Maybe it's because they're not a part of the 'big three'. Perhaps it's because they haven't played in a Yates Cup final since 2010, or won it since 2006. It may be because geographically they're a long bus trip away from most of the conference.
For whatever the reason, the Ottawa Gee-Gees were not perceived as a pre-season favourite to win the conference title. That may have been more out of respect for some of the other teams in the OUA, but after a 4-0 start, it's time for people around the country to take note of what's happening in the capital.
The garnet and grey has already disposed of two of the pre-season favourites, easily handling McMaster before outlasting Guelph in double overtime. The Gee-Gees have also made short work of Waterloo, and most recently, Windsor.
There was a quiet confidence before the season began, but like with any team there were concerns. Head coach Jamie Barresi told "In The Huddle" that perhaps the biggest worry he had in August has not resulted in a reason for sleep loss as we enter October.
"Our secondary has been pretty solid," said Barresi. "I had some concerns coming into the season, but they've played well. We're not out of the woods yet, it's a long season, but we've been okay."
The defence's best effort came against the high-flying offence of the McMaster Marauders. At times the Mac offence looks like it can score at will, but the Gee-Gees kept Asher Hastings and company out of the end zone in a convincing 30-8 win.
Barresi has several theories as to why his defensive crew was so effective on that afternoon, many of which surround the Gee-Gees bye in the first week of the season.
"We didn't play an exhibition game," explained the coach. "We had a new DC (Jean-Vincent Posy-Audette), and we played Waterloo in the opener and didn't show much. Our kids played hard and we had a good plan in place."
He quickly pivoted from the coaches to the players.
"The credit goes to our kids," continued Barresi. "They've been tackling better, they've been better in their assignments and better organized."
Last year was a tough one on the defensive side of the ball. The Gee-Gees had an inordinate number of injuries. As a result the team gave up a lot more points than expected. Ottawa challenged quarterback Derek Wendel to keep pace, and the Belleville, Ont. native responded with a CIS record 3,136 yards passing.
"We really struggled on defence because of injuries so we had to throw a lot," said Barresi. "Derek has been more tuned in the desire to win and doesn't feel the need to put up huge numbers every week."
But Wendel has continued to put up big numbers. He's still averaging over 40 passes per game, and is tied for the CIS lead with 14 touchdown strikes. He'll likely need to put up some impressive numbers on Saturday.
It's the Panda Game.
The Gee Gees are 4-0, the Carleton Ravens 3-2. Bragging rights in the capital are up for grabs.
"It means a lot of things," explained Barresi. "It's important in its own right. It's a crosstown rivalry, the alumni is certainly plugged into the game. No matter how you look at it, it's important to recruiting and it's really important in the standings."
"The game is getting back its old glamour like when I was playing here," continued the former Gee-Gees quarterback. "It could be looked at as a successful season if it was the only game you won all year, and an unsuccessful season if it was the only one you lost."
It will be a tough act to follow, as the previous two Panda Games have been ridiculously exciting, with Carleton winning both.
A win would be enormous for the Gee-Gees, trying to secure a first-round bye. Right now, Barresi is pretty happy about the 4-0 record.
"It's better than being 3-1," deadpanned the coach. "The kids have really worked hard. Nobody's walking around saying we're number one because there's always something on film that we can improve on. I'm proud that we've worked for our luck."
If Saturday's game is as tight as the previous pair, the winning team may need a little of that good fortune.
The O Zone:
Last week was a tough one if you were hoping for close games. This weekend should make up for that, as the top six teams in the conference square off. Along with the Panda Game, Laurier visits Western, while McMaster hosts Guelph.
The Gee-Gees were led by their quarterback in a 41-18 win at Windsor. Wendel passed for 402 yards and three TDs. Kalem Beaver and Trevor Kennedy each had over 100 receiving yards. Lancers QB Casey Wright was under pressure all afternoon and could never find his rhythm. The reliable Tarrence Crawford rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown for Windsor. Lewis Ward hit all four of his field goal attempts for the winners, including one from 46 yards out. He's made all 11 of his FG attempts this season.
Perhaps the most surprising of last weekend's routs took place in Guelph, as a Homecoming crowd of over 9,000 saw the Mustangs ruin the party with a 50-16 win. Colton Jones of the Gryphons hauled in a pass from James Roberts and took it 66 yards for the game's first score, but it was all Western after that. Chris Merchant passed for 322 yards and a pair of majors. Roberts finished with 375 in the air, but threw a pair of picks. Perhaps the best group in this game was the Western offensive line, which did a great job protecting Merchant, while opening holes for Alex Taylor, who finished with 120 yards rushing. John Biewald was his usual disruptive self for the 'Stangs. He had a sack, two tackles for a loss, while forcing a fumble and blocking a kick.
Nate Hobbs bested his brother Marcus in the battle of the QBs in Kingston. Nate threw for 351 yards and a TD in the Gaels 20-5 win over Toronto, marking the first win for Queen's at the new Richardson Stadium. Marcus led the Blues to a 5-0 lead after the first quarter, but it was all Queen's after that, despite drawing 15 penalties for 102 yards. Chris Osei-Kusi caught eight passes for 153 yards for the Tricolour. It was fitting that the first Queen's TD in the new stadium was scored by Eric Dodwell, a Kingston native. The Gaels switched timekeepers this year and honoured three men who have been fixtures at Richardson. Len Coyle had been the official timekeeper since 1955, missing just two games in 61 years. Wayne Burns and Bubs Van Hooser were also recognized. The trio had combined for 130 seasons at Queen's.
The Laurier ground game was on display again, as the Hawks rushed for 440 yards in a 68-7 win over Waterloo. Eric Guiltinan finished with 176 yards and four TDs, all in the first half. He leads the country with an average of 160 yards per game, has a nation-best 8.3 yards per carry, and also tops all CIS players with seven rushing touchdowns. Michael Knevel got the start at QB for the Hawks, passing for just under 200 yards and a pair of TDs. Waterloo couldn't run the ball at all. Ball carriers rushed 23 times for a total of 17 yards. Kwaku Boateng set the Hawks all-time sack record in the game, passing Eric Schwab. A Laurier Homecoming crowd of 7,595 fans watched the game.
Jayde Rowe set a Carleton record with 258 yards rushing in a 50-7 trouncing of York. Nathan Carter also rushed for over 100 yards, and each back had two touchdown runs. It was a frustrating day for York QB Brett Hunchak. He passed for only 159 yards and threw a pair of interceptions. Carleton's time of possession was an incredible 40 minutes and 15 seconds. Next up for the Ravens, the Panda Game.