Last Week: 7 - 2 (78%)
Overall: 36 - 16 (69%)
The CIS football season is wrapping up. Canada West and Quebec concluded league play last weekend. Ontario is well into their crazy playoff format (I'll get into this in a moment). Atlantic, with their 4 teams and 3 playoff qualifiers, are already set to crown their conference champion this weekend in the Loney Bowl. Interesting Atlantic will crown their champion this early, giving their champ two weeks rest going into the Mitchell Bowl. This year national semi-final games will pit Canada West at Quebec in the Uteck Bowl and Atlantic at Ontario in the Mitchell Bowl.
I have a few issues with the CIS playoffs. Well I like that, unlike our neighbors to the south, our conferences have playoffs and crown a conference champ lining up in a Final 4 national battle culminating in the Vanier Cup championship. We have been running with a playoff format since 1967. Way to finally catch up America! However, our system is flawed still. For one, Ontario has 11 teams in their league. They only play 8 games, thus avoiding two conference teams each season. From these 11, 6 make the playoffs with the top 2 teams receiving byes into the conference semi-finals. In comparison, Atlantic qualifies 3 of their 4 teams for playoffs, Quebec has 4 of 6 and Canada West also has 4 of 6. Sure, every team in CIS football plays an 8 game schedule to balance things out; however, this still leaves an unbalanced schedule. Some Ontario teams avoid the powerhouse teams during the season, Canada West and Quebec teams sometimes play home and home games against a few teams one season and different teams the following. Poor Atlantic is just struggling to have a conference sometimes it feels like. We need a more fair system to all teams. The playoff format is great, the scheduling is an issue.
Another problem is the Uteck and Mitchell Bowls. The past two years Quebec (Laval) has had the opportunity to play the often deemed weaker Atlantic champ. Why have the past two years had the same conference teams playing in the semi? Canada West and Ontario have always been considered the tougher conferences, with weekly games taking a harder hit on teams. Should we not always have an even rotation? If Canada West travels to Ontario one season for a semi-final game, the following season should they not host a semi-final against either Atlantic or Quebec? If you look at past Mitchell Bowl games, Calgary (as Canada West champ) has hosted 3 of the past 4 years. How is that competitive fairness? The Ontario champion will host this year and next. Canada West will host in 2016 and 2017. As I stated earlier, yes I think Canada West and Ontario are the more competitive leagues. However, getting to host a national SF game back-to-back years does give an unfair competitive advantage. Considering often the host team in the conference championship game goes on to win, they basically have no travel and are primed for the SF. The future schedule for both SF bowl games does rotate better than in the past 2-3 years, so improvements have been made. The hosting however is still one-sided. But hey, it could be worse I suppose. We could have let the polls and computers determine our national championship game every year.
On to the playoff picks:
Atlantic - Loney Bowl Championship
(6) Mount Allison over St. FX - The Mounties are coming off an undefeated regular season and will be hosting the Loney Bowl this year. There is really no reason to expect or think an upset is possible here. St. FX barely escaped Acadia last weekend, at home nonetheless, I cannot seem them putting up a competitive fight in Sackville, New Brunswick.
Quebec - Semifinals
(1) Laval over Concordia
(2) Montreal over (9) Sherbrooke
All CIS football fans want to see the tie-breaker final between Laval and Montreal. With Montreal's win last weekend over Laval, could we be seeing a changing of the guard in Quebec? Laval has won the past 2 Vanier Cups and has played in the championship game 8 of the past 11 years. Let's get through these SF games and get the final we have been waiting for.
Ontario - Semifinals
(5) Guelph over (7) Western -Back in mid-October these two teams waged war in an epic clash. Both top 6 teams in the nation at the time, tied at 23-23 at the half, these teams were evenly matched all day. A field goal with 1.7 seconds left in the game was the difference and gave the Gryphons the win. That one victory helped put Guelph in the Top 2 in the conference and get to host this SF game. I expect to see another evenly matched tilt. Western will want revenge. Guelph will want to show they are no longer the little brother being bullied by their often more dominant big brother on the gridiron. Expect a classic!
(3) McMaster over (10) Ottawa - Speaking of classic games, McMaster has only suffered one loss this season, to the Ottawa Gee-Gee's in the last week of the regular season. Down 1 at halftime, Ottawa dominated the 3rd quarter, outscoring the heavily favored Marauders 17-0. The lead was all they needed as they eased to a 20 point victory. I would not be expecting a similar result this weekend however. McMaster is at home. McMaster has had a week off. McMaster hasn't played since that defeat, it will be fresh in their mind. Unlike the other semifinal, I see revenge being taken out in this game. Good run for Ottawa to make the playoffs and pick up the QF win on the road last weekend but I think the glass slipper falls off this weekend.
Canada West - Semifinals
(4) Calgary over Regina - Well someone should check the heart rates on Rams players over the past two weeks. Left for dead by many, myself included, a few weeks back, everything fell into line for Regina. They dominated Manitoba at home two weeks ago, escaped Alberta at home last week (needing to win by more than 2 points to own the tiebreaker, they won by 4) and now find themselves in the playoffs. Sure they travel to Calgaryto battle the 6-time defending champ Dinos. Sure they will be HUGE underdogs (having lost their last game in Calgary 59-7. But they have momentum on their side. Coach Frank McCrystal is retiring at the end of the season after a very long and successful coaching career. These boys want to go out on top for their coach. Unfortunately, this Dino's team is VERY VERY good. Ok sure the Dino's were blown out last weekend in Manitoba. But it was the last game of the season, they were on the road, they had first place locked up and UM was playing for their playoff lives. I don't think the Dino's will be caught sleeping or resting on this game. This is a championship winning team remember. I expect a closer game than the last time these teams battled in Calgary but the end result will be the same. On a personal note, props to my cousin Jared Janotta (#21) for the Rams. He is now the career receptions leader for Canada West and the Rams all-time leader is receiving yards. What a great way to end your career, setting records. Proud of him! I will be in Calgary for this game cheering him on.
(8) Saskatchewan over Manitoba - So which team shows up to play here? The Bisons team who dominated Calgary last weekend or who got beaten down in Regina two weeks ago. The most interesting stat going into this game: Bisons undefeated at home this season, winless on the road. This game is in Saskatoon on Friday night. The Huskies have looked like the most consistent team in Canada West the past few weeks and have an outstanding D. Cannot see the Bisons pulling off the upset. The SK - MB border war continues and, similar to the CFL this year, the Saskatchewan team will come out on top and send the Winnipeg boys home with a loss.
We should be in for some outstanding CIS playoff action this weekend...enjoy!!