Thursday, August 21, 2008

CIS Countdown #19: Bishop's Gaiters

Fast facts: The little school in Lennoxville, Que., was a feel-good story in 2007, going 5-3 in a tough conference before losing at Concordia in the QUFL semifinal. That was the first time the current alignment of the QUFL had yielded a winning season for Bishop's. Tailback Jamall Lee, who before the season switched his jersey to the No. 28 worn by Jesse Lumsden, ran like Lumsden, setting a Quebec conference rushing record with 1,464 yards, the fifth-highest total in CIS history. His entire blocking group will be back and the newly installed turf at Coulter Field should provide a good track for the fleet-footed tailback.

It is harder for a team to go from good to very good than it is to go from bad to good, meaning it will only get tougher for the Gaiters, who have to replace four veteran D-linemen and have an interlocking game with Saint Mary's in Week 2.

Coach: Leroy Blugh (fourth season). The 42-year-old former Edmonton Eskimos defensive end (and Napanee, Ontario's third-most famous former resident, after Avril Lavigne and Sir John A. Macdonald, probably in that order for some of you lot) didn't have any head coaching experience when he took the job at his alma mater in April 2005, but by all accounts, he was determined to restore the program to the level it was during the era when he played in Lennoxville. That was a very different league — football at Laval, Sherbrooke and Montreal was only a gleam in someone's eye — but as a biased observer who was weaned on the old O-QIFC, it's nice that the Gaiters are back in the discussion.

Co-ordinators: Tony Addona, offence; Ray Gagnon, defence. Blugh serves as his own special teams coach.

Enrolment: 1,817

Alumni in the CFL: Lions LS Dan McCullough, Tiger-Cats LB Matt Robichaud

Famous non-football alumni: John Bassett, the creator of CTV and former Canadian Football League and World Hockey Association owner; Prince Edward Island premier Robert Ghiz.

Three-year record: 7-17

2007 units ranking: 14th offence, 11th defence

Key losses: DLs Charles Burke, Dan McCullough, Greg Lewczuk and Simon Jones

Returning starters: 10 offence, 8 defence (kicker Josh Maveety, of Kingston, also returns)

Players to watch: Lee, who could join Mount Allison legend Éric Lapointe as the only non-OUA player to rush for 4,000 yards in four seasons, is the main man. That's a given. The Gaiters have a fifth-year wideout, Keith Godding, who was in the Montréal Alouettes training camp, last season, and they need him and third-year QB Jesse Andrews to keep defences honest and not put nine or 10 defenders to nullify the rushing threat. Steven Mabee anchors the offensive line, which ought to be called the Lee Way. (I'm, so sorry.)

Blugh was a linebacker at Bishop's before he moved to end in the CFL and Dustin Burke could be doing the same this season (he was listed at linebacker last season). Fellow returning 'backers Kyle Jones and James Yurichuk head up a run defence that held opponents to 4.3 yards per rush and six touchdowns along the ground last season. CIS interceptions leader Nicolas Poliniato is back in the secondary.

For future reference: Bishop's incoming class was lineman-heavy, but there's a possibility they have Lee 2.0 in tailback John Jean-Baptiste out of Vanier College in Montréal. (Baptiste's backfield mate in CEGEP was Concordia QB Liam Mahoney — that must have been a pretty potent running game.)

Schedule (swing games in bold):
Sept. 5 @ Concordia (RDS)
Sept. 13 Saint Mary's
Sept. 19 at McGill
Sept. 27 Sherbrooke
Oct. 4 @ Sherbrooke
Oct. 11 Laval (RDS)
Oct. 18 Concordia
Oct. 25 @ Montreal

Final analysis: Bishop's is more like an Atlantic Conference school in terms of its size and picturesque setting (you haven't lived until you've attended a game in Lennoxville on a bright autumn day with the sun hitting the orange and yellow leaves just so). If there's a bias here, well, it's fully acknowledged. Besides, you can't help but be won over by this (it's from basketball, but nevertheless):

Anywho, taking out the Rouge et Or is a tough nut even for an large, urban university such as Concordia, but Blugh has positioned the Gaiters well to have a puncher's chance, as patronizing as that probably sounds. Rebuilding the team around a tailback-oriented offence with a power running game isn't a bad idea — you're never going to shock Laval by being flashy, but being by a little bashy and dashy, especially with the way wind can play hell with a team's passing game in November football in Canada, is one way to go.

In the short run, BU, which could be poking around the middle of the Top 10, has a lot to play for this season. There's helping Lee vie for the Hec Crighton Trophy and helping his draft status. There's getting back at Concordia, who beat them in their first and last games of 2007, and claiming Eastern Townships bragging rights over Sherbrooke in the Route 143 Rivalry or the Townships Tangle (you like it, feel free to steal it).

(Contributors to this preview: Rob Pettapiece. Special thank's to Bishop's SID John Edwards.)

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