Fast facts: Montréal was the only team in the 27-team CIS to be in the top third in the country in total defence last season and in the bottom third in total offence. They had four new offensive linemen and a first-year starting QB, Marc-Olivier Brouillette, so it wasn't totally surprising that they struggled to score points.
The defensive line will probably be Les Bleus' best feature this season. Montréal native Jonathan Pierre-Étienne, whose NCAA career at Rutgers was hindered by injuries, has a joined a front four whose mainstays Martin Gagné, Mathieu Brossard and Gregory Alexandre are no strangers to copping individual honours. Their major losses were in the secondary.
This is the third season for Montréal's staff, which is usually where observers expect a team to be past any transitional period.
Coach: Marc Santerre (3rd season)
Co-ordinators: Pat Gregory, offence; Denis Touchette, defence
Enrolment: 41,055 undergraduate; 14,485 graduate
Alumni in the CFL: Roughriders OL Jean-François Morin-Roberge, Stampeders FB Jonathan Lapointe
Famous non-football alumni: Canadian Gov.-Gen. Michaëlle Jean; late prime minister Pierre Trudeau; Denys Arcand, Oscar-winning director.
Three-year record: 16-8
2007 units ranking: 22nd on offence, 8th on defence
Key losses: OL Jean-François Morin-Roberge, FB Jonathan Lapointe, DBs Sébastien Bourassa and Jean-Philip Provencher
Returning starters: 10 offence, 8 defence, plus reliable kicker Pierre-Paul Gelinas
Players to watch: The defence really has to come first. On paper, Alexandre, Brossard, Gagné and Pierre-Étienne should be a stout enough group to take some of the burden off of the back-eight, which has been retooled somewhat. Joash Gesse leads Les Bleus' linebacking group, while Hamid Mamouhdi, who had an all-star season in 2007, will be a busy man in the secondary.
Brouillette is big and fast enough to provide a rushing threat to complement the Carabins' tailback tandem of Hantz Boursiquot (758 rushing-receiving yards in 2007) and Dominic Chamberland-Pinto, who had his moments in a backup role. The Carabins need to find a receiving corps like yesterday. Frank Bruno was their best pass-catcher last season, but he might have an injury issue, according to the dot-orgers.
For future reference: Defensive back Olivier Fréchette-Lemire could get a chance to step in and play right away. On the O-line 330-pound Henrick Pierre-Paul is also coming back from a broken leg that ended his rookie season before it started.
Schedule (swing games in bold):
Sept. 6 @ Laval
Sept. 13 St. FX
Sept. 20 Bishop's
Sept. 27 McGill
Oct. 4 Concordia
Oct. 11 @ Saint Mary's
Oct. 18 @ McGill
Oct. 25 Bishop's (RDS)
The Carabins play home-and-homes with McGill and Bishop's.
Final analysis: It's might seem glib to keep using the 2006 opener vs. Laval as a point of reference with Montréal (but we're not really experts on the QUFL, so it's all we got).
That day, Sept. 10, 2006, might have been where the blue wave crested and began to break. The Carabins had a double-digit lead in the second half at PEPS Stadium, that house of horror for most visiting teams, before Benoît Groulx directed a 17-point comeback that gave the Rouge et Or a 25-21 victory. Montréal, finished that season with a first-round playoff loss at Concordia, and went out in the QUFL semi again last season.
Montréal's taken a few steps back since the start of '06. The defence is good enough that it will keep them in games, or at least keep scores respectable, and the offence is bound to improve. Both they and cross-town rival Concordia seem to be in the biggest state of flux in the conference, but both were playing at a high level not so long ago.
(Contributors to this preview: Rob Pettapiece, Duane Rollins. Special thanks to U de M sports information director, Benoit Mongeon.)