CIS Football: 13 reasons to watch this weekend

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A pair of Top 10 battles in the OUA, potential record crowds in Ottawa and Regina, and the CIS Football Game of the Week on City in the nation’s capital highlight Week 6 of the CIS football schedule. Here are some things to keep an eye on this weekend.
Manitoba (2-2) at UBC (2-2) (Friday)

Nationally ninth-ranked Manitoba and reigning Vanier Cup champion UBC both go into Friday night’s game with momentum. The Bisons have won two straight to even their season record at 2-2, while the Thunderbirds put an end to a two-game losing skid last Saturday with a 64-0 domination of Alberta. A year ago, the T-Birds scored a hat-trick against their Winnipeg rivals, winning all three head-to-head contests – including a lopsided 52-10 Canada West semifinal victory – en route to their first national title since 1997. It was a different story last month however in preseason action in Langford, B.C., where the Bisons crushed the defending champs 50-7.

Montreal (4-0) at Sherbrooke (2-2) (Saturday)

Top-ranked Montreal is looking for its first 5-0 start since 2012, when the Carabins ended up in second place in Quebec with an 8-1 record. The defending two-time RSEQ champions are on a roll, to say the least, having dominated their last three opponents by a combined score of 183-4 since opening the season with a 24-21 win at Laval. While there is no doubt Sherbrooke is the underdog going in, the Vert & Or have proven a tough opponent for Montreal over the years and it was the case again last season, when they beat the Carabins 17-12 in league action and were up 24-15 after three quarters in their RSEQ semifinal before dropping a heartbreaking 31-24 decision.

Laurier (4-0) at Western (4-1) (Saturday)

Expect a lot of running on Saturday when the nation’s top two ground attacks meet in London! Nationally sixth-ranked Laurier leads CIS with 354.3 rushing yards per game, while No. 3 Western is second with a 300.2 average. The two teams are also in the top three in scoring, with the Mustangs leading the way (57.1 points per game) and the Golden Hawks following two spots behind (49.0). Western currently has a decade-long winning streak against Laurier dating back to a 20-15 OUA semifinal loss on Nov. 4, 2006.

Saskatchewan (2-2) at Regina (3-1) (Saturday)

History will be made when visiting Saskatchewan and No. 4 Regina meet in the first football game at the new Mosaic Stadium, which is scheduled to officially open in the summer of 2017. Saturday’s attendance is expected to surpass both the current Canada West football record (10,199, Alberta at Manitoba, Aug. 30, 2013, Investors Group Field) and the overall Canada West single-game standard (12,859, men’s hockey, Calgary at Mount Royal, Jan. 21, 2016, Scotiabank Saddledome). Speaking of records, with 1,714 passing yards at the midway point of the season, Rams quarterback Noah Picton is on pace to shatter the single-season CIS mark of 3,162 set last fall by two-time Hec Crighton Trophy winner Andrew Buckley of Calgary.

Alberta (0-4) at Calgary (3-1) (Saturday)

Coming off their first regular season loss since 2014 last Friday in Regina, the fifth-ranked Dinos will be looking for a rebound performance, which doesn’t bode well for an 0-4 Alberta team coming off a 64-0 defeat at the hands of UBC. Calgary’s last on-field loss against its provincial opponent dates back to a 20-9 setback on Oct. 25, 2008. Since then, the Dinos have won 14 straight head-to-head meetings – including 12 conference games – but did forfeit a 71-3 win in 2014 due to the use of an ineligible player.

Ottawa (4-0) at Carleton (3-2) (Saturday)

Since the return of the annual Panda Game to TD Place Stadium in 2014, fans have been treated to a pair of instant classic, including a 33-31 Carleton win on a last-second Hail Mary two years ago and a 48-45 Ravens victory in double overtime last season. Organizers are hoping for a crowd in excess of 20,000 on Saturday, which would not only surpass the 17,596 from 2015 but also the 19,200 fans who attended Laval’s home opener in 2005, which is the highest regular season attendance on record in CIS football over the past two decades. With the Gee-Gees (No. 7) and Ravens (No. 10) both currently ranked in the national Top 10, chances are this year’s Panda Game will once again live up to the billing.

