Friday, August 22, 2008

CIS Countdown #17: Sherbrooke Vert et Or

Fast facts: The Vert et Or, in the first season with a new coaching staff, were perhaps the best team not to make the playoffs last season, going 4-4 with an average scoring margin of plus-5.5, as Montréal advanced by virtue of an overtime win on Oct. 13.

The Vert et Or don't draw Laval as a home-and-home opponent and their interlocking games are vs. Acadia and Mount Allison, making for an arguably easier schedule for a program that seems to be turned a corner. Third-year QB Jean-Phillippe Shoiry, lost his favourite receiver, Samuel Giguère, to the NFL, but did impress last season, throwing for 2,218 yards (8.73 per pass) while being sacked only nine times. The Vert et Or lost their defensive lynchpin, Pierre-Luc Labbé, to the pros, but the defence returns mostly intact.

Running back Joseph Mroué, as rumoured last season, has come back for a fifth season, only in Sherbrooke's green instead of Montréal's blue, which he wore while running for 3,357 yards from 2003-06. The Vert et Or also believe they've found a kicker after having a receiver and a running back handle placements the past two seasons.

Coach: André Bolduc (second season). The former Alouettes slotback, who was previously offensive co-ordinator at Montréal, has set his sights on eventually being to Laval what the late and lamented Québec Nordiques were to the Canadiens in hockey in the 1980s, but it won't happen overnight. He told James Mirtle last season, We're trying to be the best, but we know we are five or 10 years behind Laval."

Co-ordinators: David Lessard, offence; Marc Loranger, defence; Jean-Vincent Posy-Audette, special teams. Each of the three were new last season.

Enrolment: 35,000

Alumni in the CFL: Blue Bombers LB Pierre-Luc Labbe earlier this season became the first U de S player to play in the league; Winnipeg had more interview requests for the rookie special-teamer than it did for any other player.

Famous non-football alumni: Quebec Premier Jean Charest

Three-year record: 11-13

2007 unit rankings: 13th on offence, 13th on defence

Key losses: RB Diego Ratelle, WR Samuel Giguère, LB Pierre-Luc Labbé, DB Sébastien Jalbert,
Returning starters: 11 offence, 11 defence

Players to watch: Shoiry was considered a huge get when he committed to the Vert et Or a couple years back and he's done little to change that initial impression, finishing fifth in the CIS in passing yards. Mroué will have some company in the backfield, since Pascal Fils gained 669 yards and was a league all-star despite being in tailback rotation with Ratelle. Jonathan Massé-Simard is the V&O's leading returning receiver.

For future reference: K William Dion. The Vert et Or had wideout Alexandre Poirier handle field goals last season and he was only 7-of-12. Two of his misses were in that OT loss to the Carabins (although Poirier also made a TD catch in the game), so it's understandable why added Dion, the all-star kicker in Quebec's CEGEP league, would attract some hoopla. LB Kevin Régimbald and OL Pierre-Paul Grondin have also been touted as key additions.

A late addition is Jean-Sébastien Laberge, a D-lineman who had plenty of NCAA interest.

Schedule (swing games in bold):
Sept. 6 McGill
Sept. 13 @ Mount Allison
Sept. 20 Montreal
Sept. 27 @ Bishop's (RDS)
Oct. 4 vs. Bishop's

Oct. 11 Acadia
Oct. 19 @ Laval (RDS)
Oct. 25 @ Concordia

The Vert et Or have only one home-and-home, with Bishop's in the Route 143 Rivalry.

Final analysis: Laval's Laval and that will not change any time soon -- although Saint Mary's showed anything can happen in a best-of-one playoff. The most out-on-a-limb prediction for the QUFL that seems remotely plausible is to say that, yes, Sherbrooke will make its first Dunsmore Cup appearance on Nov. 8 against the Rouge et Or at the den of decibels, PEPS Stadium. The schedule sets up very well for them; a split with Bishop's and a win at Concordia in the finale could make a 6-2 finish possible. In the worst-case scenario, they're a 4-4 team in a very tight conference.

(Contributors to this preview: Rob Pettapiece.)

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