Calgary’s Conference? (CanWest Preview)


The theme of the season id the dominance of the top four teams in the country and one of the best for almost half a decade has been the Calgary Dinos. The Dinos have won 4 Hardy Cups in the last four years as one of the most dominant teams in the CIS. They have done some great things and have shown how to sustain their success. They are one of the few true dynasties in the CIS with a four-year run that will come under fire this year. Now they are hoping to get back to the top and unseat the recent dynasty. As is with most college teams a class can only last 4 years and that is where the Dinos are. They are sitting at four years straight winning meaning that the recruiting class that started the run is now gone. This will be the true test for the Dinos as they will look to become the first 5-peat champion in the CanWest Conference. There will be plenty of teams looking to prevent that 5-peat though as the rest of the teams in the conference are only getting better. The Regina Rams are a team on the rise looking better every year but not being able to get over the hump. The Saskatchewan Huskies are the old dynasty who wants to get back to the place that they had become so familiar with. UBC had a great year in 2011 but struggled in 2012 setting up a great comeback story if they can capture that magic they had in 2011. Meanwhile the Alberta Golden Bears and Manitoba are looking to pick up their play to try to win this conference. All the focus will be on the Dinos though as they try to do something that no team has done before. As the focus is on them so is the target as the Dinos look to make the CanWest their conference while every other team is looking to show that the CanWest conference is more than just Calgary. They’re looking to show that the next Vanier Cup champion can come out of the CanWest conference and can be someone other than the Calgary Dinos. The CanWest conference is at an interesting point as one team is on the verge of becoming the most dominant team in CanWest history with every other team trying to unseat them. It all hangs in the balance this year as the season gets underway with another repeat champion looking to three-peat.


Alberta Golden Bears


The Alberta Golden Bears have been in trouble over the past few years as they have been near or at the bottom of the conference. Last year they would finish in last place in the CanWest conference without a win on the season. It was a low point for the program and something needed to be changed and that change would come with a new head coach. Former CIS All-Canadian and Grey Cup Champion Chris Morris will take over the Golden Bears program in his first stint as a coach. Morris will look to take this program and bring it back to the playoffs but there will be a lot of work to do. On offence QBs Curtis Dell and Ryan Schwartz will be back alongside running backs Joel Muekendi and Efe Ogolo along with receivers Ryley Richardson and Jess Valleau. Defence will be led by 5th year defensive lineman Steven Giang and he will be joined by another 10 returning starters to be one of the more experienced defensive squads in the conference. The problem with the Golden Bears is that they return a lot of players from an 0-8 team that couldn’t handle the conference last year. The best part of the team is the young talent and that means this year may be another bad one while the Bears rebuild their program from the bottom up. The Bears won’t be in the playoffs this year although a new attitude that comes with a new coach could show some bright signs for the future.


Calgary Dinos


The Calgary Dinos are the dominant team of the CanWest and have finished 2nd or 1st in the last five years. Along that stretch the Dinos have won five Hardy Cups and have made one appearance in the Vanier Cup. The Dinos will go through the inevitable losses after five years with some very good players leaving to the next level. The Dinos will find their true strength of the program this year as they need to find replacements for superstars like Linden Gaydosh, Mike Edem, and Steven Lumbala. There will be some key returnees to help the transition though including QB and CanWest MVP Eric Dzwilewski who will look to CIS All-Canadian receiver Chris Dobko to produce in the passing game. On defence the Dinos will miss their two best players in Gaydosh and Edem as both moved on to the pro ranks this year. The leader this year will be Saskatchewan Roughriders draftee linebacker Tom Spoletini who will need to lead a young squad on defence and make up for the big losses. The Dinos are at the point where the best players are leaving and the recruiting will come into focus more than ever as they must move on with a younger team. The Dinos will not be completely lost as there is a chance for them to get back to the National playoffs but there are a lot of questions and although a playoff appearance is likely another Hardy Cup might be too much to ask for from this young team.


