The Dominance of the Big Two Continues (2012 AUS Preview)

The AUS is a very unique league as the smallest part of the CIS with only four teams competing for the Jewett Trophy. With such a small conference the AUS is generally underestimated and brushed off when it comes to the national picture. The large conferences of the rest of the CIS gain national attention and are generally ranked higher on average. Still the AUS continues marching on playing their football and not caring about the respect they get outside of the east coast.  It is always a tough road for the conference as the east coast is so isolated that the CIS can overlook them many times. This is reflected in the election of All-Canadians, award winners, and of the CIS rankings. Luckily for the AUS the rankings mean little in terms of the Vanier Cup picture with the CIS having a playoff format. As a result of this the four teams in t AUS can concentrate on playing and winning their division instead of being recognized on the national picture. As the teams focus on their conference first there has been a pattern forming as the last 14 years has seen two of the four teams fight for the title. Since 1998 only the Acadia Axemen and Saint Mary’s Huskies have seen their names on the Jewett Trophy. It has been a tough tread for the other two teams as the X-Men and Mounties have continued to play for the last playoff spot only to fail to move much further. Meanwhile the rivalry between Acadia and Saint Mary’s continues to grow as they continue to play for the biggest prize in the east coast. Even with that competition it has still been the Huskies’ conference to lose as the last 14 years have seen the Huskies win 10 Jewett Trophies to the 4 by Acadia. This year Acadia looks to win two in a row and begin their own period of dominance in the AUS while the Huskies look to get back on track and end the Axemen reign.

 

Acadia Axemen

 

 

 

 

 

The Acadia Axemen are one of the only teams that seems to be able to challenge the Saint Mary’s Huskies in the AUS every year. Since 1998 the Axemen and Huskies have fought back and forth to win the Jewett Trophy. The 2011 season was a good one for the Axemen as they were able to take the conference in the regular season and beat the Huskies in the championship. They moved on to the national playoffs but did not have much luck going against the eventual champions the McMaster Marauders. This year the Axemen are hoping to get back to the national stage and hopefully into the Vanier Cup. On offence the Axemen will lean heavily on AUS Hec Crighton winner quarterback Kyle Graves. Graves will return for his fifth year after spending his offseason with the Montreal Alouettes as he looks to lead the Axemen into the national playoffs. He will have one of his favorite targets back to help him as well with First Team All-Canadian Mike Squires back for his fifth year. To round out the trio of veterans fourth year running back Zack Skibin will return to the back field for his second full year starting. In his first year as a starter Skibin had a breakout year finishing 9th in the country for yards per game. On defence the story is much different as the Axemen lost their two best players in an offseason that saw 6 starters graduate or move on from the team. The Axemen dominated the defensive awards in the AUS last year with Tom Labenski, Jake Thomas, and Andrew Frazer all be honoured for their great seasons. Unfortunately for the Axemen none of these players will be back for the 2012 campaign. Linebacker Tom Labenski won the AUS Presidents’ Trophy as the best defensive player in the conference but graduated last year. Filling his big shoes will be Ed McNally who will enter his third year as a starter and look to lead the linebacking corps. The defensive line took the biggest hit as the AUS J.P. Metras award winner Jake Thomas is now with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers while AUS Russ Jackson award winner Andrew Frazer has graduated. Looking to fill the leadership hole on the line is 5th year and AUS All-Star John Wilson who will now see the brunt of responsibility fall to him. The secondary is the one part of the defence that was relatively untouched with First Team All-Canadian defensive halfback Cameron Wade back to lead the pass defence. Wade will be joined by 4th year Alex Graham in the secondary after an offseason spent playing football in the East-West Game. The Axemen are looking very good on offence this year with key starters returning but the defence will need some work. They are still one of the best teams in the AUS as they will make the playoffs and likely fight it out for first place in the AUS with their offence carrying the team into the playoffs.

