Football: Top 10 Tracker: Western has to be No. 1 now, eh? Calgary crushed by Alberta; Laval locks up No. 1 in Quebec; McMaster and Guelph win OUA quarters

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.

Here's the Top 10 tracker for the week, to be updated as results pour in from across Canada.

  1. Calgary (7-1 Canada West, 53-3 loss against Alberta) — Is being No. 1 the best thing mentally? It can also prove to be an albatross. (Note: this was written before the games started.) It was a nothing game for Calgary ... it was a nothing game for Calgary. They can't really be No. 1 after such a lopsided loss, but the floor is No. 3. I can't think of a team which once lost a game by 50 points going on to win the Vanier Cup, but I know of at least one national championship team who had a 35-point loss.
  2. Laval (7-1 RSEQ, 46-14 road win at Concordia ) — Scored a point-per-minute pace in the first half on Friday as they locked first place in the RSEQ, and Hugo Richard averaged a cool 8.8 per pass. It's 1A and 1B with Western at No. 1.
  3. Western (8-0 OUA, host semifinal on Nov. 4) — Lines win championships. Western is good on both sides of the line. Ergo, Western has a better argument for No. 1 than it did before, especially with the way it handled its make-it-quick meaningless last regular-season game.
  4. Montréal (6-1 RSEQ, 27-17  home win against McGill) — Got the McGill game over with and will face Concordia in the semifinal, for the first time since Gastro-Gate. The Carabins should stay at No. 4.

    Is it odd that four of five teams in Quebec make the playoffs, while the Atlantic takes three of five? Not especially. With the egos in Quebec City and Montreal it's impossible to see any acquiescence to the first-place winner getting to rest up, and the Little Three probably could not stand having to compete for one spot, like Olympic divers who all know they're competing for bronze after the Chinese pair finish 1-2.
  5. Laurier (6-2 OUA, host semifinal Nov. 4) — Perhaps Michael Knevel, wearing the braid of Yates Cup-winning quarterback who lead a lightning-in-a-bottle comeback against Western, will be healthy in two weeks' time. Or Laurier has Tristan Arndt to turn loose, possibly against the McMaster team that he lit up last Saturday.

    What is for sure is nothing will be confirmed from the depth charts, which in OUA are exchanged on the eve of the game. Laurier played a guessing game before that 40-15 rout two weeks ago.
  6. UBC (6-2 Canada West, 44-15 home win against No. 8 Regina) — They're still unlikely to host a Hardy Cup, but could they end up home for the Mitchell Bowl if Calgary keeps going down its current path? The Thunderbirds defence had five sacks on Saturday, and if Calgary's having pass-protection issues, then look out.

    Someone who is not me has to look up the last time that happened. Going off of memory, it seems like the teams which have won Hardy Cup games in hostile territory were also travelling for the national semifinal (UBC in 2015, Manitoba in 2014, Calgary in 2009, among others).  
  7. McMaster (6-2 OUA, 12-9 home win against Queen's in quarter-final) — Have you ever seen a spot where both teams were doing the "we got it" pointing? That happened in the final minute at McMaster after short-yardage QB Dylan Astrom gained the necessary inchage on third-and-1. It was a bad spot, which was sort of a shame since it was such a cleanly played game.

    Lyons and the hog-maulies such as guards Josh Lolli and Jakub Szott and tackle Nick Firlit were the headliners with the back's 319-yard game. But the reason Mac is still a lead-pack team in OUA despite coaching changes and loss of generational offensive talent is the defensive depth. With back-eight defenders Ben Megarry and Alec Robertson both out, Blake stepped up to issue a Hard No to Queen's with his interception in the penultimate minute. Veteran Mark Mackie, who was this commentator's choice as OUA Hec Crighton candidate last season (on the premise it would ever go to an interior lineman), also had a huge fourth-quarter sack.

    On a rainy day, field position dictated everything, and Mac was airtight when Queen's and Nate Hobbs got in range. The Gaels settled for three points after recovering a fumbled punt on Mac's 22 in the third quarter. Another threat fizzled when kicker Nick Liberatore (3-of-5) dinged the upright on a game-tying field goal.

    It would have been the ultimate in Canadian football weirdness if Mac had contrived to lose when they had a 300-yard game.

  8. Regina (4-4 Canada West, 44-15 road loss at No. 6 UBC) — Fall back on the "bad dress rehearsal, great performance" cliché. One side effect of the loss was that QB Noah Picton was mercy-pulled and ended up falling shy of the 10,000-career-yard milestone. By unofficial tally, he's at 9,842.

    Two Rams alumni started in the same NFL game. The punter is a starter!
  9. Guelph (5-3 OUA, 30-8 road win against Ottawa in quarter-final) — Best way to avoid a double-overtime defeat is get a team down early. The Gryphons scored four times in the first quarter and won going away, with Johnny Augustine gaining 156 rushing-receiving yards on 22 touches.

    The Gryphons might well be the only team which can keep Western from coming out of OUA. There are rumblings about Guelph slipping off the field, but the holdovers from the 2015 Yates Cup team mean they are a potential giant-slayer.
  10. Acadia (6-2 AUS, host Loney Bowl on Nov. 11) — A double bye seems like an embarrassment of riches.
Also in consideration (but not anymore):
  • Ottawa (5-3 OUA, 30-8 home loss against No. 9 Guelph in quarter-final) — Ouchtown, population 47. That the Gee-Gees hosted a playoff game after the stresses of this season is commendable in itself, in light of the emotions with Loïc Kayembe's death days before another excruciating Panda Game defeat to Carleton.

    Yet the season ended the same way as the last one, having the quarterback, this time Adam Lavric, knocked out of the game and scoring fewer than 10 points. There were triumphs nonetheless this season and Jackson Bennett delivered some scale-model Bo Jackson-esque moments. If he is not an all-Canadian, there should be a Royal Commission.
  • Saint Mary's (5-3* AUS, 26-25 home loss against Mount Allison) — No this won't be salty much. Saint Mary's ended up in second place due to forfeiting a game against St. Francis Xavier, and that win might vault St. FX into the playoffs.
(* One of Saint Mary's defeats was a forfeit.)
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