste are fortunately on hand to balance out the ballot.

As often happens on UFC cards, the preliminaries were better than the main bout in Ontario. Western is in the driver's seat for home-field advantage through to the Yates Cup. The other games involving teams which received votes this week beggar bullet-pointing.
  • Western was in control throughout against Laurier during a 29-13 road win. That likely leaves the 4-5-6-7 spots unchanged, since the form held for all four teams.
  • The OUA was pushed toward parity thanks to two frantic finishes by teams who had the short end of the scheduling stick.
  • Carleton outlasted Ottawa 33-30 in double overtime in the Panda Game, making it four in a row in the rivalry game, with three decided on the final snap of the ball. The finish was controversial; to say the least.
  • Guelph, behind young QB Theo Landers, defeated Waterloo 53-49 and put itself deeper in the Top 10 mix. Talk about about a tale of two halves. The Gryphons had three first downs and 64 yards in the first 30 minutes. Then they scored 41 across the final 30 minutes. The Gryphons have two overtime losses against teams with winning records and lost quarterback James Roberts during their other defeat. That's enough to warrant a look at No. 9 or 10, if mostly due to a lack of other lead-pipe locks.
  • Saint Mary's continues to leave it to the last minute. A 50-yard touchdown by Lerone Robinson from Kaleb Scott in the final 20 seconds vaulted the eastern Huskies to a homecoming-spoiling 22-21 road win against St. Francis Xavier. 
  • Sayonara, Concordia. The Stingers lost 30-13 at home to Sherbrooke ... losing to a heretofore winless team seems to be happening a lot lately.
Regina will be sticking around for another week after beating Saskatchewan by a junior high school basketball score, 50-40, with Noah Picton doing Noah Picton things. While it was a big fireworks display in the Paris of the Prairies, what it says about the calibre of the teams depends on how much of one or both flavours of green Kool-Aid the observer has consumed since August.
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