Guelph (2-3) at McMaster (3-1) (Saturday)

Reigning OUA champion Guelph is coming off one of its worst losses in recent years, 50-16 to Western on home turf. A road game against a well-rested Top 10 opponent coming off a bye week is not exactly what the doctor ordered. The big difference so far this year for the Gryphons has been their struggles on defence as they rank in the bottom half of CIS in points (33.0), total yards (446.4), passing yards and rushing yards allowed per game. For McMaster, after opening the season with four touchdown passes against Carleton back on Aug. 28, record-setting quarterback Asher Hastings (31 TD passes in 2015) has been relatively quiet of late with only three TD strikes in his last three outings.

Bishop’s (1-3) at Concordia (2-2) (Saturday)

Bishop’s and Concordia are both coming off close wins at home versus AUS opponents, including a 17-11 decision over StFX for the Stingers and a 30-29 come-from-behind victory against Saint Mary’s for the Gaiters. Bishop’s would rather forget its most recent visit to Concordia Stadium, a 63-0 loss a year ago. Reigning RSEQ MVP Trenton Miller is enjoying another solid season for the Stingers with over 300 passing yards per contest.

Saint Mary’s (1-2) at StFX (2-1) (Saturday)

Despite a 17-11 loss to Concordia in interlock action last weekend, StFX is still in the driver’s seat in the race for the AUS crown. For its part, Saint Mary’s missed a golden opportunity to join the X-Men at 2-1, squandering a 16-point lead against Bishop’s one week after erasing a 25-point deficit to beat Mount Allison. Senior quarterback Tivon Cook has put up impressive numbers so far for defending conference champion StFX with 307.7 yards per game and a 68.2 completion percentage, but hopes to improve on a 3-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Acadia (1-2) at Mount Allison (0-3) (Saturday)

After getting back to the top of the AUS in recent years, Mount Allison hopes to avoid its first 0-4 start since a winless season in 2011. A home victory over Acadia – which would be Scott Brady’s first as a CIS head coach – would put the Mounties right back in the playoff race. The key to this game could be the running game as the Mounties (151.7 yards per game) and Axemen (136.0) rank 26th and 27th in the country in passing, respectively.

Toronto (1-4) at Windsor (1-3) (Saturday)

It might not be the most high-profile OUA matchup of the weekend but this game has major implication for both teams as they look to keep their playoff hopes alive. After Saturday’s confrontation, the Varsity Blues will have contests remaining against sixth-ranked Laurier (4-0) and Waterloo (0-5), while the Lancers will wrap up their league schedule with tilts against No. 10 Carleton (3-2), Queen’s (1-3) and Laurier. The Blues won last year’s head-to-head duel 8-7 in Toronto.

Queen’s (1-3) at Waterloo (0-5) (Saturday)

The Gaels finally got on the board last weekend with a home win over Toronto and have a golden opportunity to make it two in a row on Saturday when they meet a struggling Waterloo team that ranks last in CIS on offence (7.0 points per game) and defence (60.0). Last season, Queen’s beat the Warriors 47-24 in Kingston.

McGill (2-2) at Laval (3-1) (Sunday)

Second-ranked Laval has been on a roll since a 24-21 home loss to Montreal in its season opener and will look to keep pace with the No. 1 Carabins on Sunday with a win over visiting McGill. The Rouge et Or have won 23 straight overall against the Redmen since 2001, when McGill took three out of four contests. Laval quarterback Hugo Richard, the 2014 CIS rookie of the year, is back at the top of his game so far this season with 281.8 passing yards per outing, eight touchdown passes to only three interceptions, as well as an RSEQ-leading four rushing majors.

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