Tuesday, August 19, 2008

CIS Countdown #25: Simon Fraser

Fast facts:
- According to the CIS database, SFU's last win came on October 23, 2004, when they beat Calgary 14-12. Since then, they had a 41-36 loss to Manitoba finish out that year, and then put up three straight winless seasons. They've lost 23 in a row, and will be hoping to snap that streak this year.

- SFU's had a long history of football, but most of it's been under American rules. Their university was established in 1965, and they beat their chief rivals, the UBC Thunderbirds, in the first Shrum Bowl in 1967. Two years later, in 1969, they joined the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and started competing against American schools in American-style college football, which they played until 2002.

- SFU plays games all over the place
. Their main home stadium is Burnaby's Swangard Stadium, the home of the Vancouver Whitecaps USL soccer franchise. However, they also have home games scheduled for B.C. Place (as part of a doubleheader with the CFL's B.C. Lions) and Abbotsford's Rotary Stadium this year.

-SFU has played 30 Shrum Bowls (annual competitions against UBC, named after Dr. Gordon Shrum, a physics professor at UBC from 1925 to 1961 who became SFU's first chancellor in 1964 and established their athletics program) against UBC.

- However, the Bowl has changed drastically over the years. SFU won four of the first five matches and tied the other one. Their dominance put the match on hiatus until 1978. By this time, SFU was well-ensconced in the American rules of NAIA competition, while UBC played by the Canadian rules of the CIAU (the predecessor to the CIS). The new bowl was played under Canadian rules from 1978-1982, favouring UBC, and the Thunderbirds won four out of those five matches. However, the game was then suspended again until 1987. When it returned, the game again went by American rules until 1996, when they switched back to Canadian rules. The 30th Shrum Bowl was held last year, and was the first one ever played on SFU's campus.

- Unfortunately, that 30th Shrum Bowl didn't live up to the billing
, as UBC crushed SFU 31-2 in a one-sided tilt. Afterwards, head coach Dave Johnson told The Peak (the SFU student newspaper), "We stunk. We were an embarrassment. We didn’t play with any passion. We didn’t play with any poise. ... We are awesome in practice . . . [but] we are not ready to play college football. We'll see if SFU's ready to play this year.

Coach: The aforementioned Dave Johnson returns for his second year at the helm of the Clan. Johnson, a former UBC head coach*, only joined the program in February of last year, though, so this will be the first full recruiting year he's had. It will be interesting to see how the team does under him when he’s had a bit more preparation. He’s a former Clan linebacker as well. In addition to his experience with UBC as both a head coach and a defensive/special teams co-ordinator, he’s also coached with the University of Calgary. He’s also spent time coaching in junior and high school football and even in Scotland: he was the head coach of the Glasgow Lions in 1991, when they put up an undefeated season.

*Digression: Johnson has now joined the ranks of those who have coached or played on both sides of a big rivalry, and the even-slimmer ranks of those who went directly from one rival to the other. There's some pretty cool names in that list, including Mo Johnston (the current Toronto FC general manager who played for both Celtic and Rangers), Babe Ruth and Johnny Damon (among others who have played for both the Yankees and Red Sox: Roger Clemens also makes the first list, but he had several stopovers in between), Frank Mahovlich and Red Kelly (Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings: the best I could find for Leafs-Canadiens was recent Hall of Fame inductee Dick Duff, who played for both clubs but had a short stint with the Rangers in between), Adam Vinatieri (Patriots to Colts) and Bob Toledo (who served as a secondary coach with USC and an offensive co-ordinator and head coach with UCLA, but made other stops in between). Add any other great turncoats you can think of to the comments!

Co-ordinators: Lou DesLauriers, defense, and Shaun Olson, special teams. Both are ex-UBC guys: DesLauriers was the head coach at UBC from 2002-2005, while Olson was UBC’s star quarterback in the late 1990’s and was part of the 1997 Vanier Cup-winning team. DesLauriers also has CFL experience, playing three years with the Edmonton Eskimos and one with the Toronto Argonauts back in the 1980s. Olson has played in Europe with the Vienna Vikings and was with them for all of their four straight Eurobowl wins from 2004-2007. In addition to playing on the 2004 and 2005 teams, he also acted as offensive co-ordinator and recruiting director. In 2006 and 2007, he was the co-head coach and offensive co-ordinator.

Enrolment: 28,207 (25,009 undergrads) as of 2006.

Alumni in the CFL: For a school that has struggled lately, SFU has a lot of prominent football alumni. They have five current CFL players, which puts them in a four-way tie for seventh-best with UBC, Regina and Ottawa, ahead of stronger current teams like St. Mary’s, Guelph and Queen’s. Those players are B.C. centre Dean Valli, Saskatchewan kicker Luca Congi (seriously, what is it with SFU guys named Luca?), and Winnipeg wide receiver Aaron Hargreaves, offensive lineman Ibrahim Khan and linebacker Neil McKinlay.

Famous non-football alumni: Some good ones here too: SFU sent eight athletes to this year's Canadian Olympic team, among them Carol Huynh of gold-medal wrestling fame. Their other athletes included soccer's Randee Hermus (a Langley product!), softball's Melanie Matthews (from Surrey, so also very cool), Erin McLean and Erin Cumpstone, long-jumper Ruky Abdulai, and wrestlers Kyla Bremner and Ari Taub. Their other notable alumni include Daniel Igali (wrestling gold-medalist at the 2000 Olympics), a certain Terry Fox who needs no introduction, and historian and current Queen's VP (Advancement) David Mitchell.

Three-year record: 0-22. Not very good.

2007 units ranking: They were 27th and dead last in offence last year (a lousy 8.8 points per game, 63 per cent below conference average). They weren't much better on defence, either, placing 26th with an average of 36.8 points conceded per game (57 per cent below conference average).

Key losses: Star WR Aaron Hargreaves (now with Winnipeg), QB Jason Marshall, who's second in SFU's CIS history in both rushing yards and passing yards and WR/K Chris Passaglia.

Returning starters: The offence is mostly new faces, but the defence includes returning secondary members CB Anthony DesLauriers and free safety Ray Wladichuk . On offence, returning players Bernd Dittrich (Vienna, Austria) and Jordan Scheltgen (another Surrey product) will battle it out for the starting QB job. Dittrich is a prized recruit Olson brought in with his Austrian connections. Brings a whole new meaning to importing Europeans to help the football team out! The main running back will be Josh Havey, a fifth-year veteran.

Players to watch: The offensive line. Johnson said in a release that shoring up that unit was his key recruiting priority in the off-season. A strong offensive line can turn mediocre quarterbacks into good ones, and good ones into great ones, so his new crop of linemen may be able to make up for Marshall's departure. Key new line recruits include right guard Brent Robbins, left guard Valentin Gruber (another Austrian recruit) and left tackle Dale Furber, all of whom are expected to start alongside veteran centre Bryan Thiessen and right tackle Taylor Buis.

For future reference: The Clan have a new quarterback prospect in Adam Berger, from Surrey's Lord Tweedsmuir High School. According to All Canada Gridiron, they also have some star defensive recruits, notably DT Casey Laprise and DE Brad Erdos.

Schedule (swing games in bold):

Aug. 23 vs. UBC

Aug. 30 at U of A

Sept 13 vs. Saskatchewan: (They aren't too likely to win it, but it's at B.C. Place as part of a doubleheader with the B.C. Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders. According to Scott McLean, the SFU athletics media relations spokesman, this is the first-ever CIS/CFL doubleheader. The CIS game is at noon, followed by a street party at 5 p.m. and the Lions' game at 7.).

Sept. 20 vs. Calgary

Sept. 27 at Regina

Oct. 3 vs. Manitoba

Oct. 9 at UBC: This one's the official 31st Shrum Bowl (the earlier contest doesn't count, as it's only once a year).

Oct. 18 at Saskatchewan

Final analysis:
Don't expect a drastic turnaround from SFU. Still, Johnson's recruits may yet pay off and the Clan may be able to take a game or two. My prediction's that they'll go 1-7, edging out a win either over Calgary or UBC. We'll see what happens.

(Contributors to this preview: Rob Pettapiece, Scott McLean of SFU Athletics (his preview is here).)

No comments: