Can Dinos continue their Dominance? (2012 CanWest Preview)

The Canadian Western University Athletic Association (CWUAA) has been a league of the have and have-nots for years. There have really been two main powers in the conference over the last decade with Saskatchewan and Calgary winning 8 of the last 10 Hardy Trophies. The decade began with Saskatchewan ruling the roost as they won almost every year and always seemed to be around at the end of the year. Lately though it has been the Calgary Dinos who have taking over the conference winning the last 4 Hardy Trophies. The Dinos were not the favorites before the 2011 season but they proved everyone wrong having a great season and coming within one game of their third straight Vanier Cup appearance. This year they will be the team to beat once again as host of new up and coming teams look to knock off the top team. The CWUAA is looking to change hands this year as a new power tries to emerge and there will be many teams looking to take that spot. A number of young teams saw major improvements last year and will be looking toward 2012 to take that next step. With the defending Hec Crighton Award winner in the division and a number of up and coming players there will be a lot to look for in the CWUAA this year. As the league continues to get bigger and more popular more teams are looking to move out of the basement and into the spotlight. The best way to do this is to have a great year and win the conference to move on to the national stage. This is what a number of teams will be looking to do this year with a new season on the horizon and plenty of hope as every team is equal. The season starts and every team is 0-0 with an equal shot at the Hardy Trophy but as the season moves on certain teams will make their intentions known. The biggest question for these teams will be if any of these teams can unseat the Dinos this year or will the Dinos continue to rule the west.

 

Alberta Golden Bears

 

 

 

 

 

The University of Alberta Golden Bears have one of the best winning traditions in the CWUAA but it has not shown in their play lately. They are the oldest team in the CWUAA, first played in 1910, and have been through everything a team can go through. It has been a long time since the Bears saw the Hardy Trophy though as they have yet to win since 1981. Before that time they were a powerhouse winning a total of 18 Hardy Trophies but since then have struggled to get back to their winning ways. Last year the Bears had one of their worst seasons as they finished in last place with only two wins. It was a disappointing season for them with a surprising 2010 season leading many to believe 2011 would be great. They only picked up their two wins after UBC forfeited all of their games as punishment. The season was not what they wanted but a lot had to do with the fact that they started 12 freshman and with one year under their belts Alberta is hoping that some changes will be seen. This year the Golden Bears will move on from a season where many players were still learning on every play. This year the 12 freshman starters will have one year under their belt and will be much more comfortable. The strength for the Bears this year will be the defence that has 11 starters returning including the best linebacking corps in the conference. Their defence will also reap the benefits of experience in the defensive backfield with 5th year starters Randon Ralph and Brent Krawchuk. They will need to lean on their defence as well with an offence going through some transition. The offence will suffer the most this year as they look to almost every aspect of the team and see fresh faces. The running back will be new along with the offensive line and the most important spot has yet to be decided. There will be a battle for the QB as Julian Marchand is no longer under centre. Instead it will be between two third year players and hopeful first year starters Curtis Dell and Ryan Schwartz to find out who the new starting QB will be. The one positive on offence will be the receiving corps made up of fourth year starters Jess Valleau and Porter Brown along with third year receiver Ryley Richardson. The team will lean on these receivers as they represent the only veteran aspect of the offence. The Bears are looking to a playoff berth this year as they have tempered expectations. Defence does win championships though and with one of the better defences in the west the Golden Bears should be better than last year. Expect Alberta to fight for a playoff berth this year as they are an improved team but winning a Hardy Cup will take a bit of luck as they seem to be on the start of an upward trend, but not at the top yet.

 

One to Watch:
Tyler Greenslade, LB (Edmonton, Alta.)
– The Golden Bears have one of the best linebacking corps in the CWUAA and one of the leaders will be Greenslade who only played 5 games in 2011 before an injury ended his season but still managed to record 25 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 INT showing promise if he can play all year in 2012

 

Calgary Dinos

 

 

 

 

The Calgary Dinos are one of the two beasts in the CanWest Conference as they have been able to dominate the last few years. Last year was no different as the 2011 season saw the Dinos came closest to that undefeated season. The records were adjusted though as the Dinos received a win against the Thunderbirds giving them the only undefeated record in the CIS. With that the Dinos went into the playoffs with one of the best records in the league as they seemed to be on track for a third straight Vanier Cup appearance. They did not slow down through the CanWest playoffs as they easily got through every team to win their 4th straight Hardy Cup. They would face their old nemesis, Laval, in the Mitchell Bowl as the Rouge e tOr struck again beating the Dinos. This year the Dinos are looking to finally break through as four years of Hardy Cups don’t make up for the lost chances at the biggest prize in the CIS. This year the Dinos will have a good mix of returning veterans and rookie recruits that they hope will carry them to a 5th straight Hardy Cup and a 5th Vanier Cup. Steven Lumbala is the key to this offence as the Dinos love to run the ball and they do it very well. Lumbala will be the feature back but will have some help with Anthony Woodson and Matt Walter also back as a part of the three-headed monster of the Dinos backfield. In the passing game Eric Dzwilewski leads the charge as an emerging QB in his third year. The problem for him will be the lack of impact receivers as Matt Little and Richard Snyder lead the team as the veterans but are not big threats. The focus of the offence this year is to continue to run effectively but to also concentrate more on the passing game that is so important in the Canadian game. On defence the Dinos will be returning a number of key veterans including CFL draft pick Jordan Verdone. Verdone will look to fill the hole left by Sam Hurl, who is now playing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL. He will be joined by speedy Linebacker Zach McNeill to form a solid linebacking corps. Meanwhile they will also boast one of the top CFL prospects in Linden Gaydosh on the defensive line as he will be looking to put up big numbers to increase his draft stock. In the secondary Doctor Cassama and Tye Noble will be back to provide a solid pass defence. The Calgary defence is a good mix of veterans and young talent as they will be solid again this year. The Dinos will be good again this year as they hold a number of great veterans and some top recruits. There is no reason to believe that the Dinos will not be back at the top of the conference once again.

 

One to Watch:
Linden Gaydosh, DL (Peace River, Alta)
– Defence wins championships and this year the Dinos are hoping to see Gaydosh lead their defence to a championship as one of the best defensive lineman in the conference he will lead the defence in the pursuit of a Vanier Cup

 

Manitoba Bison

 

 

 

 

 

The Manitoba Bison are one of the only teams to actually win something in the last decade of the CWUAA. In between the dominance of the Saskatchewan Huskies and the Calgary Dinos sat the University of Manitoba. In 2007 the Bison ended the reign of the mighty Huskies and took that momentum into the Vanier Cup. There they beat the other Huskies of Saint Mary’s for their third ever Vanier Cup title. After that great 2007 season the Bison have failed to get back into the playoffs as they have sat just on the outside for years including the 2011 season. The lack of competitiveness for the Bison in the last few years has been largely thanks to young inexperienced teams that they have been forced to field. Manitoba has consistently had one or two sections of the team full of freshman. This is what the Bison will hope to remedy in 2012 but they will not have too much luck in that regard. The 2012 teams is yet another matchup of a good recruiting class, returning starters, and new veteran players starting for the first time. On offence the Bison will see only 8 returning players and those returning players will not include starting QB Khaleal Williams. In his place will be a battle between four players including 5th year Bison Cam Clark, 3rd year Bison Marc Paquette, CJFL recruit Ryan Marsch, and high school recruit Theo Deezar. Despite the uncertainty at QB the Bison will have a few bright sports in the offence. For one their offensive line is experienced and strong which means great things for one of the best RBs in the CIS. Anthon Coombs has taken on the world, literally, as Team World’s starting running back in the IAAF Team World vs. Team USA last year. This year he hopes to improve on his rookie season that saw him become a first team All-Canadian in one year. It was a great year for Coombs who will be the leader in 2012 as Manitoba looks to gain some security on their team. The Manitoba defence is led by a trio of firth year players who will return as captains for their team. The biggest of these three will be safety Teague Sherman who was the only defensive player to be named as a first team All-Canadian in 2011. Along with Sherman will be linebacker Thomas Hall and defensive lineman Adam Hindley who will lead a defence full of second year and first year starters. All three of these players are great but they will shine among a lot of mistakes making their job that much harder. The Bison are once again stuck with a mix of a few veterans and a lot of inexperience. The goal is to take a playoff spot but they are again looking to be on the outside looking in. With a lot of teams looking better than 2011 the Bison could be that team that hasn’t improved enough and will be left behind out of the playoffs.

 

One to Watch:

Teague Sherman, S (Edmonton, Alta.)

