Previewing the '07 CIS football season is taking over our life... anyway, here's a look at the Western Mustangs.
In '06: 6-4, lost 20-15 to Laurier in OUA semi-final
Players to watch: DB Matt Carapella, DT Tom Dolezel, QB Mike Faulds, DB Nick Kordic, RB Randy McAuley, P-K Derek Schiavone, LT Richard Zulys
Coach: Greg Marshall (1st season; 8th in CIS)
Co-ordinators: Marshall (offensive), Paul Gleason (defensive), Chris Marcus (special teams)
Last league title: 1998
Big ones: Sept. 3 vs. Queen's, Sept. 15 vs. Ottawa,
On the web: westernmustangs.ca
Strengths: Faulds and McAuley give the Mustangs perhaps a talented quarterback-tailback combo, albeit one who haven't always put up great numbers. On the other side of the ball, three solid DBs return to a group that was fourth in the OUA against the pass.
Mountains to climb, rivers to cross... The Mustangs have to replace two-thirds of their ground game by committee and improve their protection so Faulds doesn't finish another season in his street clothes. The defence also has a wholesale change at linebacker.
According to one season preview (written by a reporter based in London, just sayin') called Faulds "as a good a quarterback as there is in Canadian university football." Really, so why was he seventh in the OUA -- never mind the CIS -- in yards per pass last season, with more interceptions than touchdowns? The Mustangs had issues with play-calling and pass protection last season that hurt Faulds' numbers -- and just plain hurt Faulods -- plus there was a lack of game-breaking receiver after having all-everything Andy Fantuz from 2002-05.
Second-year wideout Anthony Adderley and senior Josh Starr should see more passes and Marshall emphasizes the running game, so Faulds should face fewer obvious passing downs. McAuley, a late cut of the Toronto Argonauts, needs a backup who can lighten the ballcarrying load for him and keep him fresh. After four seasons and a stint in a CFL camp, he should also be able to contribute as a pass catcher. Zulys and Scott Nason are the heavies on an O-line that needs to become more consistent if Western's going to heard from in November.
Pat Wright, a standout basketball player, has switched to football. Like a lot of hoops guys, he's athletic enough to play anywhere. Last season's backup QB Mark Howard has also returned.
This side of the ball has typically given the Mustangs the most problems in recent years and it's never been what percentage of the reasons behind it is coaching and which is the players; ultimately, it's just been a group that's had trouble getting a stop when it absolutely needed one. (The Laurier game last season was a classic example.)
Western's linebacker trio is all new, which might have an effect on how many different looks Gleason (who'll miss the opener vs. Queen's due to family situation) will be able to give the other team's offensive co-ordinator. Dolezel and Glen Larocque make for a strong line. The secondary, led by Carapella, Kordic and Cory Watson, is one of the better ones in the league.
No has it better in the kicking the game than the Mustangs do with Derek Schiavone, who was OUA's first-team all-star kicker and punter last season, leading the country with a 42.3-yard average. Carapella and Watson are expected to the main returners, with the latter being particularly dangerous returning punts.
The Mustangs starting the season ranked No. 7 seems like a classic case of what you often see in the NCAA -- a team's advance billing gets inflated due to tradition, a name coach (Marshall) and recognizable offensive stars (Faulds, McAuley). It's like Western is supposed to go from fifth in the OUA to first in one shot, and that seems a little much. The Mustangs probably stack up around fourth in the league after some combination of Ottawa, Windsor, Laurier and Queen's, and should go as far as the semi-final again.
That's all for now. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.