Can OUA Stay Strong? (OUA Preview)

In the biggest Conference of the CIS there is one more team competing for the Yates cup this year. Last year Waterloo’s program was suspended due to the discovery of performance enhancing drugs in student’s lockers. This year they will return but with many of their players transferring or graduating they, most likely, will not threaten. University of Toronto and York University will be in this boat with Waterloo although The Varsity Blues have shown more signs of life. The ones to watch will be the Western Mustangs, McMaster Marauders, and the Guelph Gryphons as all three of these teams have remained strong and look to improve on their seasons last year. The defending Champs represent the nation’s capital as the Ottawa Gee Gees rode on the arm of Brad Sinopoli to the Yates Cup Finals. Ottawa lost the game in a thriller to the Western Mustangs by a score of 26-25. With Sinopoli gone to the CFL, Ottawa will have to try and pick themselves up from the loss and try to make a run again. The OUA is the big league in the CIS and with the divide in the league it seems as though the top teams may shuffle but the bottom teams may just stay at the bottom.

Ottawa Gee Gees

The Gee Gees had a rough season last year but battled through to earn the #1 spot in the OUA after squeaking out a number of victories by only one point. They could not continue the success in the playoffs however after a loss to their rivals by a last-minute field goal. During the offseason the Gee Gees suffered a number of losses including their QB and team leader in Brad Sinopoli who won the CIS Hec Crighton Award. The loss of Sinopoli will definitely hurt the Gee Gees but they will lean on a return of their running back. Brendan Gillanders was injured for the majority of the season last year and is looking to make a strong return in 2011. On the defensive side the Gee Gees have lost a number of key players but are still returning some veteran presence including Tyler Sawyer, LB and Chris Daly, DB. Ottawa will have to look towards their defence to provide the wins as their offence will see some struggles, especially at the beginning of the season. Even with these issues Ottawa will probably be able to make the playoffs again. Whether or not they can take the #1 spot is another concern altogether as they will face some stiff competition from the other powerhouses in this conference.

Western Mustangs

The Western Mustangs had a successful season last year as they ended up as the #2 team in the country, behind Laval, and were the #2 team in the OUA. They were able to take the team to the Yates Cup where they beat the Ottawa Gee Gees on a last-minute field goal and then moved on to the Uteck Bowl. That’s where the trip came to an end as they lost in another close game to the eventual Vanier Cup Champions the Laval Rouge et Or. This year the Mustangs look to repeat the success and take it further in order to increase their record 6 wins in the Vanier Cup. The Mustangs will attempt to do this by returning essential veterans like their QB Donnie Marshall along with their one-two punch backfield with Nathan Riva and Jerimy Hipperson. These offensive players have one more year under their belt and it will probably only go up from there. Defensively the Mustangs will lean on their defensive line led by Mike Van Praet and David Lee whose mantra this year will be “get to the QB.” Along with these returning stars the Mustangs also feature the best recruiting class in the CIS that will provide them with people to fill the holes and keep them good for a while. The Mustangs are looking very tough this year and could be on their way to the Vanier Cup playoffs yet again.

McMaster Marauders

The Marauders have been pretty consistent over the last two years finishing both years with a 6-2 record. They also finished their season in the Yates Cup Semi-Finals for the past two years and are hoping to finally get over the hump this year. They will have a good shot as they will be returning some key components to their team. On offence Kyle Quinlan, QB will be back to lead the offence along with his two weapons Michael DiCroce and Matthew Perissini. The pass attack will be strong and will be complimented by their returning running back Joey Nemet. On defence there will be a total of 10 starters returning keeping their defence solid for the 2011 season. Led by linebacker Ryan Chmielewski the Marauder defence will look to help out the experienced offence into the Yates Cup and finally win for the first time in 7 years. The first team All-Canadian, Chmielewski, will be helped by some of his second team All-Canadian returnees in Roberto Filice (DL), Scott Caterine (DL), and Joey Cupido (DB). The Marauders will look to build on the success of the last two years as they will try to challenge Western and the other strong competitors in the OUA.

