Typically this will debut on CollegeColours, but as I work the kinks out this week I'll post it here first.
A combined week one/pre-season Top 27.
It's good to be back.
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No. 27 – Waterloo
Really, need I elaborate? OK, fine. Despite (somewhat misplaced) optimism based on some moderately good results last year, the Warriors remain fully in rebuilding mode. As always, there are some useful faces to watch, but not enough to warrant fear in anyone.
Not even Toronto.
No. 26 – York
If there has ever been a less imposing fifth year QB starter in CIS history than Bart Zemanek, it’s unclear who that is. And, he’s the Lions most impressive asset. Zemanek has worked hard to become an average CIS QB. The Lions will need to work even harder to reach that not-so-lofty mark.
No. 25 – The undefeated University of Toronto Varsity Blues
Fifty was one too many apparently. And, thank God. There isn’t much there, but they’ve already won their Vanier Cup. The playoffs aren’t happening, so all that’s left to watch for is whether the 60-0 losses to the top teams can be reduced to 40-0, and whether the Lions are now T.O’s worst team.
For the entire CIS’ sake, let’s hope so.
No. 24 – McGill
Karma suggests that QB Matt Connell should end the season with less wins than U of T offensive lineman D’arcy McKeown does. It will be a close race. Especially when the Redmen play Montreal and Laval a combined four times.
In the CIS recruiting is an art, more than a financial science. McGill, because of circumstances that were totally and completely in their control, now shows as much art as a Britney Spears / Lindsay Lohan duet – you would no more send your kid to McGill than you would put down the $20 for the CD.
It’s going to take a couple more years for the Redmen to right the ship.
No. 23 – UBC
Losing (basically) the entire offense from 2007 can be viewed as a blessing or a problem. A blessing because the 2007 offense was, well, challenged and a problem because, well, there is no evidence to suggest that the ’08 version will be any better.
The only reason to place UBC higher is the same reason UBC always gets ranked above their true placement—it just seems like they are better than they are. After all, they are UBC, one of the CIS’ great programs.
The ridiculously early season kick-off loss to the Clan suggests that the Thunderbirds aren’t anywhere near as good as their history would suggest they should be.
No. 22 – St. FX
Since this blog has already been sued one too many times, we will keep this entry brief. Let’s just say that there has been a lot of things that have happened at X that have been surprising. But, through it all they have managed to remain fairly competitive (in the AUS). Which is all that really matters.
But, it always seems like the whole thing is going to collapse any moment. Ultimately 0-8 wouldn’t surprise. Neither would 5-3 and a trip to the national semis. With X you never quite know what to expect.
No. 21 – Simon Fraser University
Have the Clan improved greatly? Or is UBC just that much weaker? It’s probably a bit of both if last week’s fairly close loss to Alberta is any indication.
Since being forced to return to Canada to play three down football the Clan have struggled to compete. There is some evidence that they might be beginning to slowly work their way back to the pack, but it won’t happen this year.
No. 20 – Mount Allison
The instinct is to get really excited by the (very) modest improvement shown last year. And, a No. 20 ranking is likely testament to that. And losing yet another head coach in the lead up to this season is troublesome.
Still, call it a hunch that QB Kelly Hughes could provide a solid backbone to a team that has improved each of the last three years (although the W-L column hasn’t really shown the improvement). Three win and its first earned playoff sport in a decade. Book it.
No. 19 – Calgary
The breakthrough will come. Yes, I’ve been calling it for 18-months now, and thew week one loss to Saskatchewan is troublesome, but trust me. A team—especially one coached by Blake Nill—that is as close as Calgary has been is going to eventually find its way.
A solid ground game--key in tough CanWest—will improve as the year progresses and the Dinos will reach their peak somewhere around week seven. Fourth will be a battle, but look out if they qualify.
And, yes, I have made that prediction before.
No. 18 – Bishop’s University
Jamall Lee. Jamall Lee. Jamall Lee.
Maybe the best back in the conference (Laval fans, please direct your e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org) Lee is, to say the least, the key.
It probably won’t be enough. Actually, it’s likely the Gaiters will take a step back in ’08. But, at least it isn’t year eleven of that five year rebuilding program anymore. And that’s a good thing.
(Did I mention Jamall Lee)?
No. 17 – Sherbrooke
Joseph Mroué. Joseph Mroué. Joseph Mroué.
Stop me when you’ve heard this before.
But, seriously. If Mroué is close to his Carabins form then Sherb has a chance to make a real breakthrough in ’08. If not, then they will spin their heels a bit—not quite as bad as McGill, not near the Stingers/Laval.
The intangible here is the interlock schedule, which should grant Sherb with two winnable games against Acadia and Mount Alison. Win those and the Vert et Or are in the playoff hunt. Get to the playoffs and you give Mroué more time to find his form. Watch Mroué find his form and…
You probably lose the QIFC semis, but that would still be a pretty nice little season for Quebec’s forgotten program.
No. 16 – McMaster
MAC is a solid (OUA) team that will be competitive (in the OUA) but will ultimately fall just a little bit short (in the OUA).
Id you are unclear about the (in the OUA) reference you’re likely new, but it goes like this—rank your teams as you see fit, then drop the Ontario teams down about five sports (exception – Golden Hawks, Laurier- 2005).
MAC is the epitome of the (in the OUA) issue. Built to compete in that league, it failed to take advantage of its dominance in the province during the early part of this decade to take the next step. And now it is spinning in the middle. Other OUA teams have (finally) stepped it up and MAC remains in place.
On the up note with Adam Archibald now gone Top 27 readers won’t be forced to read my attempts to come up with new ways to say “enigma” every week.
No. 15 – Guelph
Guelph had its breakthrough a year ahead of schedule in 2007—good news for the program’s long suffering fans, but maybe not the best thing to happen to the team itself. OK, that’s a stretch, but it will make it a little more difficult for U of Goo to sneak up on anyone in ’08.
The 2008 version of Mike Bradley, Nick Fitzgibbon, is the obvious key. But, the Dunk brother’s are the soul of the team. The depth isn’t there with the rest of the top OUA, but this league isn’t so strong that out of the blue upsets can’t occur from time to time. Guelph is still in that conversation. For its sake the hope is that they didn’t blow their cover in ’07.
No. 14 – Laurier
Consider that this is the program of Bill Kubas and Ryan Pyear (and Kevin Taylor and Rod Phillip and Kevin MacDonald and Mike Wilson and…), Laurier has not given much thought to the pivotal (*cough* sorry) QB position in recent years. That’s a shame because Ian Noble seems more like am afterthought than a true heir apparent to the great Golden Hawk tradition. It’s also a shame because WLU has a deep, young yet experienced, and balanced squad in ’08. If Noble can perform, Laurier could capture its third Yates Cup in the last five seasons.
He tossed up three picks in the Hawks first week win, which came in spite of the QB.
No. 13 – Windsor
With 18 returning starters, including soon to be CIS all-time leading rusher Daryl Stephenson (putting aside debates about the validly of that record for another day), the Lancers have no excuse but to compete in ’08.
It’s an old story. Windsor has been on the brink for the better part of a decade now.
With Windsor it comes down to this simple adage—show us on the field. Until the Lancers do that all the hopeful predictions in the world aren’t worth a damn thing.
No. 12 – Alberta
There are a lot of returning pieces from a mediocre ’07 team. It’s always hard to handicap Alberta, which has looked ready for the breakthrough for sometime now (and may have even been ranked No. 1 by CollegeColours to start a season a couple of years ago) . Like Windsor, there is a certain amount of show me, don’t tell me at play here.
Still, with a solid junior recruiting year the Beras will be right there for that fourth place CanWest playoff spot. And in Western Canada it’s all about getting to the second season. After that, all bets are typically off.
No. 11 – Acadia
Once again it’s all O, no D in Wolfville. In the AUS it may be enough. Usually it’s not.
For the past 20-years there hasn’t been much more to say about the Axemen. There isn’t in ’08 either. But, they should be fun to watch, so that’s something.
In the AUS the interlock schedule is the great equalizer. Having Sherb and Laval on the card will make it difficult for Acadia this season. Look for a real battle for the 2-4 spots in the AUS with the three teams separated by just a couple games. If AU finds its way on top of that heap, it could challenge SMU for the conference title. It could also miss the playoffs (although it doesn’t seem likely).
No. 10 – Regina
So long as Teale Orban (the CIS’ best QB since a man named Denison was running for his life behind a JV o-Line) is pitching the ball for the Rams, Regina has a shot to win. He’ll be tested in ’08 as the Rams running game has been ripped apart by graduation. And, Regina has never been particularly good at defense.
Still, three down football is a QB’s game. If you’re looking for a Vanier darkhorse, Regina’s not a bad pick.
No. 9 – Concordia
Oh, the Stingers. Never quite as good as picked. Often not as bad. Quebec’s other team—one that has been the second best team in the country on more than a couple occasions.
QB Liam Mahoney is one of those tweener players that only works in Canadian football. Those players are either a disaster or a Hec nominee. Where he ends up in ’08 is anyone’s guess right now. Although it probably will be a little bit better than what some thing and a whole lot worse than what others believe.
We are talking about the Stingers after all.
No. 8 – The GOLDEN Gaels
The GOLDEN Gaels are insisting that media drop one of the words in their name in ’08, so we will oblige. Sadly, we’ve lost the press release, however, and we can’t remember which word the GOLDEN Gaels want us to leave out. So we had to guess.