Manitoba Bisons


The Manitoba Bisons might very well be on the upswing after falling to the bottom of the conference since winning the Vanier Cup in 2007. They would make the playoffs last year with a 4-4 record after spending four years at the bottom of the division. They would make the playoffs in 2012 and will be looking to get back this year with what they hope to be a better season. The Bisons will be tested this year though as many of their big starters are leaving just as the program was gaining some traction. Starting QB Cam Clark is gone and in his place will be Marc Paquette or Jordan Yantz after a QB battle throughout the preseason. The good thing for the offence and these QBs will be that two-time CIS All-Star running back Anthony Coombs is back and will be the focus of the offence this year. On defence the Bisons will be looking to their line for leadership as all four of starters on the line will be returning this year. They will be led by Lauren Kroeker who led the CanWest conference in sacks with 6.5 last year and will look to help make this front four the best in the conference. The Bisons had a 4-4 record next year and are looking to improve but the loss of some major players could mean trouble for them. The Bisosn will fight for a playoff spot this year but nothing is guaranteed with some improved teams looking for their own share of the #4 spot.


Regina Rams


The Regina Rams were on their way up in the past few years as they continued to get better year in and year out. Last year they had a great season last year earning the second place spot and a home playoff game. The Rams would go on to win that game getting a step closer to the Hardy Trophy. They would lose in the finals to the Calgary Dinos but would have one of their best seasons in recent years. 20 players from last year’s team are gone now though, but 16 players will enter their 4th or 5th years. These 16 players will make the corps of this team in what could be their last chance to make a run at the Hardy Trophy before the veterans leave. The offence will be lead by a corps of veteran receivers including Mark McConkey, Jared Janotta, Kolton Solomon, and Landon Buch. These receivers will be a big help to incoming QB Cayman Shutter who transferred to Regina from the University of Hawaii. He is expected to start at QB right away and will use his experience from Division-I to keep the Rams at the top of the conference.  The defence will be led by another defensive lineman this year as Logan Brooks will have to fill the shoes of Stefan Charles although he is more than capable. The Rams are still on the upswing and this may be their last chance so expect them to make the playoffs and make one final run at the Hardy Trophy.


Saskatchewan Huskies


There is no team that would like the Dinos and the Rams to fall short more this year than the Saskatchewan Huskies. The Huskies have become legendary in the CIS as one of the best programs in the nation. It hasn’t been that way for a while though as the Huskies have fallen to the Dinos and the up and comers. In 2011 it was Calgary and UBC and last year it was Calgary and Regina but this year they are hoping for a comeback. After losing in the first round of the playoffs last year the Huskies are trying to get back with their offence this year. For years the Huskies have relied on an experienced defence to help them make the playoffs but this year that won’t be the case. The Huskies would lose some key pieces to their defence including the all-time CIS interceptions leader Bryce McCall. Instead the Huskies will be looking to two key players to lead the defence in defensive end Zach Hart and Joel Seutter as two of the few returning defensive starters. This year the huskies will have to look to their offence for most of the leadership as 10 starters return this year. That includes 2nd year QB Drew Burko who will use 2012 CIS First Team All-Star Kit Hillis to lead a potent passing attack. The Huskies are trying to get back to their old winning ways but an inexperienced defence will keep them from a championship, although not a playoff berth.


UBC Thunderbirds


The UBC Thunderbirds had a breakout season in 2011 when the team that was in the basement for years would become one of the best in the conference. They would be led by Billy Greene who would help the Thunderbirds to the Hardy Cup and would win the Hec Crighton Award. The Thunderbirds would enter the 2012 season as early favorites to go back to the Hardy Cup and possibly win it to make the National playoffs. Then they went 0-4 to start the season and erase any chance of returning to the playoff. Coming in to try to help the Thunderbirds is Jerry Friesen who will take over as the defensive coordinator for a struggling defensive team. Friesen will look to use linebacker Vivie Bojilov and defensive back Bryan Rideout as his leaders in the defence. If Friesen can improve it will be a big help to an offence going through some major changes this year. The biggest of them all will be the departure of Billy Greene who will be likely replaced by fourth year QB Carson Williams, although he will have competition from transfer Greg Bowcott. The offence will lean heavily on running back Brandon Deschamps as the QBs fight it out for the right to start. The Thunderbirds are back to their losing ways that had dominated them for years before 2011 but with some changes the team is clearly not alright with that. They will look to improve and could do that although a playoff spot may be just out of reach.


1. Regina Rams
2. Calgary Dinos
3. Saskatchewan Huskies
4. Manitoba Bisons
5. UBC Thunderbirds
6. Alberta Golden Bears

Hardy Trophy:

Regina Rams
– The Rams are seeing the last of a good crop of recruits and although the Dinos are going to be a tough test the Rams will come out on top to end the dominance of the Dinos this year winning the Hardy Cup and moving on to the National Playoffs

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