|Noah Picton, left, sets up to fire a pass downfield for the Rams.|
Judging by the pre-season Canada West Conference coaches’ poll, Saskatchewan’s two university football programs aren’t expected to do squat in 2017.
On Wednesday, Canada West released the annual pre-season coaches’ rankings for the six-team conference, and the University of Regina Rams were rated third and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies placed fifth. The University of Calgary Dinos topped the poll, and the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds came in second. The University of Manitoba Bisons are ranked fourth, while the University of Alberta Golden Bears are sixth.
At this snapshot in time, the coaches in the conference are predicting the Dinos and Thunderbirds will square off in the Canada West final for the third straight year and battle for the Hardy Cup. Last year, the Dinos fell in the U Sports title game, the Vanier Cup, 31-26 to the Universite Laval Rouge et Or. In 2015, the Thunderbirds won the Vanier Cup downing the Universite de Montreal Carabins 26-23.
While it would be natural to rank the Dinos and Thunderbirds where they are due to recent history, the coaching staffs of the Rams and Huskies should take full aim at playing the disrespect card.
|Huskies QB Kyle Siemens (#19) escapes Rams DL Nicholas Dheilly (#99).|
The rankings reinforce the notion that neither Saskatchewan university team will get to the point where they can win the conference title.
The Rams topped the Canada West regular season standings with a 6-2 record last season, which was a first for the program since leaving the Canadian Junior Football League for the university ranks in 1999. They fell in a Canada West semifinal contest 40-34 to the Thunderbirds.
U of R posted a 6-2 mark on the heels of an 0-8 campaign in 2015. The coaches’ poll is basically saying the season the Rams had in 2016 under first-year head coach Steve Bryce is an aberration. They are expected to fall back in the Canada West pack.
So much for Rams quarterback Noah Picton becoming the first player from his program to win the Hec Crighton Trophy as the most valuable player for U Sports football in 2016.
The Huskies finished third in the conference with a 5-3 record last year before seeing a three game winning streak end in the other Canada West semifinal playoff game. The Dinos thumped the Huskies in that playoff encounter 47-17.
|Atlee Simon (#36) motor downfield for the Rams.|
Since that time, the Huskies have undergone an overhaul in the coaching department. Legendary head coach Brian Towriss, who will be inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame on Sept. 14 in Hamilton, Ont., resigned last December.
Former Montreal Alouettes star offensive lineman Scott Flory, who was the Huskies offensive coordinator, became the new head coach. Former CFL quarterback Marcus Crandell was brought on as the new offensive coordinator, former CFL linebacker and Huskies player Warren Muzika rejoined the program as the new defensive coordinator and veteran U Sports coach Jerry Friesen assumed the role as special teams coordinator.
The Huskies return a large chuck of their players from last year, but the coaches’ poll says the program will take a big step backwards under the guidance of a new sideline staff. That step backwards predicts missing the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
The first reaction in seeing the Canada West coaches’ poll was that both the Rams and Huskies are better than where they lined up in the rankings.
In the inaugural U Sports top 10 football rankings voted on by select members of the media, the Dinos are rated fourth, the Rams fifth, the Thunderbirds are seventh, and the Bisons are 10th. The Rouge et Or are rated first.
Anyone who has watched the Canada West Conference knows the results can go all over the place. Teams that lose badly one week can rebound and beat a good team the next week.
|RB Colton Klassen, right, attacks the hole on a run for the Huskies.|
The Thunderbirds can always be viewed as a favourite due to the fact Blake Nill is that team’s head coach. Nill guided the Thunderbirds to the 2015 Vanier Cup title win, and before joining UBC before the start of the 2015 campaign, he was the head coach of the Dinos when they won six straight Canada West titles from 2008 to 2013.
Going into the current season, the Rams and Huskies are in position where they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They are both capable of having outstanding campaigns.
Both teams open their respective regular seasons on Friday. The Rams host the Thunderbirds at 7 p.m. at new Mosaic Stadium, and the Huskies travel to Winnipeg to face the Bisons at 7 p.m. local time at Investors Group Field.
At this point in time, both the Rams and Huskies have been slighted. Here is hoping they will go out and earn a new sense of respect.
Canada West football back on television
|The Huskies O-line lines up against the Dinos D-line last season.|
After being dropped by Shaw following last season, Canada West football will be back on television for anyone that gets SaskTel maxTV in Saskatchewan and Telus Optik TV in Alberta and British Columbia.
Canada West announced the TV developments for the 2017 season on Wednesday. A total of 12 regular season games and all three conference playoff games will air on the SaskTel and Telus cable brands.
Every regular season game will feature at least one of Saskatchewan’s two university teams. The Rams will appear on television at least seven times, while the Huskies will be on at least six times.
“Canada West is thrilled to showcase our outstanding football student-athletes across Western Canada on our new distribution network,” said Canada West VP of marketing and communications Adrienne Healey in a release.
“University football provides a highly entertaining product for our fans, who appreciate the hard work it takes for our student-athletes to excel on the field and in the classroom. We look forward to highlighting the abilities of our players, who go on to become pros both on the gridiron and in their communities.”
Healey doubles as the athlete services officer at the U of Saskatchewan.
Kudos needs to be given to those in Canada West marketing arm for finding a new television home for the conference’s football games. It will be interesting to see if this will cause some to switch their cable provider.
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