Previewing the '07 CIS football season is taking over our life... anyway, here's a look at the Ottawa Gee-Gees.
In '06: 9-2, lost 28-24 to Saskatchewan in national semi-final
Players to watch: LB Joe Barnes, WR David Crane, DE Dan Kennedy, LB Mike Cornell, QB Josh Sacobie, G Naim El-Far
Coach: Denis Piché (6th season)
Co-ordinators: Chris Coulson (co-offensive), Blaine Scatchard (co-offensive), Danny Laramee (co-defensive), Phil Roberts (co-defensive), Chris Gauvreau (special teams)
Last league title: 2006
Big ones: Oct. 15 at Western, Oct. 13 at Laurier, Oct. 20 vs. Windsor
On the web: geegees.uottawa.ca
Strengths: The better Gee-Gees teams always seem to get their pride from defence; it was true even of the 2000 edition that Phill Côté quarterbacked to the Vanier Cup. Most of last season's group returns. Throw in a good running game, and it contributes to the Gee-Gees being a team that's tough to rattle.
Mountains to climb, rivers to cross... Sacobie has three new receivers and two new offensive linemen, so the offence will likely be a little behind the defence to open the season. The Gee-Gees' second half of the season is probably tougher than the first half, so the offensive group has some time to find itself.
The loss of three receivers and left tackle Kyle Kirkwood's season-ending knee injury suffered at the B.C. Lions training camp overshadowed the real big loss: Mike Donnelly, a scatback-type who gave the Gee-Gees offence a little more juice late in the season, left the team. Starting tailback Davie Mason is a 245-lb. collision runner who thrives on taking tacklers for rides, which is fun to watch but also means he needs rest to keep him fresh. Justin Hammond, who was used a lot on special teams last season, will try to fill Donnelly's role.
Sacobie will have a legit shot at winning being a Hec Crighton Trophy finalist (for pete's sake, can it go to a player from outside Ontario for a change?) if he plays well and the Gee-Gees win in their nationally televised games at Western and Laurier. The coaching staff has reined him in over his first three seasons to make him more of a pocket passer. Sacobie completed 62 per cent of his attempts last year and he and the coaching staff do a good job of spreading the passes around, which softens the blow of losing Adam Nicolson to the CFL.
The O-line has new players at each tackle spot. That's balanced out by having the OUA's best centre in Kevin Kelly and its smartest guard in Naim El-Far, who was able to get an extra year of eligibility.
The Gee-Gees can apply pressure and usually with a lot of different people, too: Thirteen players were credited with at least one quarterback sack last season. Barnes, an undersized middle linebacker, is the fulcrum of a fast defence that closes better than Richard Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross. There just aren't many teams who block well enough to cut off the second level of the Gee-Gees' D, which gave up just 3.2 yards per rush and 6.2 per pass attempt, both of which led the CIS.
Kennedy at the end spot and outside 'backers Cheelor Lindor and Mike Cornell are the bright spots in the force unit. The Gee-Gees can usually get pressure without big-blitzing, so the secondary, led by safety Maxime Bedard, gets a lot of help.
Ara Tchobanian is a walking argument for the CIS moving kickoffs from the 45-yard line to the 40. He's finished fourth and second in the country in kickoff average the past two seasons. That stat doesn't reflect the number of times the Gee-Gees have tackler a returner inside the 20 after he hesitated over whether to run the ball out or give up a single. He's not a bad kicker or punter either. Hammond and receiver Justin Wood-Roy are both decent return men.
The storyline for the Gee-Gees has already been written: Make the Vanier Cup or bust after coming within a couple minutes of doing so last season. Repeating as the OUA champs is no fait accompli when a team has to travel to Western, Laurier and Mac. However, aside from the new receivers and Donnelly's abrupt departure, there aren't a lot of holes on a very good team.
File this away, though: The Yates Cup winner travels west for the national semi-final and no Ontario school has gone out there and won a playoff game since Queen's in 1968, the first year the Vanier Cup was a truly national championship. Of course, the Gee-Gees will only be playing a team (Manitoba or Saskatchewan) if they get that far, not four decades of history.
That's all for now. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.