TORONTO (U SPORTS) – Nine months after the Laval Rouge et Or captured their record ninth national championship, it’s time to get back to business for U SPORTS football programs as the 2017 regular season gets under way this weekend in three of four conferences across the country.
Once again this fall, the U SPORTS schedule will culminate at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, on November 25, with the 53rd ArcelorMittal Dofasco Vanier Cup, live on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.
Here’s a game-by-game look at the Week 1 matchups.
Montreal at Concordia
Montreal came oh-so-close to claiming its third straight RSEQ title a year ago, dropping a heartbreaking 20-17 decision to Laval on home turf in the Quebec conference final. The Carabins allowed a U SPORTS-low 9.0 points per game in 2016, while the offence led by quarterback Samuel Caron, the returning conference MVP, averaged an RSEQ-best 37.0 points. Montreal dominated Concordia 59-3 in the only head-to-head meeting between the crosstown rivals last fall, but the Stingers sent a message to the rest of the league a week ago when they beat defending OUA champion Laurier 23-16 in preseason action.
StFX at Saint Mary’s
Fresh off back-to-back AUS championships, StFX enters a new era this season as for the first time in five years, record-setting quarterback Tivon Cook – the conference MVP in 2016 – will not be at the helm of the offence. Following back-to-back 0-8 campaigns in 2014 and 2015, Saint Mary’s showed signs of improvement a year ago finishing with a 2-6 mark. The X-Men won both head-to-head confrontations last fall, 37-17 and 45-6.
Sherbrooke at Laval
Following a rare two-year drought, Laval returned to the top of the U SPORTS world last fall thanks to a spectacular, come-from-behind 31-26 victory over Calgary at Tim Hortons Field. In preseason action last Saturday, the Rouge et Or and Vanier Cup-MVP quarterback Hugo Richard showed no signs of a championship hangover as they dismantled visiting Carleton 46-2. Under the guidance of new head coach Mathieu Lecompte, Sherbrooke will not only attempt to temporarily derail Laval’s plans on Saturday night, the Vert & Or also hope to end an 0-24 overall sequence against their Quebec City rivals since their return to the league in 2003, including 41-3 and 14-1 losses a year ago.
Carleton at Queen’s
Despite a lopsided exhibition loss to Laval last weekend, Carleton is still considered among the favourites to contend for OUA supremacy this season. The Ravens posted a 6-2 conference record a year ago, their best since returning to the league in 2013, and reached the OUA Final Four for the second straight campaign. Queen’s, on the other hand, hopes to rebound after missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. The two teams were non-combatants in conference action last fall and haven’t battled since a 39-8 quarter-final win by the Ravens in 2015.
Acadia at Mount Allison
Mount Allison didn’t have the best of seasons in 2016, going 3-5 in league play, but three wins in three duels against Acadia – including a 27-18 semifinal victory – helped the Mounties reach the Loney Bowl final for the fourth consecutive year. The race is wide open this fall in the AUS with Bishop’s transfer from the RSEQ, and defending two-time champion StFX losing a number of key players to graduation and the pro ranks. The Mounties hope to return to the top of the conference for the first time since 2014, while the Axemen were last crowned in 2012.
Toronto at Laurier
Laurier enjoyed a remarkable turnaround season in 2016, improving from 4-4 to 7-1 in league play before capturing its first OUA banner since 2005 thanks to a shocking 43-40 road win over Western that saw the Golden Hawks erase a 40-19 deficit in the final eight minutes of the contest. Yates Cup-MVP pivot Michael Knevel is back to run the Laurier offence but on the other side of the ball, the reigning champs lost standouts Kwaku Boateng and Nakas Onyeka to the CFL. In their lone game versus Toronto last fall, the Hawks prevailed 54-3, part of a difficult 2-6 campaign for the Varsity Blues.
Western at York
Western still has a bad taste in its mouth nine months after a shocking Yates Cup loss to Laurier, and Greg Marshall’s Mustangs are back with a vengeance. The London powerhouse had the most feared offence in U SPORTS last year with 49.1 points and 569.4 yards per game, and it should be no different this fall thanks largely to the three-headed rushing monster of Alex Taylor, Cedric Joseph and Yannick Harou. For its part, York hopes to improve on a 2-6 campaign, as well as on a 74-10 loss in its last confrontation with Western back in 2015.
Ottawa at Guelph
While Ottawa improved from 3-5 to 6-2 last season, Guelph headed in the opposite direction, barely qualifying for the playoffs with a 3-5 mark after capturing the Yates Cup in 2015. The Gee-Gees, however, enter the new campaign without graduating quarterback Derek Wendel, the reigning OUA MVP, while the Gryphons’ offence will once again be led by a pair of seasoned veterans in pivot James Roberts and running back Johnny Augustine. The only head-to-head matchup in 2016 was as close as they come, with Ottawa prevailing 31-28 in overtime on home turf.
Waterloo at Windsor
Windsor has taken a step back since a 5-3 campaign in 2014, going 2-6 each of the past two years, while Waterloo can only improve after back-to-back winless seasons. Both the Lancers and Warriors hope to get off to a winning start on Saturday before Week 2 meetings with Toronto and York, respectively. Windsor won the last head-to-head contest 44-14 in 2015.
In addition to these nine conference matchups, a trio of preseason games were scheduled this week. On Wednesday out in Canada West, Regina beat defending conference champion Calgary 39-3 in Medicine Hat, Alta., while UBC edged Alberta 33-30 in Kamloops, B.C. On Friday night, Saskatchewan and McMaster will face off in Hamilton.
WEEK 1 SCHEDULE
NOTE: Click HERE for the complete 2017 regular season schedule & results
StFX at Saint Mary’s, 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT (AUStv.ca)
Montreal at Concordia, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT (StretchTV)
Carleton at Queen’s, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT (Cogeco TV & OUA.TV)
Acadia at Mount Allison, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT (Bell Aliant Fibe TV1 & AUStv.ca)
Sherbrooke at Laval, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT (TVA Sports)
Waterloo at Windsor, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT (Cogeco TV & OUA.TV)
Toronto at Laurier, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT (Rogers TV & OUA.TV)
Ottawa at Guelph, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT (OUA.TV)
Western at York, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT (OUA.TV)
Regina 39, Calgary 3 (Medicine Hat, Alta.)
UBC 33, Alberta 30 (Kamloops, B.C.)
Saskatchewan at McMaster, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT