Canada West Football Team Previews

University of Manitoba Bisons

  • 2017 regular season record: 2-6
  • 2017 regular season standings: Tied for 5th in Canada West
  • 2017 playoff record: N/A
  • 2017 playoff finish: N/A

General Write-Up:

The Manitoba Bisons have struggled of late, missing the Canada West playoffs in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Bad luck has something to do with it, as a run of mumps and season-ending injuries have plagued the two seasons. That said, 2018 is looking extremely positive for the Herd. The team’s offensive and defensive lines are stacked with veterans, as well as many of the skill positions. In fact, 58 of Manitoba’s 88 players at training camp are returning players.

The Bisons’ offence starts at the running back position, where third-year back Jamel Lyles promises to be one of the nation’s best. Lyles has been all over the field for Manitoba, amassing 3,042 all-purpose yards in his two years of U SPORTS eligibility. For this type of play, Lyles was named the Canada West Rookie of the Year in 2015 and represented Manitoba at the 2018 U SPORTS Valero East-West Bowl, where he ran in the game-winning touchdown for Team West. Manitoba is strong out wide too, with veteran receivers Trysten Dyce, Jesse Walker, and Stephen Ugbah all primed to perform this season.

At the pivot position, the Bisons’ day one starter looks to be third-year Des Catellier. After jumping in as starting QB midway through a tumultuous 2017, Catellier has settled in to his role at training camp. The former Team Canada U18 player will compete with recruit Scott Borden Jr., who has played for the Saint Mary’s Huskies and Westshore Rebels, and promises to bring a strong running threat to Manitoba’s quarterback depth chart.

In the trenches, Manitoba is benefiting from new offensive line coach Kelly Butler, who brings a wealth of experience as an NFL player and CFL standout with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Butler is coaching a solid group, led by fourth year Zack Williams, who also played in the 2018 Valero East West Bowl.

On defence, Manitoba will be led by fifth-year Jayden McKoy. Transitioning from half back to free safety, McKoy will be the team’s last line — he’s earned that too, totaling 30 tackles every year since 2014, and was named a Canada West All-Star last season.

Closer to centre, the Bisons’ defensive line is anchored by Derek Dufault (another East-West Bowl participant) and Brock Gowanlock. Dufault, beyond his success in the classroom as an Academic All-Canadian, has accumulated 60.5 tackles and 4.5 sacks in his U SPORTS career.

After a tough two seasons, Manitoba looks to re-emerge in 2018 as a contender, battling for a Canada West playoff spot.

Quote from head coach: Brian Dobie

“One of the commonalities with all of the really good teams that we’ve had at Manitoba has been great defensive lines,” said Bison football head coach Brian Dobie. “This is a team that looks like it has that coming out of the gate. Right now, we’ve probably got 10 or 11 legitimate U SPORTS starters in that group.”

Head Coach: Brian Dobie

  • Number of seasons as head coach with team (including 2018): 23
  • Number of seasons as head coach in U SPORTS (including 2018): 23
  • Career regular season record with team: 89-85-1
  • Career regular season record in U SPORTS: 89-85-1
  • Career overall record with team (reg. season & playoffs only): 89-85-1 regular season, 12-10 playoffs
  • Career overall record in U SPORTS (reg. season & playoffs only): 89-85-1 regular season, 12-10 in playoffs

Regina Rams

  • 2017 regular season record: 4-4
  • 2017 regular season standings: 3rd in Canada West
  • 2017 playoff record: 0-1
  • 2017 playoff finish: Lost 28-21 to UBC in Canada West semifinal

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General Write-Up:

The University of Regina Rams return a good quantity of high-end veteran talent this season, and will look to take a step forward after qualifying for the Canada West postseason the last two years but losing out in the semifinals both times.

Leading the returners are the fifth-year tandem of Noah Picton and Atlee Simon, both Canada West all-stars last season. Picton enters the season just shy of the 10,000 mark in career passing yards and needs just 1638 more to become the nation’s all-time leader in the category, while Simon is already the U of R’s career leader in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and touchdowns scored.

The defensive side of the ball also features veteran leadership, especially at the linebacker position where three of the four spots look like they’ll be occupied by fifth-year players – Danny Nesbitt at mac, Layne Hull at will, and Cole Benkic at zack. The defensive line will also feature a pair of fifth years in heavy rotation, including Grey McKen and Ryan Warner.

