Tuesday, August 19, 2008

CIS Countdown #23: McGill Redmen

Fast facts: McGill's season, like its 2007 campaign, could be one where the emphasis is as much as on records than the team's record. QB Matt Connell could become the first player in CIS history to throw for 10,000 yards in a career, which is testament to how prolific -- and how durable -- he's been while playing in what, at least from afar, seem like trying circumstances. McGill, which was competitive in 2006, fell to 0-8 last season, in part due to injuries and a lack of depth. It got to the point that one game McGill dressed 14 freshmen, which made it hard to have a balanced team.

The playoffs are going to be a longshot in the QUFL, but McGill has shown they can put up points.

Coach: Sonny Wolfe (2nd season, 21st overall)

Co-ordinators: Sonny Wolfe, offence; Clint Uttley, defence; Skip Rochette, special teams. Both Uttley and Rochette are in new roles this season.

Undergraduate enrolment: 23,758

Alumni in the CFL: Stampeders DT Randy Chevrier, Argonauts LB Jean-Nicolas Carrière

Famous non-football alumni: Neurosurgery pioneer Dr. Wilder Penfield (whom most of you need this reminder -- "Dr. Penfield! I smell burnt toast!" -- in order to know who he is); Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock; singer-songwriters Anna and Kate McGarrigle, the sister-in-law/aunt and husband/mother of Louden Wainwright III and Rufus Wainwright; Olympic gold medal-winning hockey goalie Kim St. Pierre; NHL forward Mathieu Darche; criminally underappreciated actress Jessalyn Gilsig (Boston Public, Friday Night Lights); and James Naismith, inventor of basketball.

Last but not least, there's Denny Crane himself, William Shatner, who learned his fluid running form at McGill.

Three-year record: 5-19*

2007 unit rankings: 23rd offence, 23rd defence

Key losses: LB Jean-Nicolas Carrière, OL Ben Walsh, OL Louis Nolin, LB Kevin Nanne

Returning starters: 7 offence, 6 defence

Players to watch: Connell, who was granted a sixth season of eligibility -- he appeared in just one game as a freshman in 2003 -- might become the CIS career leader in pass completions on McGill's first series in its Sept. 6 opener vs. Sherbrooke, since he needs only five. He also needs 2,000 yards for 10,000 in his career. His main targets are wide receiver Charles-Antoine Sinotte, who caught a CIS-record 72 passes in 2007, and Erik Galas, an Ottawa native. McGill allowed 28 sacks last season after giving up just 11 in '06.

Rush end Luke vanRuyven, along with DBs Schuyler O'Brien and Greg Landry, return to a defence that took its lumps last season, and will be young again.

For future reference: OL Mike Alam, LB Mario Lavallée and DL Kyle Nash, from the Myes Jr. Riders program in Ottawa, have been touted as key recruits. DB Marc-Étienne Vien, a CEGEP recruit, is a 22-year-old newcomer, which means he could play right away.

Schedule (swing games in bold):
Sept. 6 @ Sherbrooke
Sept. 12 Concordia
Sept. 20 Bishop's
Sept. 27 @ Montreal
Oct. 3 Laval (RDS)
Oct. 11 @ Saint Mary's
Oct. 18 Montreal (RDS)
Oct. 25 @ Laval

McGill faces Laval and Montreal twice.

Final analysis: McGill is light-years from the U of T debacle and it's not alone as a prestigious university that's gone a while without a football championship (Queen's, Alberta and UBC have gone a combined 45 seasons without winning their conference). Regardless, a winless season can really put a school behind the 8-ball and hurt its word-of-mouth in the Quebec recruiting battles. McGill Athletics has had its share of triumphs -- the women's hockey team won the national championship last year and the men's team went to the University Cup -- but it's tougher to get to the top in football than in hockey.

It stands to reason that all the youth on defence and along the offensive line, where three starters graduated, will make it hard for McGill to keep it together for four quarters. The schedulemaker also didn't do them any favours, as they travel to Saint Mary's for a cross-over game on top of having Laval as a home-and-home opponent. No one should ever want to wish back-to-back winless seasons on a group of players, so keep McGill in your thoughts.

(Contributors to this preview: Rob Pettapiece.)

(*includes two forfeited games from the 2005 season.)

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