On the surface it looks like it's the same old job. Take a very talented group of athletes, live up to exceptionally high standards and win another Yates Cup.
However, this year's job will be different for McMaster head coach Stefan Ptaszek and his staff. While there are strong similarities between this year's edition and Marauders teams of the last decade and a half, there's a major difference between this team and the 2014 Yates Cup champions.
Not across the board, mind you. The Marauders have many returning players, making them a serious contender for another provincial title, but the team took major hits in several key areas.
The club lost its quarterback, two major pieces of the front seven, and most of a veteran defensive secondary that knew each other inside and out. That side of the football must develop chemistry, something that's easier said than done.
The programs that compete for conference championships on a regular basis hold the same basic belief - you don't rebuild a team, you simply reload. This season is no different, though the amount of graduating players at key positions hurts the continuity that had developed.
"It makes you a little vulnerable early in the season" Ptaszek told 'In The Huddle'. "In a 14-14 game it could cost you a game."
It also changes the way you coach the team on a daily basis.
"When you have a veteran group you don't break skills down to the little things," continued the coach, "You just look them in the eye and they know it."
The Marauders opened the season against the University of Toronto Blues, a game that in the past would have been McMaster's equivalent of the free space on the bingo card. This game, however, was no gimme.
The Blues took a 26-17 lead late in the second quarter. Ptaszek's team would score a late touchdown to make it 26-24 at the break.
How did the coach, now in his tenth season with the Marauders, react to being down to Varsity at the half?
"I tried to stay positive," admitted the Burlington, Ont. native. "We have some young kids so they were scared and edgier, but they're young kids so they didn't take it easy either."
The Blues fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half and McMaster punched it into the end zone to take the lead. There was a huge momentum swing at that point, with even Ptaszek admitting "We had them on roller skates a little in the third quarter."
McMaster would escape with a 55-33 win, a nice way to head into a bye week. That gave the group additional time to prepare for a team that gave them nightmares a year ago, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.
As far as the Marauders were concerned, the double consonants should have stood for 'gritty and grueling' rather than 'garnet and grey'. The two schools met in the final week of the regular season with the Ottawa club beating McMaster 38-18, the only loss the team suffered prior to the Vanier Cup final.
The playoff rematch was almost a repeat of the regular-season upset. Coach Jamie Barresi's crew led the post-season contest 28-19 late in the third quarter, before the Marauders stormed back for a 42-31 victory. There's no question that experience played a big part in the win, but much of that veteran savvy has since left the program.
Following a first-week bye, Ottawa opened its season on Sunday with a 41-17 drubbing of Queen's. Ptaszek didn't need to see the game film to know the Gee-Gees are a very good team, especially on offence.
On paper, Saturday's game would appear to have shootout written all over it. If that's the case it could pay dividends down the road for a team that lost a lot of experience in the backfield.
"A game like this gets our young secondary up to speed faster," explained Ptaszek.
McMaster's coach has a simple philosophy: to make sure that your team is playing its best football in October and November. McMaster may need that time to make sure it's ready for potential post-season games with the other OUA powers.
The Gee-Gees put on a clinic in their 41-17 win over Queen's. It's hard to imagine playing a more flawless quarter than Ottawa did in the second frame, outscoring the Gaels 34-0 and moving the ball at will. Derek Wendel had well over 300-yards passing by halftime and would finish with 384 on the afternoon. Bryce Vieira had 110-yards rushing and added 93 more on five catches. The leading receiver was Ian Stewart with seven catches for 113 yards. The Gee-Gees racked up 556-yards in total offence. Ottawa was stopped twice on third-down gambles inside the Queen's 5-yard line, once on the game's opening drive and once mid-way through the third quarter. Khadim Mbaye and Rashid Timbilla each had two sacks for Ottawa. Jesse Andrews led Queen's with 112 yards on the ground. He leads the country with 289 yards through two games.
Alas, poor York. Western led 54-0 at one point and cruised to a 74-10 win. Will Finch had as close to a perfect day as one could image. The Mustangs' QB was 14-for-15 for 305 yards and three passing touchdowns. He also rushed for another major. This is a weird stat: the Mustangs were led on the ground by Alex Taylor, Cedric Joseph and Adam Sinclair, each of whom rushed for 94 yards. Western totaled 405-yards on the ground. York had possession of the ball for 35 minutes, ten minutes more than the Mustangs, who still were able to pile up 744 yards in offence.
Laurier gave the Gryphons a scare in Guelph. The Hawks hung around before the 'Gryphs prevailed 30-19. Jacob Scarfone and A'Dre Fraser each had over 100-yards receiving for Guelph. They currently sit first and second in CIS receiving yards, with 338 and 224 yards, respectively. The Gryphons held last year's CIS rushing champion to 67 yards on 17 carries, but Dillon Campbell showed another side to his game. He caught seven passes for 104 yards. Nick Parisotto saved the day with a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions, one in the end zone, the other at the one-yard line. He was named the CIS Defensive Player of the Week.
Carleton took out the frustration of an opening day loss by dismantling Waterloo 57-0. Jahvari Bennett had three rushing touchdowns in the first half, while eight different Ravens carried the ball. Warriors new head coach Chris Bertoia eventually wants his team to be known as a rushing team, but this game showed how much work needs to be done as his club had just 32 net yards rushing. The Ravens provide a model of how quickly a team can become competitive if all goes well. Tunde Adeleke scored the game's final points on an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown.
The week's strangest result was Toronto's 8-7 win over Windsor. Each team was able to move the football, but neither side found the end zone. Hugh Paulin and Anthony Iafrate each kicked a couple of field goals in the game. Toronto's Simon Nassar threw for 232 yards, while the Lancers Tarrence Crawford rushed for 105. Varsity was flagged 15 times for 132 yards. TJ Morton had a couple of bad punts, but the first-year Blue had three punts for over 50 yards, including a 62 yarder. He averaged over 39 yards while Windsor started inside its own 20-yard line five times after Morton punts.