Quote from head coach: Steve Bryce

“We’ve got a great veteran core this season and we’re not only expecting some players within the program to step up but we’re also adding some exciting newcomers to the team. It’s been great to see this team get to the postseason these past two years, but we have loftier goals in mind and I’m looking forward to seeing this group chase them.”

Head Coach: Steve Bryce

  • Number of seasons as head coach with team (including 2018): 3
  • Number of seasons as head coach in U SPORTS (including 2018): 3
  • Career regular season record with team: 10-6
  • Career regular season record in U SPORTS: 10-6
  • Career overall record with team (reg. season & playoffs only): 10-8
  • Career overall record in U SPORTS (reg. season & playoffs only): 10-8

University of Alberta Golden Bears

  • 2017 regular season record: 3-5
  • 2017 regular season standings: 4th in Canada West
  • 2017 playoff record: 0-1
  • 2017 playoff finish: Lost 39-22 in Canada West semifinal

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General Write-Up:

Coming off their best season under head coach Chris Morris, the Bears will look to qualify for back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since 2009 and 2010. The Bears also had a handful of individual records set last season, most notably by fifth-year running back, and Hec Crighton Trophy winner Ed Ilnicki.

While the team will return a large chunk of last year’s starters, they will have a handful of key roles open after the departure of their graduating players. Alberta led Canada West with 517.8 yards per game, and finished second in scoring, averaging 34.4 points per game last year, thanks in large part to Ilnicki’s 1,619 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns.

While the offence will see some turnover in 2018, the Bears young and talented defence will return nearly every starter this season. Look for the defence to be the backbone of the Golden Bears as they aim to get back into the Hardy Cup picture.

Quote from head coach: (Chris Morris)

“The 2018 version of the Golden Bear football team is a mature and physical group that will compete to win every one of our games this year. We had some tremendous team and individual accomplishments last year that we can hopefully replicate. Our recruiting class is also one of the strongest we have had, and we are confident they can fill the shoes left by some of our graduating student-athletes.”

Head Coach: (Chris Morris)

  • Number of seasons as head coach with team (including 2018): 6
  • Number of seasons as head coach in U SPORTS (including 2018): 6
  • Career regular season record with team: 9-31
  • Career regular season record in U SPORTS: 9-31
  • Career overall record with team (reg. season & playoffs only): 9-32
  • Career overall record in U SPORTS (reg. season & playoffs only): 9-32

Calgary Dinos

  • 2017 regular season record: 7-1
  • 2017 regular season standings: 1st in CW
  • 2017 playoff record: 2-1
  • 2017 playoff finish: Lost 35-23 to Laval in Mitchell Bowl

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General Write-Up:

It’ll be a much younger team that takes the field for the two-time defending Hardy Cup champion University of Calgary Dinos after a large senior class and eight CFL draft picks moved on from the program in the off-season.

The 2017 season didn’t end the way the Dinos had hoped, with a Mitchell Bowl loss at home to Laval a week after a legendary moment in U SPORTS history when Niko DiFonte’s 59-yard field goal gave the Dinos a 44-43 win over UBC in the Hardy Cup – their eighth conference title in a decade. Many of the pieces from that team return, with the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation set to join the squad in 2018 as the Dinos look to maintain their dominance of Canada West.

All eyes will be on the lines, which were particularly hard-hit by graduation and CFL departures. Joel Van Pelt, fresh from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ training camp, will anchor a defensive line chock full of young talent, while on offence returning fourth-year quarterback Adam Sinagra will look to the likes of 2017 Canada West rookie of the year Tyler Packer along with third-year lineman Spencer Roy in pass protection and run blocking.

One of the most sought after recruits in 2017, linebacker Grant McDonald, transferred in after a season at the University of Maine, adding even more depth to the defensive skill positions, while the Philpot twins, Jalen and Tyson, lead a crop of talented offensive recruits.

Calgary opens the season Aug. 31 at Regina before their home opener, a Hardy Cup rematch with UBC, on Sept. 7.

Quote from head coach: Wayne Harris Jr.

“It’s a big youth movement this year. We graduated a bunch of fifth-year guys, and a number of our fourth-year guys went on to the CFL – which is something that happens each year in our program and that we expect – so we just need to continue developing the young athletes that come into our team.”

Head Coach: Wayne Harris Jr.