Laurier Golden Hawks

The Golden Hawks finished in the middle of the pack last year going 4-4 and finishing in 4th place in the OUA. They moved on in the Yates Cup playoffs beating the Guelph Gryphons in the quarterfinals but losing to the Ottawa Gee Gees in the semi-finals. This year they will try to get back to the Yates Cup and win it like they did in 2004 and 2005. With a returning cast and a strong recruiting class the Golden Hawks will make a push but will have to compete with some strong competition to win the Yates Cup. Returning QB Shane Kelly will have a strong cast of receivers to throw to this year as he has three returning stars. Top 10 CFL prospect Shamawd Chambers will line up with laurier’s leading receiver Dillon Heap and former rookie of the year in Alex Anthony. Although Shane Kelly may not be one of the best QBs in the league the cast surrounding him could help him to a great season. The defence will return some of their core players including linebackers Mitchell Bosch and Daniel Bishop as well as a cornerback that was invited to the Toronto Argonauts in Shane Herbert. The Golden Hawks have a solid core of players returning that will allow them to make a run. The one thing standing in their way will be the stronger core returning with the Western Mustangs and the McMaster Marauders.

Guelph Gryphons

Last year the Guelph Gryphons did pretty good in the packed OUA conference going 4-4 and earning a playoff spot. Entering the playoffs the Gryphons were hurt by key injuries to their QB corps as Chris Rossetti and backup Luke Nangle were both unable to play. This left the Gryphons with essentially nothing but a running game. They lost to the Laurier Golden Hawks in a blow out 42-10 and missed out on a great opportunity. This year Guelph will try to learn from their experience last year and make a run at the Yates Cup. On offence they will ride on the shoulders of Third year QB who hopes to stay healthy all year Chris Rossetti. He will be able to throw to one of the best receivers in the OUA as Jedd Gardner returns after attending a CFL camp. On defence they will have some big holes to fill as linebackers Adam Dunk and Matt Rossetti have both moved on. These holes will be filled by the good depth they have as well as more of a concentration on their rookie of the year defensive end Kalvin Seilis who will be looked upon to make an even bigger contribution to the team this year. Guelph is considered by many as a rebuilding team but I’m not convinced. I think this team could go far this year and even challenge for the Yates Cup. If they can make up for their losses in the offseason I would expect the Gryphons to play very late in the season.

Queen’s Golden Gaels

In 2009 one of the most storied football schools in Canada finally went back on top winning the Vanier Cup. In 2010 the story was not the same as they lost the majority of their veteran leadership to graduation and the CFL. Although they didn’t repeat the success of the 2009 season they still managed to get a playoff spot giving them the chance to repeat. Their inexperience showed as they were beat by the more experienced McMaster Marauders in the Quarter finals. This year the Gaels will look to get back to their successes from 2009 as they return many of the young players from 2010. They will do this using their defence as 2010 OUA Rookie of the Year Sam Sabourin will join Stephen Laporte, LB and John Miniaci, DL in a strong defensive team. This defensive side may have to suffer through some growing pains on the offence as there will be a few changes. Billy McPhee will take over the offence as last year’s QB,   Justin Chapdelaine, will move to wide receiver to pursue a CFL career. As McPhee gets adjusted the offence will lean on veteran running backs Ryan Grabberg and John Widgett. The Gaels may have too many growing pains to challenge for the Yates Cup but they could be fighting for a playoff spot by the end of the season.

Toronto Varsity Blues

The Varsity Blues have a storied history but in the last decade this history has gone unnoticed as they have not had a winning record in that period. Last year they came off of a slow improvement after losing every game for 6 years until 2008. The Blues had their best season in a decade last year winning 3 games and finishing 7th, one spot away from the playoffs. This year they will continue this rebuild as their goal for this year will be to make the playoffs for the first time since 1995. They will do this led by their new coach and Grey Cup Champion Greg Gary who will be working with a veteran squad. This may be the time for the Blues to make a run as they will be carried by their graduating class. No graduate will be more important than 5th year QB Andrew Gillis who showed how good he can be last year against the Ottawa Gee Gees when he earned the CIS and OUA offensive Player of the Week. He will have some help on offence as Michael Prempeh will return as the main target in the receiving game. Defensively the Blues will have some work to do as only 6 starters will return from last year. They will be led by their linebacking corps that features Kevin Asare, Wilkerson DeSouza, and Adam Fehler. They will also be returning an essential part to their pass defence as 4th year DB Willie Sharpe will be back to lead the secondary. The Blues have a veteran presence on both sides of the ball but their one weakness may be the defence but with the strength of the linebackers it may be fine. I would expect the Blues to have a good chance at making the playoffs this year in the 6th spot breaking the drought.

