U Sports weekend watch (1): Regular season gets under way

(Credit: Brandon David Photography)

Nine months after the Western Mustangs completed an unblemished campaign with their first national title since 1994, it’s time to get back to business for U SPORTS football programs as the new regular season gets under way this weekend in three of four conferences across the country.

The 2018 U SPORTS schedule will culminate at TELUS-Université Laval Stadium in Quebec City on Saturday, November 24, with the 54th Vanier Cup championship final, live on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

Here is a game-by-game look at all Week 1 matchups as well as a detailed schedule, including all television broadcast and webcast info.


Acadia (0-0), Concordia (0-0), Toronto (0-0), Alberta (0-0), Calgary (0-0), Manitoba (0-0), Regina (0-0), Saskatchewan (0-0), UBC (0-0).


Laval (0-0) at Sherbrooke (0-0)

The skinny: Reigning two-time RSEQ champion Laval came up just short last fall in its quest for a record 10th national title, losing 39-17 to Western in the Vanier Cup final in Hamilton. The perennial national contenders hope to get another crack at it in three months, when the title match will be played on their home turf in Quebec City… The Rouge et Or kick off the new campaign against an opponent they have defeated 27 times in 27 overall confrontations since 2003 – when the Vert & Or returned to university football – including 40-5, 46-15 and 45-0 (RSEQ semifinal) head-to-head wins last season… Both teams were dominant last week in preseason action, Laval crushing Guelph 46-3 and Sherbrooke blanking Bishop’s 42-0… Keep an eye on (Laval): Fourth-year defensive end Mathieu Betts, named the U SPORTS lineman of the year each of the past two seasons, is currently tied for the school record with 26.5 career sacks, only five shy of the conference record set over five seasons by Queen’s Jim Aru (1994-1998)… Keep an eye on (Sherbrooke): Sophomore Xavier Owens opens the season as the team’s number-one quarterback for the first time, after starting four games as a freshman a year ago.

McGill (0-0) at Montreal (0-0)

The skinny: Montreal, which has played in each of the last five RSEQ championship games, all against Laval, is riding a 22-game overall winning streak against cross-town rival McGill dating back to a pair of shutout losses in 2002, when the U of M returned to university football after a three-decade hiatus… Last season, however, the Redmen, who missed the playoffs with a 1-7 record, were competitive in both head-to-head duels, which ended 16-3 and 27-17 in favour of the Carabins… In preseason action last week, Montreal beat visiting Carleton 24-11, while McGill dropped a 33-9 decision against Laurier, also on home turf… Keep an eye on (McGill): Third-year wide receiver Jeremy Sauvageau was a second-team all-Canadian last season thanks to his conference-best 841 receiving yards in eight league games… Keep an eye on (Montreal): Standout receiver Régis Cibasu, who was named the Vanier Cup MVP as a freshman in 2014, is back for his fifth and final season after being invited to the NFL’s Chicago Bears’ mini-camp last spring.


StFX (0-0) at Saint Mary’s (0-0)

The skinny: The AUS opener is a rematch of last year’s conference semifinal at Huskies Stadium, when Saint Mary’s prevailed 16-15 thanks to Brian Hope’s 28-yard field goal with 41 seconds remaining in regulation, ending a two-year reign for StFX as Loney Bowl champion… The Huskies, who went on to suffer a heart-breaking double-overtime loss to Acadia in the championship match, had also won their two head-to-head regular-season meetings against the X-Men in 2017, by 38-23 and 22-21, but later forfeited their first triumph… Both teams hosted preseason games last Saturday, with Saint Mary’s defeating Mount Allison 17-7 and StFX losing 15-4 to Acadia… Keep an eye on (StFX): Fourth-year receiver Kaion Julien-Grant has been named a first-team all-Canadian each of the past two seasons and last fall tied for the AUS lead with eight TD catches in eight league games… Keep an eye on (Saint Mary’s): Quarterback Kaleb Scott took the AUS by storm a year ago in his freshman season, leading the league in passing yards (2,056) and topping his team in rushing yards (583).


Bishop’s (0-0) at Mount Allison (0-0)

The skinny: Bishop’s struggled last fall in its first AUS season, missing the playoffs with a 1-7 record, while Mount Allison also missed out on the post-season – for the first time since 2011 – with a 4-4 mark… The Gaiters’ only win in 2017 came against the Mounties, a 32-31 double-overtime thriller in Sackville in mid-September, but Mount Allison easily won the rematch five weeks later in Lennoxville, by a 42-19 score… Both teams dropped their preseason test a week ago, Bishop’s falling 42-0 against RSEQ rival Sherbrooke and the Mounties losing 17-7 to Saint Mary’s… Peter Fraser enters his first season as Mount Allison head coach… Keep an eye on (Bishop’s): Fourth-year receiver Nathan Walker was a bright spot on offence in 2017, meriting AUS all-star status thanks to his 41 catches, good for second in the conference… Keep an eye on (Mount Allison): Multiple AUS all-star Chris Reid is back for his fifth and final season at running back, after racking up a team-high 776 rushing yards in seven league games last fall.


