We're on the verge of the playoffs. There are several questions to be answered as we head to the post season. "In The Huddle' does its best to answer seven questions that need to be asked:
1. Who are the Queen's Gaels? This may be the most intriguing question of them all. The Gaels have played well against tough teams like Guelph and Carleton, yet looked vulnerable in games against Waterloo and most recently York. A team wants to have momentum heading into the playoffs, and beating York by one point last week doesn't exactly lead one to believe this is a team that can make a run at the title.
2. Is this finally Guelph's year? The only way to get the public to stop asking this question is to win the Yates Cup. The Gryphons have been very good in each of the last four seasons, posting regular season records of 7-1, 7-1, 7-1 and 6-1 so far this year. They haven't won an OUA title since 1996, but will likely have to beat both Western and McMaster to claim this year's championship. That won't be easy.
3. How many people did it take to figure this out? If you're trying to figure out where OUA teams may finish in the standings after this weekend, good luck. Click here for a link to what could happen this week. To say the playoff possibilities remain up in the air would be an understatement.
4. Are the Blues a playoff team? Before the season U-of-T coach Greg Gary told 'OUA Uncovered' that "We want to make the playoffs". Simply put, if Varsity beats Ottawa and Queen's beats Laurier then Coach Gary gets his wish. The fact that the Blues are in contention at this stage, despite losing two of the better receivers in the conference – each of whom had eligibility left – is a credit to the coaching staff. In losses to Carleton and Queen's, the outcome of the game was not decided until very late in the fourth quarter. A bounce here or there and they could be 5-2.
5. Can the Mustangs be stopped? They haven't lost a game yet. The closest anybody came to them was 48-25 against Queen's, with the 48 points scored being their lowest point total of the year. They average 760 yards of offence per game and haven't put their foot to the floor for an entire game yet. Their attack is balanced as the Mustangs lead CIS in passing and rushing first downs. They have great starters and quality depth, combine that with the face they're coached well. Their average kickoff return is 11 yards better than any other team in the country. They can be beaten, but it sure won't be easy.
6. Can McMaster's offence thrive if the weather turns bad? The Marauders air show has been fun to watch. Asher Hastings has already set the OUA record for passing TDs in a season. The receiving corps is talented and deep with Dan Petermann, Dan Vandervoort, Josh Vandeweerd, Max Cameron, Mitch O'Connor and Andrew Sinclair all being legitimate options. What can get lost in the air attack is that McMaster can run the ball too, which becomes vitally important if there's rain, wind or snow in a post-season game. With Chris Pezzetta's return to action complementing Wayne Moore, the Marauders now have depth to go with a physical ground game.
7. How good is Carleton? The short answer is great for a third-year team. The fact that we're talking about the Ravens as a playoff club that's ranked in the CIS Top Ten is nothing short of remarkable. Whether or not they're ready to compete with the big three is another question.
The first opportunity I had to call football games on a regular basis was 'The OUA Game of the Week' on CHCH between 1998 and 2001. I have nothing but fond memories of those four seasons, not only for the chance to do something I love, but it also allowed me the opportunity to get to know some people who remain friends today. Mark Lee and Justin Dunk are outstanding choices to man the broadcast booth. Combine Mark's ability with Justin's enthusiasm and couple it with the pair's knowledge and it's a can't-miss proposition. Like McMaster's radio call on TSN 1150 with Marshall Ferguson and Ben Chapdelaine, it may violate the unwritten rule of never having more than one former OUA QB in a broadcast booth at the same time. Lee played at Carleton, Dunk at Guelph. Have fun boys!
York gave Queen's a major scare, losing 33-32 to the Gaels. York had ample opportunity to win the game, but three times settled for short field goals of 8, 11 and 18 yards. For the second time this season the Gaels had a TD pass of over 100 yards, as Nate Hobbs hit Doug Corby for a 104-yard major. Hobbs was picked off three times, one of which was returned 50 yards for a touchdown by Brett Colangelo. Hussein Hazime was in the Gaels backfield all day long, recording a pair of sacks and 2.5 tackles for a loss. Brett Hunchak was outstanding for York, going 34-49 for 381 yards, his brother Colton caught 13 of those passes for 135 yards. Kicker Nick Naylor slipped and missed an extra point attempt. It was a good day for the running backs as both Jonah Pataki and Brad Innis went over the 100-yard mark for Queen's, while the Lions Jesse Amankwaa led all rushers with 182 yards. York won the time of possession game 38 minutes to 22. There's an old saying that there are no moral victories in football. Considering the circumstances, this may be one of those games for the Lions. They finish the year 1-7.
Western totaled over 700 yards of offence in a 63-19 win over the struggling Gee-Gees, who have now lost four straight. The Mustangs rushed for 538 yards, with Alex Taylor gaining 195 of those, while Yannick Harou added another 140 and four TDs. Will Finch had a rough day, going 11-23 with no TDs and a pair of interceptions. Derek Wendel had his worst game of the season by far, passing for just 203 yards and one INT. He did carry the ball eight times for 74 yards and a TD.
Laurier jumped out to a 14-0 lead over McMaster, but couldn't hold the lead. It was a wild first quarter as the teams were tied 21-21 after 15 minutes. Fittingly, Dillon Campbell rushed for over 100 yards in his final home game as a Hawk. The emerging Kurleigh Gittens Jr. had eight catches for over 100 yards for Laurier. Ben Millar returned an interception 65 yards for a TD. Asher Hastings had four more TD passes giving him 29 for the season, that's just one shy of the CIS record of 30, set by St. Mary's legend Chris Flynn in 1989. Dan Petermann had nine catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
U-of-T kept its playoff hopes alive with a 34-0 win at Waterloo. Alex Malone had another big day for the Varsity Blues, rushing for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan Di Risio cracked the 100-yard rushing mark for the Warriors. Dallon Kuprowski got some reps at QB for Toronto, but threw three interceptions in just 18 pass attempts, though he did carry the ball 11 times for 86 yards.
Guelph started tuning up for the playoffs with a 41-27 win over Windsor. James Roberts threw for over 300 yards in the victory, including 125 to Jacob Scarfone, who had 10 catches. Donnie Egerter led the defence with two sacks and two tackles for a loss. Windsor's Casey Wright took over for Liam Putt at QB late in the first half. If the Gryphons are going to capture that elusive Yates Cup they'll have to clean up their act. They took 21 penalties for 221 yards against Windsor. Come playoff time, if they give Western or McMaster the length of two football fields in penalty yards they have zero chance of winning that game.
Mike Hogan is a host on TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto, providing play-by-play commentary for the station's live coverage of the Toronto Argonauts. Hogan is also a long-time member of the CIS Football Top 10 Committee and also serves as the Vice-President of the Football Reporters of Canada.