– The fifth year starting safety, Sherman is one of the few veterans that the Bison can lean on and he will look to improve on a 2011 season that saw him rack up 25.5 tackles, 1 interception, and 4 pass break-ups as he will return as the defensive captain of an inexperienced team

 

Regina Rams

 

 

 

 

 

The Regina Rams are the youngest team in the CWUAA as they first fielded a team in the 1999 season. Only one year after starting their football program Regina saw success as they won their first and only Hardy Trophy in 2000. Despite being unable to return to the national stage Regina has remained a solid team in almost every year. They continually make the playoffs and are always in the mix but more often than not they are eliminated quickly. In 2011 this was the case once again as they made it into the playoffs in the last spot but were beat in the Hardy Trophy Semi-Finals by the Calgary Dinos. It has been a long period of mediocre success for the Rams as they seem to always make the playoffs yet they cannot get much further than that. Because of this the Rams have become a somewhat middle of the road team as they are not good enough to compete with the elite but are better than the rest. This year they will look to shed that reputation as they look to not only make the playoffs but to win the Hardy Cup. The 2012 version of the Rams is looking to be a force in the west and the number of experienced players will only help them. On offence there will be nine returning starters including the return of their 5th year starting QB Marc Mueller. Mueller missed almost all of the 2011 season after being injured in his first series of the season. He will return this year to lead the offence along with his two weapons in slotback Jared Janotta and wide receiver Mark McConkey. The biggest positive for the Rams is their line that will all return for another year including the CWUAA Russ Jackson Award winner Brett Jones. This line will be essential to protect Mueller and to help an inexperienced backfield that will feature a new running back after a battle between Michael Kiapway, Dillon Dawson, or Mark Coons. On defence the Rams will see little change as well with 9 starters returning but they will be without their best player. 1st Team All-Canadian Akiem Hicks left for the NFL after last season leacing some big shoes to fill. In his place will be another 1st team all-Canadian in Stefan Charles who will take over the leadership role on the line. Along with Charles will be Regina’s 2011 leading tackler linebacker Chris Sciog and Regina’s all-time leader in interceptions and interception touchdowns in Jamir Walker. The Ram defence will be an experienced crew with some solid leadership and should make an impact this year. The Rams are looking like a solid team with great leadership in place for the 2012 season and could make a push to the finals. They will likely make the playoffs again this year but their biggest question will always be if they can get past the best of the west and that is a tough task even for an experienced team.

 

One to Watch:

Stefan Charles, DL (Oshawa, ON)

– With Akiem Hicks gone the reigns of the defensive line have essentially been handed to the First Team All-Canadian Charles who will look to improve on his 27.5 tackles and 4.5 sacks from last year to fill the shoes of Hicks

 

Saskatchewan Huskies

 

 

 

 

 

The Saskatchewan Huskies are another team in the CanWest Conference that has been strong over the last few years. The Huskies have been one of the top teams in the CanWest conference and in 2011 they are again a part of the conversation. The Huskies were a solid team last year finishing in third place and in the playoffs once again. As they looked to take on the Dinos in the Hardy Cup they had one speed bump to pass as the UBC Thunderbirds were in their way. A close game saw the Huskies eliminated from the playoffs once again before winning the Hardy Cup. This year the Huskies are looking to get back to their familiar home in the Hardy Cup. This year the Huskies will be looking to their defence to lead them back to the championship in the CanWest. The Huskies defence will return 8 starters from 2011 including their entire defensive secondary. The secondary is their strength as the Huskies will see Bryce McCall, Seamus Neary, Mitch Friesen, and Luke Thiel all returning for another year. The leader of the defence is in the back as Bryce McCall is one of the best safeties in the CIS and is only one interception away from a CIS record. Meanwhile the other end of the defence veterans will also make themselves known including David Rybinski, Joel Seutter, Levi Steinhauer, and two-tim CanWest All-Star Zach Hart. Where the defence falls short is the linebacking corps that lost Peter Thiel, now in the CFL, and former defensive captain Tony Michalchuk. In their place will likely be two veteran players that have seen limited time including Richard Zacharias and Corbin Eskelson. The lone returning linebacker will be third year Thomas Hilderman who only recorded 3.5 tackles last season. The defence is solid but the one weakness is in the middle with the linebackers that could hurt the team in a big way. The offence has rarely been the strength of the Huskies as they have usually been a defensive minded team. The offence this year will be led by a rookie QB as Drew Burko takes over from the athletic Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren. Gilbert-Knorren did not leave the school though as he will be moved to the receiver position where he can use his special skills better. That leaves Burko at the head of the offence with Gilbert-Knorren as one of his main targets. Burko will also have a trio of veterans to throw to in Braeden George, Jeff Moore, and Garrett Burgess. Meanwhile in the backfield will be Dexter Janke who will takeover as the feature back in offence after Ben Coakwell graduated. The Huskies are a defensive team with a defence that may not be as powerful this year.  They will also struggle on offence with a rookie QB as their fall from the top spot looks to continue. They will fight for a playoff spot and may just sneak in but not do much else.

 

One to Watch:

Luke Thiel, DB (Regina, SK)

– Thiel is a member of a very good defensive secondary on the Huskies but where he has turned the most heads is when he lines up to return punts as he is one of the best in the conference and will need to be to help the offence

 

UBC Thunderbirds

 

 

 

 

 

UBC had more than a decade of poor performances after winning the Hardy Cup and moving on to win the Vanier Cup in 1997. It was a bad period for the program as they sat in the basement of the conference for years looking like the doormat for the rest of the teams. Last year was a breakthrough though as the T-Birds proved that they were nobody’s doormat. It was a banner year for the team who went 6-2 in the regular season and finished in 2nd place. In their two losses they stayed in the game until the end as they lost to Calgary 36-33 and to Saskatchewan 30-25. They were only one win away from moving into the national Playoffs but were outplayed by Calgary. Still the Thunderbirds proved that they were a team to watch after the 2011 season and despite officially taking a 0-8 record, after the CIS voided their wins due to the use of an ineligible player, their message was still received. This year the Thunderbirds are out to prove that their great 2011 season was not a fluke as they have only one goal and that is a Hardy Cup. The key to their great 2011 season was the breakout year of Hec Crighton Award winner quarterback Billy Greene who will be back for 2012. After a surprising season that saw Greene named as the best player in the CIS he will return to lead a veteran offence along with his two favorite receivers in Jordan Grieve and David Scott. He will be without one weapon though as  wideout Spencer Betts will miss the season with a hip injury. The biggest hole for the T-Birds though will be in the backfield as Dave Boyd has left the team after playing all five of his CIS eligibility years. In his place will be a battle of Brandon Deschamps and new recruit from the Prairie Football Conference Taylor Souster. Billy Greene is the linchpin in this offence but without a dependable running game to help him who knows what could happen. On defence the T-Birds might be in big trouble with only 4 players returning from the 2011 season. The hardest hit section of the defence will be the secondary as three players including one of the key shutdown corners in the CIS Sam Carino will be gone. There will only be one returning member of the secondary as Kofi Kuma-Mintah will move to defensive halfback for the first time. The one section that was the least affected by the moves was the defensive line as both Kareem Ba and Spencer Wilson will return despite Wilson only playing four games in 2011. The Linebacking corps will have Vivie Bojilov back and will be helped by NCAA transfer Joseph Malabuyoc.  The defence is clearly the biggest question mark as they will see a number of new players that will have to step up if the T-Birds hope to return to the Hardy Cup Finals. It will be tough for this team to get back though, as many teams have improved and Billy Greene can only carry the team so far. With so many holes on defence there is too much that is unknown to say that they will return to their 2011 form. Look for the Thunderbirds to get a low playoff spot and after that it is up for grabs as to what their defence can do against the best teams in the playoffs.

 

One to Watch:

Billy Greene, QB (Surrey, BC)

– Last year was a breakout year for the QB that not many knew about but after averaging 280 yards of offence, running and passing, in 2011 the BC native clearly deserved the Hec Crighton Award and will look to repeat his performance and carry the T-Birds again in 2012

 

Prediction:

1. Calgary Dinos

2. Regina Rams

3. UBC Thunderbirds

4. Saskatchewan Huskies

5. Alberta Golden Bears

6. Manitoba Bison

 

Semi-Finals:

Calgary Dinos 24 – 17 Saskatchewan Huskies

– The Dinos and Huskies have become the two top teams but the Huskies are beginning to falter while the Dinos seem to continue to be strong as they will likely win this game with little resistance as Steven Lumbala will be great against a questionable linebacking corps

 

UBC Thunderbirds 33 – 28 Regina Rams

– The T-Birds are a very improved team behind Hec Crighton winner Billy Greene and although the Rams are another improved team but they are not good enough to stop Greene and a great offence in what could be an arms race

Hardy Trophy:

Calgary Dinos 34 – 24 UBC Thunderbirds

– The Dinos are good and they continue to be good every year and despite the T-Birds improving every year their defence will not be able to stop the offence of the Dinos as the Dinos will continue their dominance of the CanWest Conference winning their 5th straight Hardy Trophy

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