 

One to Watch:
Kyle Graves, QB (Barrie, ON)
– After an offseason spent with some great QB talent around him in the Montreal Alouettes training camp Graves should return an even better QB than last year when he dominated the AUS becoming the conference’s nominee for the Hec Crighton Award

 

Mount Allison Mounties

 

 

 

The Mount Allison Mounties are a team that has seen limited success in the AUS as four-time champions. The last of these championships came in 1997 though as the Mounties have struggled to return to their early success. Over the last six years the Mounties have closed the gap between the teams in the AUS conference after missing out on the playoffs for years before 2006. That is a tough pill to swallow as only one team is eliminated from the AUS playoffs every year. The 2011 season was supposed to be the year that the Mounties got back on track. In 2010 the team made the playoffs barely and they were looking to continue their upward trend in 2011. They could not manage it though as injuries and turnovers bit them leading to a 0-8 record. This year the Mounties are looking to a team that resembles their 2011 team except they all now have one more year of experience. On offence the Mounties are led by 3rd year QB Jake Hotchkiss who will return for another year as he looks to become the all-time leading passer in Mounties History. Hotchkiss is less than 1,000 yards away from the record held by Kelly Hughes. He will look to do that and remain healthy after suffering a rib injury in 2011 that might have kept him from reaching his potential last year. Hotchkiss will have his favorite target back as well with Josh Blanchard returning after being drafted by the Calgary Stampeders. Meanwhile the offensive line will return four linemen from last year creating a much more solid group. That is good news for Nathan Zavarella who will try to get more involved in the offence to provide more balance. The offence will have some key players back as the losses were relatively small as the 2012 season looking promising for the attack. The Mounties defence is led by a host of returning players that will provide the defence with plenty of experience. The most promising of all of these returning players will be Jacob LeBlanc who won the AUS rookie of the year award in 2011. He will be back for his second year on the starting defensive line. He will be joined by 5th year Ryan Downe who will look to continue to pad his school record in career sacks. The second level of the defence will be led by Justin Richard who was named as the team defensive MVP last year. In the secondary Donovan Saunders returns for his second year with one year under his belt. The defence is hoping that the number of second year players will help them shut down opposing offences. The Mounties are a young team that had their wake up call last year and the team is now hoping that they have adjusted. It will still be a challenge for the team to make the playoffs but they will fight for that last spot and will not go 0-8 this year.

 

One to Watch:
Justin Richard, LB (Sackville, NB)
– The Mounties struggled last year but one of the bright spots was the defensive MVP Richard who will return to play for his hometown team and look to lead the Mounties back into the playoffs once again

 

Saint Mary’s Huskies

 

 

 

 

The Saint Mary’s Huskies have been the most dominant team in the AUS for years as they have continually been in the mix. Despite a few years where Acadia got the better of them the Huskies have been the class of the conference. The Huskies are far and away the best team in the AUS with 24 Jewett Trophies including 7 Jewett trophies in the last 10 years. For the last 14 years the Huskies have fought with the Axemen for bragging rights in the East Coast. It has been that way for years with the Huskies getting the better of the Axemen more often than not. The Huskies could not get back to their usual dominance last year though as they finished in second place and lost the Loney Bowl to the Axemen. The Huskies will be looking to get back to their dominance and begin another long string of conference championships. On offence the Huskies will have one of the top QBs in the CIS as Kyle Graves returns from his stint learning from the best CFL QB ever as a member of the Montreal Alouettes camp. Graves will lead the offence and look to repeat his AUS MVP year and lead the team back into the playoffs. Graves will have a number of his big weapons back as well with AUS All-Star wide receiver Jahmeek Taylor who will join Carl Fitzgerald and Kevin Wurthrich to provide what should be a good passing game. In the backfield the Huskies will see a change as Devon Jones and Craig Leger are both gone leaving a number of players to fight for the spot. One player who could make an impact is new recruit Jeremy Haggarty who might be able to break through to start. On defence the Huskies will have seven returning starters but many will have some good experience behind them. The defensive secondary will have a number of returnees including AUS All-Star Neil King and CIS First Team All-Canadian Kayin Marchand-Wright. In the linebacking corps the Huskies will have a number of returnees including 2nd year players Marvin Golding, and Matt Lalande and the leader of the linebacking corps 4th year Kyle Norris. The defensive line was the worst hit by graduation as Dan Schutte will no longer be with the team. Still the best defensive lineman on the team will make his return as CIS 2nd team All-Canadian Rob Jubenville will be back for his final year. The Huskies are a team that will continue on with a young team that has more experience than when they finished in 2nd place last year. The Huskies have one thing that is going for them more than anything else and that is that they have one of the best QBs in the country leading their offence. For this reason the Huskies will be back in the playoffs and will fight for the top spot once again with a good shot at another Jewett Trophy.