Western (0-0) at Carleton (0-0)

The skinny: Reigning national champion Western is coming off one of the most dominating U SPORTS seasons in recent memory. After going 8-0 in conference play and leading the country in most statistical categories on offence (including 48.3 points and 608.5 yards per game), the high-flying Mustangs put up another 261 points on the board in four playoff contests, including a convincing 39-17 win over Laval that put an end to a 23-year Vanier Cup drought… The defending champions return nine starters on offence, including quarterback Chris Merchant, the reigning Vanier Cup MVP, as well as running backs Alex Taylor, a fifth-year standout who attended the Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp, and Cedric Joseph, a third-year junior who scored a ridiculous 22 touchdowns in 12 overall games last season, including 12 in four playoff contests… Meanwhile, Carleton took a step back in 2017, going 3-5 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2014… The Mustangs dominated the only head-to-head matchup last fall, winning 51-14 at home in early October… Western didn’t play a preseason game last week, while Carleton lost 24-11 at Montreal… Keep an eye on (Western): Taylor leads all active U SPORTS players in career all-purpose touchdowns (32), rushing touchdowns (26 – tied) and rushing yards (3,106)… Keep an eye on (Carleton): Running back Nathan Carter set a single-season school record last fall with 1,110 rushing yards in eight league games, finishing second in the country behind Hec Crighton trophy winner Ed Ilnicki of Alberta.

Ottawa (0-0) at Laurier (0-0)

The skinny: Following its Yates Cup triumph in 2016, Laurier enjoyed another successful campaign a year ago, finishing second in the OUA standings with a 6-2 record before returning to the conference final against Western… Ottawa went 5-3 last fall but was upset by Guelph on home turf in its playoff opener… The Hawks and Gee-Gees were non-combatants each of the past two years in conference action and haven’t faced each other since Week 6 of the 2015 OUA schedule, when Laurier prevailed 65-30 on home turf… Laurier beat McGill 33-9 in Montreal last Saturday in preseason action, while Ottawa elected not to play an exhibition game… Keep an eye on (Ottawa): Cornerback Jamie Harry was named a first-team all-Canadian last fall thanks to his OUA-leading five interceptions, good for second in the country… Keep an eye on (Laurier): Reigning conference MVP Kurleigh Gittens Jr. was a first-team all-Canadian both as a receiver and returner in 2017 after he set a single-season U SPORTS record with 75 catches in eight league games and also led the country in all-purpose yards (1,665).


Queen’s (0-0) at York (0-0)

The skinny: Queen’s avoided missing the playoffs for the second straight year in 2017 thanks to a remarkable recovery in the second half of the season, when the Kingston-based squad won four straight games following a disastrous 0-4 start… York, on the other hand, went 1-7 in league play to extend its post-season drought to 13 years… In head-to-head competition, the Gaels are 19-0 all-time against the Lions, including a 52-34 home win last October… In preseason action last week, Queen’s dominated Waterloo 42-11, while York lost 23-17 at Concordia… Keep an eye on (Queen’s): Returning for his fifth and final season, quarterback Nate Hobbs led the country with 21 TD passes in 2017 and topped the OUA with 2,570 passing yards, good for second in the nation… Keep an eye on (York): Despite playing in only three regular season games last fall, Colton Hunchak caught 29 passes for 329 yards and tied for second in the OUA with six TD receptions.

Guelph (0-0) at McMaster (0-0)

The skinny: After going 6-2 and 5-3 in conference play, respectively, McMaster and Guelph were both eliminated in the OUA semifinals a year ago, the Marauders falling 19-6 to Laurier and the Gryphons being crushed 66-12 by Western… In the only head-to-head confrontation of 2017, McMaster dominated 29-9 on the scoreboard despite finishing with a slim 300-297 edge in total yards on offence… The Marauders didn’t play a preseason game last week, while the Gryphons struggled against powerhouse Laval, losing 46-3 in Quebec City… Todd Galloway makes his official head-coaching debut for Guelph on Sunday… Keep an eye on (Guelph): Fifth-year linebacker Luke Koral finished third in the country in tackles each of the past two seasons, racking up 64.0 in 2016 and 66.5 in 2017… Keep an eye on (McMaster): Jordan Lyons rushed for 319 yards in last year’s OUA quarter-final win over Queen’s, the second best post-season performance in U SPORTS history Davie Mason’s 327-yard effort for Ottawa in 2008.

Windsor (0-0) at Waterloo (0-0)

The skinny: It was a tale of two halves in 2017 for Waterloo, which started 4-0 but went on to lose its next four games to miss the playoffs for the 14th consecutive year… Meanwhile, Windsor beat York 43-27 in its OUA finale to avoid being the only team in the country to finish with a winless record… The Warriors and Lancers also met in Week 1 a year ago, that time in Windsor, with Waterloo winning 54-33… The Warriors were dropped 42-11 by Queen’s last Saturday in preseason action, while the Lancers didn’t play an exhibition contest… Keep an eye on (Windsor): Linebacker Dan Metcalfe led the country last fall with 71.5 total tackles in eight conference games… Keep an eye on (Waterloo): Quarterback Tre Ford was named the U SPORTS rookie of the year in 2017 after he completed 66.7 per cent of his passes and racked up a team-high 717 rushing yards in seven league contests.


Source: U Sports

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