- Historical strength: The Golden Bears have one of the longest-running football traditions in Canada West. They started as a rugby team back in 1910 and evolved into a CIAU and CIS powerhouse, winning Vanier Cup titles in 1967, 1972 and 1980 and claiming 18 Hardy Cups since 1922.
- Slipping and sliding: The Bears' program has fallen a bit in recent years, though. They've missed the playoffs for the past two seasons, and went 2-6 last year, their first losing season since 2002.
- Individual efforts: Despite the team's struggles last season, they still placed six players on the Canada West all-star teams and four players on the All-Canadian squads. They also sent four players to the East-West Bowl.
Coach: Jerry Friesen. Friesen enters his eighth year as the Bears' head coach. He played for the University of Saskatchewan for three years, and then began a long career as a CFL linebacker. After he retired in 1986, he served as a defensive co-ordinator with the Saskatchewan Huskies from 1988 to 1995, winning a Vanier Cup in 1990. He then worked as a linebackers/special teams coach with the Saskatchewan Roughriders for a season, then spent four seasons as a defensive co-ordinator with the Calgary Dinos before taking the head job at U of A. His career CIS head coaching record is 27-29 in the regular-season, and he's 3-3 in the playoffs. He won the 2004 Frank Tindall Trophy as the CIS Coach of the Year.
Co-ordinators: Jeff Stead from the Vanier Cup champion Manitoba Bisons has been brought in as a full-time assistant coach to Friesen. He'll co-ordinate the offence and coach the quarterbacks. Darryl Draudson will handle the defence and is also the linebackers coach. Friesen handles the special teams duties in addition to his role as the head coach.
Enrolment: 29, 430 undergraduates, 6,060 graduates [according to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada].
Alumni in the CFL: The Bears have three alumni in the CFL as of Duane's July list. Two of them, linebacker Neil Ternovatsky and defensive lineman Pat MacDonald, play for the Calgary Stampeders. The third Bears alum in the CFL is Winnipeg wide receiver Jamie Stoddard.
Famous non-football alumni: Richard E. Taylor, winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Physics; authors W.O. Mitchell (who also went to Manitoba) and Timothy Taylor (who also went to Queen's); former prime minister Joe Clark; Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin; current Minister of Foreign Affairs David Emerson; current Industry Minister Jim Prentice; actor Nathan Fillion of Firefly fame; actor/director Paul Gross; Edmonton Oilers owner and pharmaceutical mogul Daryl Katz; former NHL president Clarence Campbell, perhaps best remembered for his role in the Richard Riot; Reform Party founder Preston Manning; former Governor-General Roland Michener and possibly (depending on your definition of alumni) current Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, who attended the school, but according to Wikipedia, dropped out to become a farmer.
Three-year record: 13-11, much better than the 2-6 showing last year. However, like Regina, they have an average zero points differential over that time, so pure probability would have them at 12-12 instead.
2007 units ranking: 17th in both defence and offence. They scored an average of 20.8 points per game (11.5 per cent below the league average), while conceding 25.5 (8.8 per cent above the league average).
Key losses: The Bears lost five players to graduation: offensive linemen Bryan Marshall and Scott Schriver, linebacker Ryan Michalenko and defensive linemen Dwayne Kumpula and Derek Krinke. Losing a couple of players from both the offensive line and defensive line may leave them in a better position than some other Canada West teams, though, as both units will still have a majority of veterans.
Returning starters: Linebacker Dan Bass Jr. should stand out for the Bears this year. He was the program's only first-team All-Canadian last season, and he attended the Edmonton Eskimos' training camp this off-season. The second-team All-Canadians returning from last year are kicker Hugh O'Neill, wide receiver Aaron Holba, offensive lineman Simeon Rottier and running back Tendayi Jozzy: they'll be expected to have a good season again. Quade Armstrong returns at quarterback: he completed 148 of 261 passes for 1873 yards last year, the eleventh-highest passing yardage in CIS competition. However, he threw 14 interceptions and only seven touchdowns, giving him a passer rating of 92 in Rob's rankings, slightly below average and 16th-best in CIS competition.
Players to watch: Keep an eye on the quarterback spot. Armstrong certainly has the inside track on it, but his numbers weren't spectacular last year, especially considering that Alberta's offence is reasonably pass-happy. He's also the third starting quarterback the Bears have tried in three years (2005 saw the fifth-ranked Darryl Salmon, while 2006 featured the 26th-ranked Cameron Linke. The Bears have two junior football QBs coming in, Ben Gorniak and Brendon Maher, and they just might put some pressure on Armstrong.
For future reference: Rookie running back Olukayode Sonuga might be one to watch: he's pretty highly-touted, and is coming straight out of high school instead of via the traditional junior route. He may make an impact down the road.
Schedule (swing games in bold):
Aug. 30 vs. SFU
Sept. 6 @ UBC
Sept. 13 @ Calgary
Sept. 19 vs. Manitoba
Sept. 26 @ Saskatchewan
Oct. 4 @ Regina
Oct. 18 vs. Regina
Oct. 25 vs. Calgary
Don't expect a dramatic turnaround from the Bears. They have a reasonably tough schedule, especially the middle portion where they'll face Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Regina (twice). Moreover, two of their three potential swing games (against UBC and Calgary) are on the road.
Prediction: Another 2-6 finish.
(Contributors to this preview: Rob Pettapiece, Duane Rollins.)