 

One to Watch:
Rob Jubenville, DL (Oshawa, ON)
– The Huskies will lean on their defence this year and Jubenville will be their best player as he looks to return in 2012 to lead the defensive line after a 2011 season that saw him tied for most sacks in the CIS as he hopes to put the Huskies back in the national playoffs

 

StFX X-Men

 

 

 

 

 

The St. Francis Xavier X-Men have seen their share of success in the AUS but lately have been lost in the battle of the big two. 1996 was the last time that the X-Men were able to win the Jewett Trophy in one of their best seasons ever. As the X-Men went through the AUS they were able to dominate and move into the national picture where they finished as runner ups in the Vanier Cup. Since that season the X-Men have struggled to return to the national playoffs and have been overshadowed by the top two teams in the AUS. Last year the X-Men went 2-6 and barely made it into the playoffs only beating the 0-8 Mount Allison Mounties to earn the last playoff spot. They were not much of a challenge for their opponents though as the Saint Mary’s Huskies easily beat the X-Men ending the season for the team. This year the X-Men look to take their young team to another level after many of their players experienced a tough 2011 season. On offence the X-Men will be essentially without a QB as Jahmari Bennett could take over the starting role but will have a short leash. Whoever does end up at QB will have more than enough firepower to work with as a number of key skill players return. The receiving corps will be dangerous with Jordan Catterall, Andrew Hickey, and Devon Bailey all return to form a trio of great receivers. In the backfield will likely be Aloysius Williams who will provide some change of pace although the focus will remain in the passing game. The X-Men offence has been a pass first offence and that will continue as the group of receivers will make any QB look good. The defence will be led by a number of veteran players that will provide some good leadership this year. The StFX defence will rely on the linebacking corps that returns some of their best players. Ron Omara and AUS All-Star Brett Hubbeard will lead the linebacking corps and will lead the defence in 2012. The defensive line will be led by Nate Annan who made a commitment to get bigger this offseason and will look to use his new strength to disturb offensive lines. The defensive secondary is a fast one with Dylan Hollohan returning to the defence after injuries kept him off of the field for the last two seasons. This year he returns and looks to get back to his 2009 form where he was named a CIS All-Canadian. The defence has a number of good players back although they may need to mix some young players in that could force some mistakes. The X-Men have gone through the growing pains of having a young team but 2012 marks a time where many of these young players should come of age. If the X-Men can get this mature performance from the team they will be better than last year but will still not be good enough to compete with the top teams in the conference.

 

One to Watch:
Brett Hubbeard, LB (Peterborough, ON)
– The highlight of the X-Men team is the linebacking corps and Hubbeard represents on e of the best linebackers in the group as he is coming off of a breakout year in 2011 and an appearance in the East West Bowl as he looks to become a leader for the team in 2012

Prediction:
1. Saint Mary’s Huskies
2. Acadia Axemen
3. StFX X-Men
4. Mount Allison Mounties

 

Semi-Finals:
Acadia Axemen 36 – 31 StFX X-Men
– The Axemen are led by one of the best QBs in the CIS with Kyle Graves at the helm of the offence and they will outperform the X-Men who have no real standout QB with Acadia getting a shot to repeat as champions

Loney Bowl:
Acadia Axemen 28 – 27 Saint Mary’s Huskies
– The Huskies are looking good again this year but their good defence will have a hard time against Kyle Graves and the Acadia offence as the Axemen will win their second straight Jewett Trophy in a tight game

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