Some mid-season musings as fall has officially arrived.
Game scores: This has been a tough season for competitive games. Taking the 1-0 Queen's forfeiture out of the equation, there have been 19 other games played in the OUA this season and only four of them have been decided by fewer than 19 points.
Thirteen of the 19 games, or 68 percent of all OUA games, have been decided by 30 or more points. Nine of those games, a full 47 percent of games played in Ontario this year, have been blowouts by 40 or more points. Five games, or over a quarter of the schedule, have been decided by 59 or more points.
It's an unwelcoming trend for teams no matter what side of the scoreboard they're on. The good teams only benefit by being allowed to play backups, but it hurts them when it comes to playing outside the conference. The teams aren't as playoff tough as they could be by playing against more competitive teams on a weekly basis.
For the losing team, along with the physical and mental toll blowouts take on players, it also has negative long-term effects for the school's recruiting efforts and program morale.While certain matchups will always generate intrigue and almost always provide an exciting and competitive product (McMaster @ Western in Week 6 for example), games where the outcome is easily predictable may make peripheral OUA fans less likely to attend, and is also harder to sell to networks as the league hopes to re-establish some type of television contract.
The lopsided scores have not gone unnoticed by the league, but if there is a solution, it isn't an easy one – but there's evidence that programs can turn things around quickly. Take Carleton, for example. In year two of the program's rebirth, the Ravens are competitive. Wins over Waterloo and Ottawa (more on that later) and a competitive showing at McMaster proves that it can be done.
Granted, it helps when you have the financial resources the Ravens program has, but not every team is as fortunate.
Is a two-tier OUA a solution? Perhaps, but not a perfect one.
It would be difficult to guarantee the right teams are in the proper tier on an annual basis, as certain rosters roll over and younger players develop. Example: If the league was divided this year into a six team 'A Tier' and a five team 'B Tier' based on the 2013 standings, Laurier and Carleton, who are off to strong starts and in contention for playoff spots, would not be in the 'A Tier'.
This topic has become the elephant in the room, but it has to be discussed. Top-to-bottom competitiveness is a staple of all great leagues, makes games more exciting for fans and athletes, and will undoubtedly be something OUA continues to look at.
Queen's: With the amount of roster turnover from a year ago the expectations were not that high for the Gaels, at least at the beginning of the season. That said, nobody expected this. An 0-4 start - albeit one of the defeats coming as part of a sanction for using an academically ineligible player - was underscored by consecutive losses to Western and Guelph by a combined 109-12 score.
Queen's is a lot like Western among OUA fans, you either love them or hate them. No matter your level of affection for those teams, there is no doubt the conference is more interesting when both schools are competitive. The history of success, the great players who have passed through both programs, as well as the emotion evoked by watching those teams play are all a big part of OUA football.
The Mustangs are in a very good place right now, the Gaels aren't.
Fantastic Finishes: Despite the lack of close games noted above, there have been a handful of incredible comebacks of note this season. Ottawa's fourth-quarter stunner against Queen's, Windsor's miraculous last minute game-winning TD against Laurier and most incredibly, last Saturday's Panda Game.
Star power: A decade ago there were more than a handful of high-profile OUA players. Names like Jesse Lumsden, Andy Fantuz and Andre Durie were not only known by those who followed the league closely, but CFL fans also knew who they were, with Lumsden being mentioned often by national media. So why no buzz about players like Dillon Campbell and Austin Kennedy?
There's no question the lack of a national television platform hurts, as does the fact neither plays for a school ranked in the CIS Top 10. Western defensive lineman Daryl Waud and Laurier defensive back Chris Ackie are the conference's top-ranked CFL draft-eligible players, but don't play glamorous positions. Perhaps that's the biggest reason for the lack of buzz. With social media now playing such an important role, especially with younger audiences, OUA also needs to continue to find unique ways to engage with fans and grow its audience. This year's OUA e-magazine cover contest received over 30,000 votes, and hopefully social media promotions such as this will have continued success in the future.
Carleton's Panda Game victory was spectacular. If you missed the game's final play, here it is.
It marked the seventh lead change of an incredibly exciting game. The teams combined for 981 yards of total offence. Nate Behar, the player that scored the winning TD, hauled in 13 passes for 276 yards. It was his third touchdown catch of the game. Something to watch this week, Carleton gave up 307 yards rushing and now has to face Laurier and Dillon Campbell, the leading rusher in the country.
Not even the most die-hard Guelph fan saw a 66-0 win over Queen's coming. It was the most lopsided loss in Queen's history and was one shy of the most points the Tricolour have ever given up in a game. Guelph totaled 678 yards of total offence and sacked Gael quarterbacks ten times. Queen's fumbled the ball six times and lost all six.
Including the 1-0 forfeit win over Queen's where individual statistics still count, Austin Kennedy has eight TD passes this season. That gives the Windsor QB a career total of 72, meaning he's just seven away from tying Ottawa's Josh Sacobie for the all-time OUA record. He's now third all-time behind Sacobie and Danny Brannagan of Queen's. Kennedy is currently sixth in CIS history. St. Mary's legend Chris Flynn holds the national record with 87 career TD strikes.
It would be fair to say Western had a better day running the football than Toronto did last week. When the dust had settled the Mustangs outrushed the Blues 408-27. The game featured the longest punt in CIS history as Varsity's Aaron Gazendam connected on 101-yard bomb. It was one yard longer than the previous CIS record, and seven yards shy of the CFL mark.
Chris Pezzetta led McMaster in rushing on Saturday with a 69-yard performance against York. It might not sound like a big deal, but even seeing Pezzetta's name in the lineup is quite a story. The running back tore his ACL on the second day of camp in 2012, then hurt the same knee training for the 2013 season. Before getting back on the field in this season's opener against Guelph, Pezzetta's previous game was the epic 2011 Vanier Cup double-overtime win over Laval.
I can't tell you how excited I am about this Saturday's Laurier/Carleton game. Not only is it a statement game for both teams, it's a chance for me to call an OUA game for the first time in almost a decade. I did the play by play for the OUA game of the week on CHCH from 1998 to 2001, then called Laurier games on 570 News in Kitchener from 2003 to 2006.
The Hawks crew has been nice enough to invite me back to call the third quarter of this week's homecoming game for OUA.tv. The timing is great with the Argos having a bye week. It's a great opportunity to see some old friends and do something that I miss very much, calling OUA football.
Mike Hogan's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ontario University Athletics