2015 CIS Football Preview: CanWest Conference

canwest-preview.fw

The CanWest conference is one of the two conferences that saw a major change in 2014 as the dominant school was no longer the Hardy Cup champion.

After six straight years the dynasty of the Calgary Dinos was over as they could not take home their seventh straight title.

It was a long run for the Dinos and one that, like their counterparts in Quebec, is impressive no matter how long it goes.

University football is not an environment that is conducive to dynasty building as a brand new team is guaranteed at least every five years.

In the CIS there is a total of five years of eligibility for the majority of the players and after that time is done the school must go with the younger players that have come in through recruiting.

A new recruiting class generally is not used for the first year or two of their CIS careers as they learn the system behind the much more experienced veterans on the team.

When those veterans leave the school through graduation these young players begin to take over and run the team for two or three years until it is their time to graduate.

That type of turnover makes it almost impossible to build consistent success as the new group of players is not guaranteed to be the future stars of the team.

The Dinos figured out a way as their system has clearly brought the best football players from around the country to play for them.

That led to six straight winning seasons as it seemed to be a sure thing that these players were going to spend some time in the CIS playoffs.

The question quickly became when or if the Dinos were going to lose as the winning streak continued to stretch on through multiple recruiting classes.football-sidebar

Everyone got that answer last year when the Dinos finished at the top of the conference for another year but could not take home the Hardy Trophy.

Instead it was the Manitoba Bisons that earned their right to play in the CIS playoffs and they did it in a very surprising season.

Not only did the Bisons not finish in the top two of the conference but they finished with a 4-4 record and nobody saw them coming.

After beating the second place Saskatchewan Huskies 47-36 they had the chance to unseat the rulers of the conference.

They did just that with a 27-15 win in the CanWest Finals becoming the first team not named the Dinos to win the title since 2007, when oddly enough it was that year’s version of the Bisons who won the title.

Now the new season is about to begin and a bigger question dominates every storyline throughout the CanWest division.

Was Manitoba’s win the start of a new era in the conference or was it just a flash in the pan?

The Dinos will be under some major scrutiny this year as every wonders if their time is up or if they just had one bad game that lost them their streak.

The Bisons return hoping to establish their own era after barely getting into the playoffs but moving on the Vanier Cup Semi-Finals.

Meanwhile every other team sees an opening and knows that the Dinos can be beat as they look to begin an era of parity in the CanWest.

Only time will tell if any other team can take the title this year or if the Dinos can return to the top as the CanWest may be ready for a season that could change the conference forever.

CanWest Team Previews

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Alberta Golden Bears

2014 Record 3-5 (5th in CanWest)
Strength The defence returns some of their best playmakers
Biggest Question Can they overcome the loss of Curtis Dell under centre?
Player to Watch Connor Ralph, LB (61.5 tkl, 3 sck, 1 FF, 0 INT)
The Golden Bears were the just miss team in the conference losing a playoff spot by one point and losing a number of close games in 2014. This year they hope to take that extra step and have the defence to do it but may be in tough as they try to reconfigure on offence that lost some key players. They have a chance at the playoffs but it will be another struggle to make it.
cu-dinos.fw Calgary Dinos
2014 Record 6-2 (Lost in Hardy Cup)
Strength Their top talent returns for 2015
Biggest Question What will the impact be of losing head coach Blake Nill?
Player to Watch Andrew Buckley, QB (64.3%, 2,175 yds, 18 TD, 4 INT)
Anytime that a team returns a Hec Crighton Award winner to the team there is a good chance that they will once again be a strong competitor. This year the Dinos will do that as Andrew Buckley returns along with plenty of top talent but they will have to go into the season without longtime head coach Blake Nill. The talent is all there for another run but a new coach might see some roadblocks.
uofm-bisons.fw Manitoba Bisons
2014 Record 4-4 (Lost in Uteck Bowl)
Strength Much of the CanWest championship team is returning
Biggest Question Can they keep going without their offensive powerhouses?
Player to Watch Jayden McKoy, DB (40 tkl, 0 sck, 1 FF, 5 INT)
The Bisons return to defend their CanWest title with a lot of returning starters but their losses, especially on offence, are going to be tough. Receiver Nic Demski, QB Jordan Yantz, and running back Kienan Lafrance were all the key parts to a good offence but are no longer on the team. Their defence will be the key this year and with most playmakers returning they may have another run in them.
uofr-rams.fw Regina Rams
2014 Record 3-5 (Lost in CanWest Semi-Finals)
Strength Their offensive attack gets better with new head coach
Biggest Question Can the defence finally step up to match the offence?
Player to Watch Noah Picton, QB (64.1%, 2,029 yds, 11 TD 5 INT)
The teams with the nation’s best passing attack is going through some transition as their top two receivers are no longer there. Still Noah Picton returns to help lead the new group of receivers while new head coach Mike Gibson hopes to help ease the transition. If the defence can keep up they have a chance at the playoffs but if the defence falters it will be a year without playoffs for the Rams.
uofs-huskies.fw Saskatchewan Huskies
2014 Record 6-2 (Lost in CanWest Semi-Finals)
Strength It was a much more stable off-season for the Huskies
Biggest Question Can they find some type of balance in the offence?
Player to Watch Drew Burko, QB (60.5%, 2,256 yds, 21 TD, 8 INT)
In 2014 the Huskies had to deal with three members of their coaching staff leaving and yet they still ended the season in second place in the conference. With much more stability this year there is plenty of potential for this team but they will need to get better in their running game, they were last in 2014. With that balance the Huskies seemed poised for another good year.
ubc-thunderbirds.fw UBC Thunderbirds
2014 Record 2-6 (6th in CanWest)
Strength It’s a new era with one of the CIS’s best head coaches?
Biggest Question Can the turnaround start this early?
Player to Watch Michael O’Connor, QB (Penn State Redshirt in 2014)
The T-Birds are getting ready for a brand new era as former Calgary Dinos head coach, Blake Nill has moved to the West Coast and brought with him the nation’s top recruiting class. That class includes some top Canadian high school talent and NCAA transfers including Penn State recruit Michael O’Connor. As great as all of these things will be it might not be enough right now.

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