It's-a coming, slowly but surely, almost through the Quebec conference now... presenting: the Sherbrooke Vert et Or.
In '06: 3-5, missed playoffs
Players to watch: QB Jean-Philippe Shoiry, RB Pascal Fils, LB Pierre-Luc Labbé, CB Philippe Beaubien, RB Diego Ratelle, WR Samuel Giguère
Head coach: André Bolduc (1st season)
Co-ordinators: David Lessard (offensive), Marc Loranger (defensive)
Big ones: Oct. 6 vs. Concordia, Oct. 13 at Montréal, Oct. 27 at McGill
On the web: usherbrooke.ca/football
Strengths: The gang green's hallmark is defence, and with Labbe as the man in the middle, that's unlikely to change. Shoiry, who tied for the conference lead in TD passes as a first-year starter, will have most of the same backs, receivers, and blockers around him and the offence has apparently been tweaked.
Mountains to climb, rivers to cross... The Vert et Or seem to be putting some talented players together, but it is the first season for a new head coach (Bolduc) and defensive co-ordinator (Loranger). They play Laval twice in the first three weeks, which is tough.
The 6-foot-4, 210-lb. Shoiry averaged more than eight yards per pass last season, which isn't bad by Quebec conference standards. He averaged almost 18 yards per completion, which shows the Vert et Or are never reluctant to go downfield. That means maybe being a little sporadic from week to week, but ideally, the production would get better since so many players are back on this side of the ball.
The major change in the skill positions is that Alain Dorval has been moved out to receiver. Dorval had an 83-yard touchdown catch last season, so the move was a natural. Ratelle and Fils split time at tailback last season, while Giguère was an offensive MVP in last spring's East-West Bowl and should be getting some CFL buzz. Jonathan-Massé Simard, Dave-Anthony Gaudeau and Alexandre Poirier are also projected to start at the receiver spots.
Loranger was at Bishop's last season and the Gaiters, for all their woes, did hold other teams to less than four yards per rushing attempt. He will have better personnel in the force unit and in the secondary now that he's made the short trip up Rte. 143. Labbe and Sébastien Jalbert each finished among the leading tacklers in the Q last season.
Improving on last season's total of 11 sacks is no doubt a priority. The U de S is expecting D-linemen Dominic Biron and Mathieu Lecompte, and LBs Guillaume Desmarais and Patrice Marcoux to get to the quarterback.
Charles-Olivier Audet, who was a rookie last season, went 6-of-9 on field goals in 2006. Dorval can also contribute in the kicking and return games. Getting better on runbacks is probably a priority for Sherbrooke, who averaged just 16 yards on kick returns and less than seven yards returning punts.
Honestly, the Vert et Or are the toughest team to get a read on these days. College Colours has it bang on, noting that the fifth season is long past the time to apply the "expansion label." The program hasn't exactly set the conference on fire, but it's starting to show hints of potential. The Vert et Or showed last season that its A-game was good enough to compete with Concordia and Montréal (it had three-point losses to both) on some days, but its other three losses were all by 19 points or more.
Other than the double shot of Laval, the Vert et Or play the Stingers and Carabins only once, so it can go 5-3 if the offence comes around.
I mentioned in the Bishop's preview that the Eastern Townships is a great place to watch a game; not to be too boosterish... but there's two Saturdays in a row -- Sept. 29 and Oct. 6 -- when the Gaiters and Vert et Or have staggered their game times to create a doubleheader.
That's all for now. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.