EDMONTON – To no one’s surprise, the four-time defending Canada West Hardy Cup football champion University of Calgary Dinos are the unanimous choice among conference coaches to repeat… again.
Led by head coach Blake Nill, the Dinos overcame the graduation of several top players one year ago to claim a thunderous 62-13 win over UBC in the 75th Hardy Cup.
Here are the complete voting results, based on a 10-7-5-3-1 system (first-place votes in parentheses):
1. Calgary (5) 50
2. Regina 33
3. UBC 25
4. Manitoba (1) 24
5. Saskatchewan 19
6. Alberta 5
The Calgary Dinos received a maximum five first-place votes to sit atop the conference’s annual preseason poll. Quarterback Eric Dzwilewski leads an offence supported by running back Steven Lumbala, along with veteran offensive linemen Kirby Fabien (B.C. Lions) and Carson Rockhill (Hamilton Tiger-Cats). Defensive leaders include former CIS Rookie of the Year Linden Gaydosh (2013 CFL eligible) and All-Canadian linebacker Jordan Verdone (B.C. Lions). All-Canadian kicker Johnny Mark and return specialist Jake Harty are keys to the special teams.
The Regina Rams were favoured by coaches to start 2011, but that all changed when fifth-year QB Marc Mueller suffered a season-ending injury on the team’s first offensive possession. Mueller is back, healthy and ready to challenge for a Canada West title. Veteran receiver Mark McConkey and slotback Jarred Janotta and a strong offensive line will give the Rams plenty of chances to put points on the board. Akiem Hicks is now with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, while All-Canadian Stefan Charles and Logan Brooks are expected to lead on “d”. All-Canadian punter / kicker Chris Bodnar will play his final season of CIS eligibility.
Depending on how you look at it, the UBC Thunderbirds are coming off an outstanding 6-2 campaign that saw them play in the 2011 Hardy Cup final or an 0-8 season that saw them stripped of all victories and participation in the final vacated. Either way, reigning Hec Crighton Trophy winner Billy Greene remains among the nation’s top players at the game’s key position. All-Canadian receiver Jordan Grieve and David Scott are back to help the attack. Spencer Wilson made a name for himself on defence in just half a season last year, while Thomas Moult takes over the kicking duties after sitting out last season.
Receiving a range of votes among coaches from first to fourth, the Manitoba Bisons are an unknown entering 2012. With a young roster, overall health and the emergence of talent at key positions will help define the Herd’s season. A trio of QBs will battle for the starting role, while RB / return man Anthony Coombs has already been featured in Sports illustrated and as a member of the World Team at the 2012 International Bowl. Defensive standouts include All-Canadian Teague Sherman and two-time Russ Jackson Award winner Thomas Hall, a member of the 2007 Vanier Cup champion Bisons. Special teams remains intact, with Coombs and Nic Demski on the return game. Placekicker Nick Boyd and punter Brendan Bowman are also back.
The Saskatchewan Huskies see a change at quarterback, but Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren remains aboard as a speedy receiver. QB Drew Burko takes over at the helm, with Braeden George among the veteran targets. After a 5-2 season, much of the defence remains intact, with safety Bryce McCall leading the way. Also bolstering the defence are defensive end Zach Hart, lineman David Rybinski, and defensive back Luke Thiel.
The Alberta Golden Bears have not won a game on the field since a stunning comeback victory over Saskatchewan in the 2010 Canada West semifinals. Alberta’s pivot remains in doubt as Curtis Dell and Ryan Schwartz battle it out despite playing no 2012 preseason games. Jess Valleau, Porter Brown, Ryley Richardson provide experience as receiver. The Bears are led on defence by fifth-year Duncan Morris, third-year Tyler Greenslade and lone 2011 All-Star, Brent Krawchuk. Dillon Prince is a spark plug on special teams and Stephen Fabian could take over as the new kicker.
A complete 2012 Canada West football preview will be released on Thursday, August 30.