The Quebec and Atlantic conferences kick off in a couple days so we better get cracking. Presenting: the McGill Redmen.
In '06: 4-4 regular season, lost 52-0 to Laval in conference semi-final
Players to watch: QB Matt Connell (top photo), OL Ben Walsh, SB Erik Galas, WR Charles-Antoine Sinotte, DE Jean-Nicolas Carriere, DB Anthony Lucka
Head coach: Sonny Wolfe (1st season at McGill; 20th as CIS head coach)
Co-ordinators: Bob Bindon (co-offensive), Sean Doughtery (co-offensive), Dennis Waide (defensive), Gino Perreault (special teams)
Last league title: 2002
Big ones: Sept. 6 vs. Montréal, Sept. 29 at Sherbrooke. Oct. 13-20 back-to-back vs. Concordia
On the web: athletics.mcgill.ca
Strengths: Connell can keep McGill in almost any game. He put up numbers in '06 that were just slightly shy of phenomenal considering his team passed on almost every down and had a defence which couldn't get off the field.
Potential problems: Anything on the ground was a problem last season -- the Redmen made the playoffs while being outrushed 232-44 on average. McGill also made a coaching change relatively late in the game, hiring Wolfe in the late spring, although the transition is balanced out by losing only three starters.
Finding some semblance of a rushing attack to complement Connell is kind of important; the Redmen ver did so in '06, largely since the passing game clicked early. Galas (pictured; 487 yards on 43 catches) will see more passes thrown his way after star slotback Greg Hetherington caught on with the Calgary Stampeders and Sinotte can stretch a defence. The offensive line, led by Walsh, gave up only 11 sacks in '06.
Good news: Eleven of 12 starters return. The unit was basically brand new in 2006, which added up to a lot of missed tackles and blown assignments last season. McGill has a more favourable schedule -- just one game each vs. Montréal and Laval, albeit in the first two weeks -- and should improve defensively.
McGill typically has a good return game, almost a kind of a holdover from the Charlie Baillie days. Starting defensive back Schuyler O'Brien had a 9.2-yard average as a punt returner last season, including a 65-yard runback. Kicker Robert Eeuwes who was 9-of-11 on field goals, has graduated. Robert Vescio looks likely to win the punting job, but who will kick the field goals is a battle between three newcomers.
The Redmen only play Montréal and Laval once apiece, albeit back-to-back to start the season. If Wolfe keeps the Redmen afloat through that -- and the Carabins are an enigma -- they should be able to return to the playoffs.
McGill will always be in tough under the current conference setup. (True, unlike Concordia and Bishop's, it has won a conference title since the QUFL took form in 2001, but many players on that team had come aboard during the days of the old O-QIFC.) Good coaching and targeted recruiting should help the program remain competitive. The upshot is the hazing scandal debacle that scuttled the 2005 season is well behind everyone.
(Andrew Dobrowolskyj photos courtesy of McGill Athletics.)
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