Windsor Lancers

Last year Windsor did not have a good season as they missed the playoffs again going 2-6 and only beating two struggling teams in the Varsity Blues and York Lions. They have struggled in the past not being able to break through the tough conference and into the playoffs. Last year they finished with a 2-6 record and in 8th place. This again saw them on the outside looking in again as they will look to begin a true rebuilding phase in 2011. They will attempt to rebuild starting from the top with new coach Joe D’Amore who brought in a good recruit class that will give the Lancers some future prospects. The offence will be led by a QB duo of Sam Malian and Austin Kennedy with their main weapon in receiver Jordan Brescacin. Defensively the team will be led by three main players in Akeem Whonder (LB), Seamus Postuma (DL), and Shea Pierre (DB). The Lancers are trying to rebuild with a new localized recruiting class but it does not seem that they will have what it takes to compete with the big programs this year. The concentration from Windsor seems to be one of building a good team for the future and this might hurt them in the near future. They may have a chance at competing for a playoff spot but I wouldn’t hold my breath for the Windsor Lancers to be playing late in the season.

York Lions

The York Lions were one of two teams in the CIs that had not won a game in multiple years and both of those teams ended up being from Toronto. With Toronto ending their losing streak two years ago the York Lions are beginning to make a run at the losing record that was held by the Varsity Blues. They are now at the three-year mark having not been able to muster a win in three seasons. They are hoping to break that streak this year as they build on their strongest performance last year. Although they did not win a game they did gain more yards on offence and allowed less on defence than they had in previous years. Nick Coutu will return to lead the offence under QB coach Nick Faulds and will throw to his top receiver Jonelle Tolbert. Added to this will be local running back recruit George Daniel. On the defensive side the Lions will have to overcome the departure of 6 starters. Linebacker Steven Reading will continue to lead his team with the help of newcomer and one of the top recruits Marcus Grandison, DB who earned All-Star bids for Toronto and the GTA. The Lions are at the beginning of their rebuilding phase and will not compete for a playoff spot. For York this year is simply a way to continue to build for the future where they will hopefully return to the playoffs.

Waterloo Warriors

The biggest story in the OUA in 2010 involved the Waterloo Warriors but it was not for their performance, instead it was a cause of performance enhancing drugs. The Warriors had their season ended before it began after players were found with PEDs. As a result of this the Warriors lost a number of players who either transferred or stopped playing football for the year and graduated. This year the Warriors are essentially an expansion team with a recruiting class of 40 players in order to start a new chapter in Warriors football. The offence will return 8 players, 2 will sit out due to transfer rules, including a set of QBs and a solid receiving corps. Luke Balch and Evan Martin will likely split the QB duties, although Balch can also play receiver, and will throw to a solid receiving corps led by Dustin Zender. Along with the passing game newcomer Ryan DiRisio, RB will be looked to as a sign of the future of the Warriors program. On the defensive side of the ball they will be led by two returning interior lineman as Aaron King and Djordje Gavrilovic. They will be adding two linebackers in their recruiting class as Brendan Conway and Kyle Wasson will join the Warriors as they rebuild their program. The Warriors won’t be in contention anytime soon but they may be back to a good team in a while when their big recruiting class gets some experience. Look for Waterloo to be at the bottom of the conference this year but they could pull off some good victories as something to build on.

Conference Predictions:

1. Western Mustangs (8-1)

2. Guelph Gryphons (7-2)

3. McMaster Marauders (6-3)

4. Ottawa Gee Gees (5-4)

5. Laurier Golden Hawks (5-4)

6. Toronto Varsity Blues (4-5)

7. Queen’s Golden Gaels (4-5)

8. Windsor Lancers (3-6)

9. Waterloo Warriors (3-6)

10. York Lions (0-9)

 

OUA Quick Facts:

Schools:

Guelph Gryphons (Guelph University: Guelph, Ontario)

Laurier Golden Hawks (Wilfrid Laurier University; Kitchener, Ontario)

McMaster Marauders (McMaster University; Hamilton, Ontario)

Ottawa Gee Gees (University of Ottawa; Ottawa, Ontario)

Queen’s Golden Gaels (Queen’s Univeristy; Kingston, Ontario)

Toronto Varsity Blues (University of Toronto; Toronto, Ontario)

Western Mustangs (University of Western Ontario; London, Ontario)

Windsor Lancers (University of Windsor; Windsor, Ontario)

York Lions (York University; Toronto, Ontario)

Waterloo Warriors (University of Waterloo; Waterloo, Ontario)

 

Trophies:

Yates Cup

– Created in 1898 and is the oldest football trophy in the world

– Awarded to the best team in the OUA

– Named after Dr. H.B. Yates who donated the trophy

– Western Mustangs have won the Yates Cup 29 times

– 2011 winner will move on to the Uteck Bowl

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