  • Number of seasons as head coach with team (including 2018): 4
  • Number of seasons as head coach in U SPORTS (including 2018): 4
  • Career regular season record with team: 21-3
  • Career regular season record in U SPORTS: 21-3
  • Career overall record with team (reg. season & playoffs only): 27-6
  • Career overall record in U SPORTS (reg. season & playoffs only): 27-6

Saskatchewan Huskies

  • 2017 regular season record: 2-6
  • 2017 regular season standings: 5th in CW
  • 2017 playoff record: N/A
  • 2017 playoff finish: N/A

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General Write-Up:

A promising start to the 2017 season gave way to a difficult finish, but there were still plenty of positives to take away from former CFL and University of Saskatchewan lineman Scott Flory’s first season in charge of the Huskies, after beginning the campaign with wins over the Manitoba Bisons and Alberta Golden Bears.

Moving forward into 2018, the team will return a number of key contributors from a squad that boasts a good mixture of youth and experience. Led by 18 returning starters, the Huskies begin their season at home against the Golden Bears on Aug. 31 at Griffiths Stadium in Nutrien Park.

Quote from head coach: Scott Flory

“We are going to be dynamic, the community can expect a fast team. Lots of speed, that’s been the focus in the offseason. We want to be able to play at a faster pace than anybody else, but still have the toughness and physicality that are the staples of Huskie football.”

Head Coach: Scott Flor

  • Number of seasons as head coach with team (including 2018): 2
  • Number of seasons as head coach in U SPORTS (including 2018): 2
  • Career regular season record with team: 2-6
  • Career regular season record in U SPORTS: 2-6
  • Career overall record with team (reg. season & playoffs only): 2-6
  • Career overall record in U SPORTS (reg. season & playoffs only): 2-6

UBC Thunderbirds

  • 2017 regular season record: 6-2
  • 2017 regular season standings: 2nd in Canada West
  • 2017 playoff record: 1-1
  • 2017 playoff finish: Lost 44-43 to Calgary in Hardy Cup Final

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General Write-Up:

Appearing in their third straight Hardy Cup Final, the Thunderbirds came as close as a team possibly could to securing a victory, losing a heartbreaking 44-43 contest to the Calgary Dinos on an unlikely record setting 59-yard field goal.

The T-Birds had an outstanding regular season finishing 6-2, good for a second place finish. Powered by the conference’s leading defence which allowed just 21.5 points against per game despite featuring upwards of six rookie starters. The ‘Birds offensive charge was led by quarterback Michael O’Connor who returns in 2018 for his fourth season at UBC. The Orleans, Ont., native will have some familiar targets in fellow 2015 Vanier Cup champions Trivel Pinto and Marcus Davis both returning at wide receiver along with third-year Trey Kellogg. The ‘Birds’ backfield is expected to deliver once again this season with the return of fourth-year running back Ben Cummings.

On the defensive side of the ball, UBC is fortified by four returning U SPORTS All-Canadians. Reigning Canada West Defensive Player of the Year Stavros Katsantonis is back at safety along with fellow standouts Malcom Lee and Will Maxwell. The T-Bird defensive line will be anchored by Connor Griffiths and Charles Nwoye.

Head coach Blake Nill enters his fourth year with the Thunderbirds in third place in wins among active U SPORTS coaches, just two wins behind Pat Sheahan of Queen’s University. In his 21st season as a U SPORTS head coach, Nill is hunting for his fourth Vanier Cup title.

Quote from head coach:

“It’s a good recruiting class, one of the best in the country with a mixture of transfers, top high school talent from across Canada and good local talent, and now it’s a matter of how the chemistry of this class can impact the veteran team and see where it takes us. We just need to manage our players well this season. The reason I shortened camp is I didn’t want us beating each other up for three weeks and then going into the game against Manitoba. I think the camp is perfect, two weeks and a day from our first game, that will give us 14 pretty good practices and that’s enough I believe. We’re a veteran team, I think we can carry this veteran experience a little bit.”

Head Coach: Blake Nill

  • Number of seasons as head coach with team (including 2018): 4
  • Number of seasons as head coach in U SPORTS (including 2018): 21
  • Career regular season record with team: 15-9
  • Career regular season record in U SPORTS: 117-43
  • Career overall record with team (reg. season & playoffs only): 21-11
  • Career overall record in U SPORTS (reg. season & playoffs only): 151-58

 

Source: usports.ca

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