Fast facts: Laurier's run of four straight Yates Cup appearances ended somewhat unexpectedly, with Guelph snatching away the OUA semi-final on the Hawks' home turf, 38-31, after being down 24-0 barely 15 minutes into the game. What was that in the lead-up to last season about how, "something bad is going to happen to (Laurier), it has to?"
Laurier is going to be a much younger team this season. The Hawks have lost three starting receivers, three starting offensive linemen and an impact front-seven defender, Anthony Maggiocomo. It also has a second-year starting QB, Ian Noble, whose only proven target, third-year slotback Josh Bishop, was limited to three games last season. The Golden Hawks do have an OUA-best skein of five straight seasons of finishing at least 6-2 in the regular season, and their coaching compares favourably with any OUA team's, so they'll be right in there in the OUA again.
Coach: Gary Jeffries, sixth season. Anyone who wasn't happy to see the career Golden Hawk -- he played defensive back for the school and was defensive co-ordinator for 17 seasons before taking over the head job officially in 2003 -- guide his team to a perfect season in 2005 doesn't have a soul, you know that, right?
Co-ordinators: Ryan Pyear, offence; Ron VanMoerkerke, defence; Josh Alexander, special teams. Former Guelph coach Tom Arnott has joined the program as an offensive line coach.
Enrolment: 11,869 undergraduate
Alumni in the CFL: Roughriders WR Corey Grant, 'Riders LB Yannick Carter, Blue Bombers DB Ian Logan, Blue Bombers LB Anthony Maggiacomo, Argos WR Andre Talbot, Alouettes DB Joel Wright
Famous non-football alumni: McGill University principal Heather Munroe-Blum, 2002 Olympic hockey gold medallist Cheryl Pounder, hip-hop artist Shad, retired pro wrestler Lance Storm.
Three-year record: 21-3
2007 units ranking: Fourth on offence, fifth on defence
Key losses: LB Anthony Maggiocomo, WRs Andy Baechler, and Dante Luciani, C Andrew Dietrich, OL Kyle Sanderson and Tyler Felber, DBs Jahmeeks Beckford and Brent Hickey, KR Steve Turner
Returning starters: 6 offence, 6 defence; fourth-kicker Chris Mamo returns
Players to watch: On defence, Giancarlo. Luke Pinder is the best 'backer on a group that was second-stingiest in the OUA against the run last season, but was unable to keep Guelph halfback Nick Fitzgibbon from running wild in the playoff game. Cornerback Taurean Allen is among the OUA's best.
Offensively, the quarterback at Laurier might be the most scrutinized player in the OUA. Ian Noble had a good first season as the starter, but every Hawks QB inevitably gets compared to Ryan Pyear, which means the bar is set very high. As well, being completely tongue-in-cheek here, understudy Luke Thompson has a much more professional-looking highlight reel of his high school exploits.
Josh Bishop and Jim Martyniuk are the most experienced pass-catchers in Laurier's camp. Judging from the highlight-reel catch he made against U of T two years ago, it looks like Josh Bishop's hands are so big he could play box lacrosse without a stick.
Laurier has slipped from being second and third in the country in yards-per-pass during their Yates Cup years to 10th and 11th the past two seasons; it's quite something to see that they completed only 11 TD passes last season. That's going to have to improve.
For future reference: Linebacker Mitchell Bosch, who drew interest from no less a NCAA powerhouse than the Oklahoma Sooners, was considered one of the big gets of Laurier's incoming class. Cornerback Courtney Stephen also has his own YouTube channel. Suffice to say, it's appointment viewing.
The newbies also include Chris Rossetti, the quarterback on St. Michael's College's Metro Bowl championship team last fall (no word if he's descended from the other Chris Rossetti).
Schedule (swing games in bold):
Sept. 1 Guelph
Sept. 6 Western
Sept. 13 @ Queen's
Sept. 20 Windsor
Sept. 27 @ Waterloo
Oct. 4 @ Ottawa
Oct. 11 McMaster
Oct. 18 @ York
The Golden Hawks miss U of T in the schedule rotation.
Final analysis: The combination of a young team and a challenging early-season schedule could really stretch the positivity that's fairly abounded around the Laurier program since, oh, about 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2003, when it came from 10 points down on the road to upset Queen's in the playoffs.
The Golden Hawks face three good defences right off the hop, two of whom, Guelph and Queen's, combined to hold Lynch to 2.8 yards per carry in the regular-season games last season. Laurier won both those games, but that was when it had Baechler and Luciani. They were outgained badly in the Guelph game before a blocked punt for a touchdown turned the tide; it's almost like they beat the Gryphons in their first meeting last fall out of habit as much as anything else.
That's not a dig. Laurier is entitled to their innings, as they say in cricket. They probably will be a 5-3 team, but no one will want to see them in the playoffs, though. (The worst-case scenario for the Gaels -- Laurier starts 0-2 and will be ticked-off when they come to Kingston on Sept. 13.)
(Contributors to this preview: Rob Pettapiece, Duane Rollins.)