The 2008 season could be the best shot the GOLDEN Gaels have had at a Yates since they were busy missing PATs in OT (sorry Neate). Pat Sheahan is a great coach. Dan Brannagan is the type of QB that wins championships in the CIS, and Mike Giffin is a solid, serviceable back that can get the job done.
The question, as always with Queen’s, is whether the grunts can support the talent. The week one slap down of MAC seemed to indicate that something is going right so far.
The GOLDEN Gaels actually remind me of another golden OUA team from a few years ago. Many will suggest that they are not as good as their record, nor that they will they be able to compete out of conference. Maybe. But, sometimes good coaching, a top QB, serviceable backs and grunts playing their butts off is enough.
It’s occasionally GOLDEN even.
No. 7 – Montreal
Offense sells tickets and defense wins championships. Or something like that. Except that it’s the most overused and useless cliché in football. Good defense makes a team competitive more than a good offense does, but the truth is that you don’t win titles without balance.
Montreal has a good defense.
And it will keep Montreal highly competitive all year. The med students (Worst. Name. Ever. In any language). But unless the O steps up that’s as far as it goes.
No. 6 – Ottawa
If this list was made a week ago, it’s possible that Ottawa would have claimed the No. 1 spot (I was leaning towards No. 2, but I hadn’t ruled it out).
Then the Gee-Gee’s went and lost to Western. Again.
Still, this is a team without a real weakness and one that should be able to take motivation in the week one loss to the (once again) purple menace. Of course the rest of the OUA will take motivation in that loss too.
The Gee-Gee’s are very good. They just aren’t unbeatable.
(And don’t discount the literal meaning of that loss—although it seems unlikely that Ottawa will lose a second game, a three way 7-1 finish in the OUA isn’t out of the question—which could force Ottawa into an extra game and take the Yates away from the capital).
No. 5 – Western
Just when you thought it was safe to look at the OUA standings again…the bastards went out and won another Yates Cup.
It isn’t fair. Western gets too many breaks to actually win the thing from the No. 6 seed. It’s enough to put non-UWO grads on the ledge.
Then they go and take down Ottawa to start the season. Everyone’s pre-season Yates pick.
Just pick the Mustangs to win the Yates and get over it. This is Western we are talking about after all.
No. 4 – Manitoba
They have lost a ton of talent from the Vanier Cup win a year ago, but Manitoba loses a ton of talent every year, so they should be used to turnover. The fact is the Bisons win. A lot. Consistantly.
No, Manitoba isn’t the favourite to repeat. And this list has never given much thought to the “champions should be ranked No. 1 until someone beats them” theory. But, with only three losses since 2005 and the return of some of the key talent position players, don’t think Manitoba will be an easy touch.
Champions again? No. But, not far off.
No. 3 – Saskatchewan
The Huskies never drop. Call that the No. 1 rule of CIS football. It doesn’t matter how many players have been lost to graduation, or how much more talented other CanWest teams appear on paper, Saskatchewan will be just fine.
Spectacular coaching and a junior football all-star pipeline are the main two reasons for that. In any given year the Huskies are the deepest team in CIS and a contender for the Vanier Cup.
That said, U of Sask often is missing an intangible player-a gamebreaker that can single handedly lift them to a championship. That has lead the Huskies to frustratingly fall when it really matters.
The 2008 team doesn’t look to move away from that pattern. They will be right there. They may win a Hardy. They might even get to the Vanier (although Laval is in the way of that), but…
No. 2 – Laval
The Rouge et Or are a special program. By far the strongest in the nation and likely the greatest program ever.
But Laval isn’t unbeatable. It’s not time to start thinking about a possible move to the NCAA (as some overzealous Rouge et Or fans have suggested over the years). In many ways the Rouge et Or’s biggest problem is boredom—they likely won’t be touched in league play.
But nothing suggests that they can’t be beaten in a one of against another top team.
Yes, Laval could easily have won five straight by now. But they haven’t. They could very well win another this year, but there are about five other teams that will have something to say about it.
One of those teams is…
No. 1 – Saint Mary’s University
Let’s put this simply. If Erik Glavic is on 2007 form, SMU runs away with the AUS and has a great shot at getting back to the Vanier Cup (if Glavic wasn’t injured in the ’07 game we might be talking about a repeat).
With almost the entire ’07 team back there is no reason to doubt the possibilities here. For years, as an assistant under Blake Nill, Steve Sumurah was called the best head coach without a program of his own. Now, the ’08 Huskies are undeniably his. With an easier touch in the interlock and the “OUA bye” on the schedule he will have a chance to really make his mark.
SMU has already sleighed the untouchables, by defeating Laval in last year’s semis. Other than injuries, why not go one step further in ’08?
I can’t think of any good reason.
SMU will win the Vanier Cup--24-10 over Laval.