Saturday, August 23, 2008

CIS Countdown #14: UBC Thunderbirds

Fast facts:
Kicked out by the Karma Police: The Thunderbirds had to relocate a large portion of their training camp to Abbotsford's Columbia Bible College thanks to a Radiohead concert in their stadium.
Interchangable parts: UBC will have to hope that their offence can thrive with different pieces. As Howard Tsumura of the Vancouver Province writes, they lost their featured running back, four of their five top receivers and most of their offensive line from last year. However, that offence only averaged 21 points a game (16th-best in CIS competition and 11 per cent below the league average) last season, so perhaps change is for the best.
Hoping for a rebound: Last year, the Thunderbirds went 3-5 and missed the playoffs. It was the first year since 2004 that they failed to make the post-season.

Coach: Ted Goveia. Goveia is entering his third season as the coach of the Thunderbirds. He also carries the title of general manager, and is the first UBC head coach to do so: it's unclear if that distinction actually means much, as most university football head coaches are performing a general manager's role as well. Goveia played for the Mount Allison Mounties, and then worked there as a coach from 1994-1997 after his playing career. He was the offensive co-ordinator from 1996 to 1997, and was the youngest co-ordinator in the CIS at that time. He then worked as the head coach and offensive co-ordinator of the junior football Burlington Braves for three seasons, and led them to three straight Ontario Football Conference championship games from 1998-2000. After that, he spent three years as assistant head coach and special teams co-ordinator at McMaster under Greg Marshall (the former Ticats and current Western coach, not the Blue Bombers' defensive co-ordinator), and then switched to UBC. He was the offensive co-ordinator at UBC for two years before taking the head coaching role.

Co-ordinators: Dino Geremia is entering his third year as UBC's defensive co-ordinator. Before that, he was involved with the cross-town SFU Clan for 18 years, first as a defensive tackle, then as a defensive line coach and finally as the special teams co-ordinator (while still retaining his duties with the line).Kevin MacNeill, formerly of the Laurier Golden Hawks, will handle the Thunderbirds' special teams duties this year as well as coaching the linebackers and overseeing the team's recruiting.

No offensive co-ordinator is listed on the UBC coaching roster, so it looks like Goveia will perform that role as well. He'll have assistance on the offensive side of the ball from former SFU head coach Chris Beaton, who's now the UBC running backs coach, former UBC star Bob Beveridge, who's now coaching the offensive line, and former BC Lion Peter Ohler, the quarterbacks coach.

Enrolment: 36,370 undergraduates, 7,820 graduates [2007 numbers from the
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada; they don't include UBC Okanagan in those, which has another 4,000 or so students).

Alumni in the CFL:
UBC has five alumni who were on CFL rosters as of July, tied with SFU, Ottawa and Regina for fifth-best. They are BC Lions linebacker Javy Glatt, Edmonton running back Chris Ciezki, Winnipeg punter Duncan O'Mahony, Hamilton safety Sandy Beveridge and Montreal linebacker Shea Emry.

Famous non-football alumni: Colorado Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis, environmentalist David Suzuki, investigative journalist Stevie Cameron, former prime ministers Joe Clark, Kim Campbell and John Turner, famed paraplegic athlete Rick Hansen, author and historian Pierre Berton.

Three-year record: 11-13, with a +2 average point differential per game: that shows that they tend to win by a fair bit or lose close games.

2007 unit rankings: The UBC offence and defence both ranked 16th last year. The offence averaged 20.9 points per game, 11 per cent below the league average, while the defence conceded 24.8 points per game, 5.6 per cent above the league average.

Key losses: The Thunderbirds' main turnover is on the offensive side of the ball this year, as they only return three starters from last season. Running back Ciezki, who's now with the Eskimos, may be the biggest loss, but the team also loses four of their top five receivers, including Derek Townsend, who led the team in all-purpose yards last season.

Returning starters: Fifth-year slotback Braden Smith is the primary receiver with previous CIS experience: look for him to lead the crop of rookies. On the defensive side, the team returns nine starters from last year, including defensive end Scott McCuaig, who tied the Canada West record and led all players in CIS competition with 11 sacks last year. Also on defence is former quarterback Doug Goldsby, who returns to safety, the position he played with UBC in his rookie year. Goldsby separated his shoulder last year, which is probably why he's no longer playing quarterback.

Players to watch: The defensive line will be a strength for the Thunderbirds: in addition to McCuaig, they have other talented veterans returning in defensive end Graham Best and tackles Sean Ortiz and Mike Hayes. It will be interesting to see how second-year quarterback Marc McVeigh does as well: he had to come in under the gun midway through last year's campaign after Goldsby's injury, and he should get better with experience.

For future reference: Keep an eye on new receivers Chris Schaalo and Blaine Krueger: both put up nearly 1,000 yards in junior football last year, catching 15 and 16 TD passes respectively. Tsumura calls them "the two most prolific pass catchers in Canadian junior football last season," and that seems like an apt description.

Schedule (swing games in bold):

Today, Aug.23, @ SFU
Sept. 6 Alberta
Sept. 13 @ Manitoba
Sept. 19 Regina
Sept. 27 @ Calgary
Oct. 4 @ Saskatchewan
Oct. 9 Simon Fraser
Oct. 24 Saskatchewan

Final analysis: UBC's defense will probably improve from last year with all the returning starters, but things might be more difficult for the offense. A lot will come down to McVeigh's performance at the helm. In the end, this team might not be as strong as last year's edition.

Prediction: 2-6

(Contributors to this preview: Rob Pettapiece, Duane Rollins.)

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