2015 CIS Conference Finals Preview

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The Conference Finals are here in the CIS and after a season where everyone was wondering if surprises were going to continue not many did.

The first official round of the CIS playoffs provided plenty of surprises and had some wondering if the pattern from last year was going to continue.

The OUA kicked off the playoffs with their usual extra round and in that round the two top ranked teams fell to the lower ranked teams.

Then the rest of the country joined in for the semi-finals and that hope of the dark horse faded quickly.

In every conference the #1 and #2 teams won their games and set up a top-tier match-up for the championships.

All of the best teams in the country are now in the championships games looking to take home their title.

More importantly for every team in these battles though is the fact that a win this weekend means a shot in the Canadian Playoffs where they get one step closer to the ultimate prize in the Vanier Cup.

If the pattern continues it may not be a very exciting weekend as all of the top ranked teams could very well take home the titles.

Then again none of these match-ups looks great for any team as these games will by far be the toughest that all of the top teams have had this year.

In the CanWest Conference the Calgary Dinos are considered the best team in the entire country after finishing an undefeated season.

If the pattern of the playoffs continues they should walk their way into the Vanier Cup and win it all.

That isn’t football though and they have to take on the UBC Thunderbirds and the coach that recruited most of this Calgary team.football-sidebar

In the OUA the Western Mustangs have been one of the most dominant teams in recent years and this year are another team that finished the season without a loss.

They should be able to beat the Guelph Gryphons but that undefeated season did not include a win against Guelph.

The Gryphons and Mustangs never faced off this year and that could provide plenty of fireworks between the two best teams in the OUA.

In Quebec the Laval Rouge et Or are back on top of the conference and ready to take back the trophy they owned for more than a decade.

They don’t have an easy path though as their biggest rival and toughest competitor is Montreal and the Carabins are looking to take their second straight Dunsmore officially ended the rule of the Rouge et Or.

On the east coast the Mount Allison Mounties were watching closely last week as they prepared for the conference finals during their well-earned bye.

They have won the Jewett Trophy two years in a row and have been the team to overcome every challenger in the AUS.

The StFX X-Men showed their power in the semi-final easily handling Acadia and were a team that challenged the Mounties all season as they hope to do the same for the title.

All four of the matchups to earn championships will involve the top two teams throughout the season in each conference.

Looking at face value of every matchup makes it an easy prediction as the best teams should move on.

That is not how sports work and a surprise can happy in any given week including ones that are more important.

The conference title weekend could be an interesting one as there are plenty of questions regarding these matchups and every team is looking for their chance on the national stage.

hardy-cup

The CanWest Conference has come down to one of the more interesting matchups on championship weekend. The Calgary Dinos are ranked #1 across Canada and went through the conference easily. They finished the year with an 8-0 record and were never really tested much like they have been over the past few years. The Dinos are the dominant team in the conference and they proved it once again with a great season. On the other side of the field is a team that has been far from dominant over the last few years. The UBC Thunderbirds were one of the most inconsistent teams in the conference over those years as they had sat at the bottom of the conference and moved up only to fall again. They are back at the top this year finishing just behind the Dinos with a 6-2 record thanks to some massive changes in the off-season. The success of the Dinos over recent years and the newfound success of the T-Birds is all do to the same man. Blake Nill was the head coach of the Dinos from 2006-2014 and helped Calgary to six straight Hardy Cups. Nill left the Calgary program this off-season to take over head coaching duties at UBC and in his first season has shown his ability bring a team up. His influence was seen immediately in B.C. when he convinced Michael O’Connor to join the T-Birds after deciding to leave Penn State. That decision in itself makes an interesting storyline for this game as well with Andrew Buckley and O’Connor at the helm of both offences. Both QBs are considered great CFL prospects to follow Brandon Bridge in added more Canadian talent at such an important position. Buckley is last year’s Hec Crighton Winner and is likely in the running again this year as he hopes to finish his CIS career with a Vanier Cup and move on to the Calgary Stampeders where he was drafted last year. O’Connor has shown some signs of trying to adjust to a new game but a big Division-I program saw enough to give him a scholarship. His development in some of the top programs in the USA has many thinking that he is good enough to make a big impact as a Canadian QB. Both will try to lead their teams to a Hardy Cup this year and although the Dinos look like the obvious choice the game might not be as easy as the rest of their season seemed to be.

