Answer: Fairly safe, just not totally. The Mustangs get an ounce of credit for the little four-game win streak that got them into this OUA quarter-final, but just an ounce. That's where it ends for coach Greg Marshall's team. Western's defence, with a good front seven staffed by Tom Dolezel, Glen Larocque and massive rookie rush end Vaughn Martin, gives them a shot against any playoff team. The long and short of it is what have they really done to justify making an upset call, along the lines of Queen's winning as a No. 6 seed last year against McMaster?
There are healthy doubts surrounding coach Pat Sheahan's Gaels (6-2). There are with every team that's ever strapped it on in a game played by 22-year-olds. They're just dwarfed by the doubts surrounding the Mustangs. The Gaels have steadily improved since, to quote Western kicker Derek Schiavone, they "stole one" in overtime in the season opener.
The Mustangs and many in the Southern Ontario media just have blinders on when it comes to teams east of the GTA. Go ahead, believe that the Gaels got lucky that night in London seven weeks ago and while you're at it, see if you can use your deed to the Brooklyn Bridge as collateral to buy a time share in Florida.
Feel free to believe Western's wins over Windsor, York, Toronto and Waterloo hold any water whatsoever. Here's one trenchant fact, which by the way, did not come up in the London Free Press game coverage: The Mustangs got here by beating all four teams who missed the playoffs, which is a far shot. There's more. Those teams are respectively 26th, 27th, 22nd and 24th in the country in total offence, the CIS equivalent of playing Madden 2008 on beginner level. That's a far cry from not having beaten a team "anyone would consider a Yates Cup contender," as a London columnist put it.
Nevertheless, the Mustangs are back, running their mouth and generally projecting an insecurity complex the size of TD Waterhouse Stadim. One player who shall remain generic as a public service crowed to the hometown house organ, "Three points... you see that?" after Saturday's 37-3 rout of Waterloo. Hate to quibble, but did he see where Queen's shut out the very same team seven days earlier, and quickly moved on since they know it doesn't mean anything?
What is important? Well, Gaels QB Dan Brannagan's TD-to-interception ratio, 15 touchdowns against six picks, is a near opposite of his Western counterpart, Michael Faulds (seven to 15). The Mustangs are among the five worst teams in the country in penalties and in turnovers on fumbles or interceptions. They gave up the second-most sacks of any team that's going to be in the playoffs. There are a lot more flies on them than there are on the Gaels. Still, people are subjected to this kind of claptrap:
"The Gaels would like to go into the playoff game feeling the kind of confidence a 7-2 team should have when it faces a 4-4 team. But that's not possible.That's not even factually accurate. Ottawa and Queen's finished 1-2 in the OUA in offence. Western was third. (The CIS website does typically update its stats long before most newspaper deadlines.) The reality is the Mustangs haven't seen anything like the rushing attack the Gaels have built around Mike Giffin. The only team they faced with a comparable back, Guelph, got 173 rushing-receiving yards and four touchdowns from Nick FitzGibbon against Western.
"The Mustangs rank at the top in defence and offence. They have (Randy) McAuley and enough of a passing game to make things interesting."
This is not a healthy Western team or, aside from the defence, a particularly well-coached. Regardless, some folks remain mired in the old world of Ontario football, the '80s and '80s, unable to adjust to the Mustangs' loss of status. (The column below should be some be a good primer on adjusting to a new reality.) Meantime, the Gaels are well positioned to deliver an attitude adjustment.
A new world for the Huskers (Joe Posnanski, kansascity.com)
- The Whig's Claude Scilley had a great feature a few weeks ago on the graduates on the 2001-02 Frontenac Falcons National Capital Bowl-winning teams. Saturday, Rob Bagg had his 341 receiving yards for the Gaels, the second-highest single-game total in CIS history. The quarterback Bagg used to catch passes from, Adam Archibald, threw for a career-high 542 yards (fourth-best total in OUA history) and punted the game-winning single in McMaster's 37-36 win over Guelph. Matt Edgeworth caught a touchdown pass for Ottawa and linebacker Steve Campbell made nine tackles for Waterloo in his final university game.
- There's a full recap over at The CIS Blog.