- Nixon's the one: One of the keys to the Huskies' success or failure this year will be quarterback Laurence Nixon's performance. By all accounts, Nixon had a solid season last year, which was his first as a starter. He took over from Brett Thompson in the third game of the season. However, there are some interesting discrepancies in his stats (Discrepancies in CIS stats? Perish the thought!). According to the CIS website, a Lawrence Nixon completed 89 of 126 passes in four games for 1190 yards. He averaged 9.4 yards per attempt and 297.5 passing yards per game (the third-highest per game average in the league), but threw six interceptions and only five touchdowns. However, there's a Laurence Nixon listed further down the same list as appearing in two games and completing 15 of 24 passes for 267 yards, with no interceptions or touchdowns. Combining those two stats gives you 104 completions on 150 attempts for 1,457 yards, the numbers the Huskies' team preview credits him with, which are probably right. He'd still be in the top ten in Rob's quarterback rankings in either scenario.
- Line 'em up: Nixon will need more protection from his offensive line this year: last season, he was sacked 16 times, which tied him with Acadia's Keith Lockwood for the fifth-most times sacked in CIS competition. What makes that even worse is that all five quarterbacks tied with or above him played a full eight games. If Nixon can continue to mature and his offensive line can do a better job of protecting him, the Huskies' passing game could make them a dominant team.
- How can you run when you know? The offensive line's struggles last season also impacted the Saskatchewan running game, a traditional area of strength for the Huskies. Ben Coakwell and Scott Stevens (no relation that I know of to the former New Jersey Devils defenceman) took the majority of the carries last year, but only recorded 323 and 293 rushing yards respectively, which ranked them 33rd and 35th among CIS running backs on a pure yardage basis. Their yards-per-carry averages were respectable (5.77 and 5.05, respectively), but their lack of touches (56 and 58 carries respectively) show that the Huskies' coaching staff wasn't overly confident in the running game, and a large portion of that was due to the offensive line. As Vic Ferrari of the U of S Dog Blog wrote back in June, "The injuries that weakened [the offensive line], in the last half of the 2007 season, are the biggest reason for our disappointing 5-3 record." There's some hope for the line, as the Huskies have some veterans back from injury and also picked up several promising recruits, but they'll need to put in a better showing on both pass protection and run blocking for the Huskies to be successful.
Coach: Brian Towriss. Towriss has been the Huskies' head coach since 1984. He took over the program when he was only 27, and has led it to substantial success over the years, including Vanier Cup championships in 1990, 1996 and 1998. Towriss has been named the Canada West Coach of the Year seven times, and won the Frank Tindall Trophy as the CIS Coach of the Year in 1994. Before taking over the Huskies, Towriss played for them in the '70's and also served as the Provincial Coach for Football Saskatchewan. He returned to the Huskies as an administrative assistant in 1981, and took over the team only three years later. Over his 24 years in the CIS, Towriss has amassed 119 wins, 72 losses and one tie in regular-season play for a .622 winning percentage, best in Canada West among active coaches. The only other active Canada West coach with a winning percentage above .500 is Manitoba's Brian Dobie.
Co-ordinators: Mike Harrington, offence; Ed Carleton, defence; Darrel Burko, special teams.
Enrolment: 16, 430 undergraduates, 2,190 graduates [according to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada].
Alumni in the CFL: The Huskies had 10 alumni in the CFL as of July, second only to McMaster's 12 for the most among CIS schools. Those alumni are B.C. guard Kelly Bates, Saskatchewan offensive lineman Gene Makowsky, Winnipeg fullback Brian Guebert, three Hamilton Tiger-Cats (fullback Jeff Piercy, offensive lineman Jordan Rempel and defensive back Dylan Barker), two Toronto receivers (Chad Rempel and Nathan Hoffart), and two Montreal Alouettes (guard Scott Flory and cornerback Paul Woldu).
Famous non-football alumni: Former prime minister John Diefenbaker, Hockey Hall of Fame builder Charles Hay, a former Huskies' goaltender who became famous for his efforts in organizing the 1972 Summit Series, Liberal MP and former Minister of Finance Ralph Goodale, Nobel Prize-winning chemists Gerhard Herzberg (as a professor) and Henry Taube (as an undergraduate and graduate student), CBC sportscaster Don Wittman, former NHL and current international hockey coach Dave King and former Ottawa Senators owner Rod Bryden.
Three-year record: 19-5, fifth-best in CIS competition, with a point differential of 17 points per game.
2007 units ranking: 10th on offence (26.6 points per game, 13.6 per cent above league average), seventh on defence (16.4 points allowed per game, 30.2 per cent better than league average).
Key losses: The Huskies lose 18 players, including six starters. Huskies' blogger Snake Wilson has a full list here. Two key players lost on offence are running backs Ben Coakwell and Scott Stevens, who split most of the carries last year as mentioned above. Cornerback Paul Woldu, safety Dylan Barker and offensive tackle Jordan Rempel will also be significant losses: Woldu's now with the Montreal Alouettes, while Barker and Rempel are with the Toronto Argonauts.
Returning starters: As mentioned above, QB Laurence Nixon's likely the key to this team's success. He'll have a solid core of returning receivers to throw to, including Karl Phillips, Scott McHenry and Cory Jones. Running back Tyler O'Gorman will also be one to watch: he only carried the ball 19 times for 97 yards last season, but he's got more experience than any other back on the team and was the MVP of both the Hardy Cup and the Mitchell Bowl in 2006. On defence, key returning players include halfback Jordy Burrows and defensive end Ivan Brown.
Players to watch:
Keep an eye on defensive back Jon Krahenbil: he recorded four interceptions last season, and three of those came in the same game. He also put up 20 tackles and six pass breakups. Offensive lineman Darren Hinds will likely make the transition to a starting role this season: we'll see if he can help restore that unit to form. Receiver Travis Gorski is also expected to make an impact, giving Nixon a wide variety of targets.
For future reference: Running back Jamal Allen, who's joining the Huskies straight out of high school, might be a viable option on the ground if O'Gorman struggles. Allen put up 1,047 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in seven games in his B.C. high school league last season. There are also several junior football all-stars joining this year's Huskies, including safety Bryce McCall, cornerback Grant Shaw and defensive end Kyle Kuzek.
Schedule (swing games in bold):
Aug. 29 vs. Calgary
Sept. 6 @ Regina
Sept. 13 @ SFU
Sept. 26 vs. Alberta
Oct. 4 vs. UBC
Oct. 11 @ Manitoba
Oct. 18 vs. SFU
Oct. 24 @ UBC
Final analysis: Saskatchewan should be pretty strong this season. Their schedule also helps, as four of their eight games are against SFU and UBC. Their toughest contests will be the road matchups against Manitoba and Regina. If the offensive line can improve enough to protect Nixon and pave the way for the running game, and the defence can maintain its form of last year without some of its star veterans, it could be a great year for the Huskies.
Prediction: I see a 7-1 season for the Huskies.
(Contributors to this preview: Rob Pettapiece, Duane Rollins, U of S Sports Information Director Nicole Betker.)