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yates-cup

The Yates Cup has a very familiar face once again as the team with the overwhelming majority of Yates Cups is back in the title game. The Yates Cup is the oldest trophy in football starting in 1898 as the ultimate prize in CIS football. Western has been at the top since their program began in 1929 winning their first Yates Cup only two years after in 1931. Since then they have taken a total of 33 Yates Cups and now are sitting in a position to take one more. Their season has been one of the best in the country as they finished the year without a loss. They have gone through almost every team in the OUA with little problem and are right up there with Calgary as one of the best teams in the nation. They had a great year but with the size of the OUA they didn’t face every team they could have in the conference. One of those teams was the Guelph Gryphons who themselves had a great year finishing second with a 7-1 record. The Mustangs now have an interesting challenge as they will look to continue their undefeated season against a team they have yet to face and the second best team in the conference. That leaves a big unknown in this game as neither of these teams have faced off against each other leaving some mystery in the game. Without a matchup this season the closest game between the two was the end of the season for the Mustangs. Last year the Gryphons took on the Mustangs and dominated beating them 51-26 in the Conference semi-finals. Guelph hopes that they can do the same this year as they look to take only their fourth Yates Cup in team history. The Mustangs are looking for the opposite though as they try to get some revenge from last year when they had a different team and certainly a less dominant team. This year is different though as this time the Mustangs are the better team heading in and both have changed since a year before. It is a matchup of a team that has seen success year after year and a team that is only recently coming back to the top of the conference but unable to finish great seasons. They will try to finally do that and win their first Yates Cup since 1996 against one of the most dominant teams of the year.

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dunsmore-cup

The Dunsmore Cup will come down to the thing that the best playoff games are meant for as two bitter rivals face-off. The Montreal Carabins and Laval Rouge et Or have developed one of the best rivalries in CIS over the last few years. It wasn’t always that way though as Laval has long been the team to beat in the RSEQ. They started their football program in 1999 and since that time they have risen to be the program that every other team wants to be. They are consistently great winning a total of 12 Dunsmore Cups including a run of 11 straight that began in 2003 and ended last year in one of the most shocking surprises in the CIS. The master of that upset was Danny Maciocia who took over the Montreal program in 2011 and changed their outlook since that time. The Carabins have been one of the best teams since 2011 but they had failed to beat the biggest team and therefore never got to the national playoffs. That was until a few years ago when they started to beat Laval during the regular season ending more than one perfect season. Last year the turnaround was complete as the Carabins took home a win in the regular season and took home a win in the Dunsmore Cup. It was a program changing win as Laval’s run of 11 straight titles was over and Montreal was on top. The Carabins took that win to the Vanier Cup in Montreal and took home the top prize as the best team in the country. Last year’s gam could be the official start of the rivalry as finally Montreal had won an important game in their long series. The Carabins had finally taken the Dunsmore Cup along with a Vanier Cup and although they have some room to make up on their provincial rivals in terms of championships they will look to continue the process this time around. During the season it looked like Laval was ready to once again run through the conference and take home their 13th Dunsmore Cup but that ended late in the season. That is when Montreal took a win against Laval to end the undefeated season and even the season series. It is a great rivalry that is only just getting started and the 2015 Dunsmore Cup should only be another chapter in what looks like a great CIS rivalry.

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loney-bowl

There are dominant teams in the rest of the country that have taken multiple titles through multiple years. The AUS is no stranger to that as well with the Saint Mary’s Huskies dominating for years and creating their own streaks. They have done so multiple times throughout the history of the conference and have been the best team overall. The Huskies are in a down period of their program though and so it has left the door open for another team to start their own dominant streak in the AUS. That team is the Mount Allison Mounties who have already won two straight Jewett Trophies and are looking for their third. Their program has never done this before as they only have a back-to-back period in the mid-1980s. This team will make history for their program and could begin to look a lot like the Huskies did years ago. That is not going to be an easy task though as they will play a team that has shown how much they want this title. For a team that won the first four Jewett Trophies in the history of the AUS their performances recently have not been great. They have been in the game multiple times but have yet to win since 1996. Last week they showed exactly how bad they want this title when they shut down Acadia for a 26-4 win to earn another chance in the Loney Bowl. Last year the X-Men were right here against the same team but were shut down losing 29-7 to the Mounties. Now they get a chance at revenge and will attempt to get that revenge a year later with a chance to win their first Jewett Trophy since ’96. With one team looking to be dominant and the other looking to finally get back on top of the conference there is plenty of motivation for both teams. Their season series was split with both winning teams putting up 20 points and the defence taking the full focus. It will once again as the Mounties stand on top of the conference thanks to their great defence which is what the X-Men will look to beat like they did in the last game of the season. It is sure to be a tight game as both teams look to represent the East Coast in the national playoffs where the true test begins for any team from the AUS.

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