TORONTO, ON – The largest U SPORTS football conference in the country is back.
Kickoff for the 2021 OUA season is this Saturday, Sept. 18, and opening week features a full five-game slate, beginning with a 2019 Yates Cup rematch between McMaster and Western. The Mustangs will be eyeing revenge following a 29-15 loss to the Marauders in the 2019 OUA title game.
With the season less than 48 hours out, we at 49 want to take a deep dive into the upcoming campaign, expanding more on our national season preview piece and giving you three things to watch for this upcoming season
You may wholeheartedly agree with some of this – and you may vehemently disagree with other parts, your institutional biases perhaps skewing your objectivity in some regards. The best part about something as subjective as prediction: there’s lots of room for error.
At the end of the day, as fans of football and of the OUA, we want what’s best for our teams (not me – I don’t have one), and the more fans we can get engaging with the game, going to games (where permitted, of course) and buying into the product, the better off everyone will be.
With that said…Here. We. Go.
1. Will Western Take a Step Back?
This one could come as a shock to some, and it’s far from a guarantee. The Mustangs have long been a powerhouse program, reaching the Yates Cup five seasons in a row and six of the last seven. They’ve also made two Vanier Cup appearances over that span – winning one – and lead the nation in Vanier Cups played with 14, splitting them evenly.
That’s a model of consistency rarely seen these days. So this potential ‘step back’ isn’t what it may seem. They’re clearly the top team in the province and a contender to win the national title every year. For me, it’s just a matter of: will they be as dominant as they’ve been over the last seven years and beyond?
The biggest loss for them from 2019 is their five-year quarterback Chris Merchant. They also lost Merchant’s backup, Kevin John, to graduation, meaning 3rd year man Jackson White will start under centre for the Mustangs in 2021. White, who began his career at McMaster before transferring to Western in 2019, will face his former team in Week 1 looking to show them they made a mistake going with Andreas Dueck.
The Mustangs offence is a whole is younger, especially on the offensive line, so protection for White could be an issue. Their defence is relatively veteran-laden, so they will be in games. Will they win them all, though, as they did in 2019? Unlikely. That is especially true when you consider they were pushed to the brink twice in the regular season – a 9-3 win vs. Guelph and a 45-42 win over Waterloo – and again by the Warriors in the OUA semi-final, this time a 30-24 victory.
A 4-2 record isn’t out of the question in the loaded West Division, but the good thing for them is they have (get?) to face Windsor twice. So, Western will be a force, but as big a force as they have been? Probably not.
2. The Waterloo Warriors For the Yates?
It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to include the black and gold in the Yates Cup conversation (it’s been 22 years since head coach Chris Bertoia led them to their last OUA title in 1999 while he was still a player), but I think this is the year we can put them back in the upper-echelon of the conference.
For one, they get both Tre and Tyrell Ford back. That was a question mark coming in to the season as the twins contemplated entering the 2021 CFL draft. They both declined, seeing this year as a shot at glory in Waterloo, and who can blame them?
Yeah, they lost the two key kogs of the offence from 2019 – receiver Tyler Ternowski and running back Dion Pellerin – to the pro ranks, but that shouldn’t stop them from contending for two reasons. The first of those is Tre Ford. He is the most mobile quarterback in the country, and can take over games on his own with his legs, meaning the feature back doesn’t have to be inovlved in the offence all that prominently.
The second reason is their depth on both sides of the ball. In years past, they wouldn’t have been able to withstand the loss of their two best players. Now they can, because they have more-than-capable replacement options. Getting Devon and Jack Hinsperger back on the defensive side of the ball is a massive boost for a team that already has much of its 2019 defence back.
The West is loaded, as mentioned, and the Warriors will face their crosstown rivals from Laurier twice – no easy task. On paper, though, it’s easy to see why they could be considered a favourite to represent the West in the Yates Cup.
3. The Effects of a Shortened Season
The 2021 OUA season is 25% shorter than normal, down to a six-game schedule from eight. There are pros and cons to this new schedule length, which are worth taking a look at.
Starting with the positives, obviously there is less wear-and-tear on the body, playing two fewer games. The reduced travel with the new divisional alignment is also something that should benefit programs as the calendar progresses. Because of these two things, we should – should – get a higher quality product later on in the season, because everyone is fresher. While this may or may not have played a factor in the decision, easing back into things slightly after not playing football for two years probably isn’t the worst call, be it an intentional one or not.
Additionally, teams have to sustain things for a shorter period of time. This could help some of the middle-of-the-pack and lower-end teams make a push in a season where they otherwise would not have. Getting off to a good start is critical every year, but even more so this season where the margin for error is slimmer than ever before.
The positives of the shorter schedule can also work the other way, too. For a team that gets off to a poor start now has less time to right the ship. That’s why every game this season is so much more important, and. why everything needs to go right (or as close to everything as possible) for a team to put it all together. One key injury, a bad break, letting a game slip away – all those things have all that much more bearing on a team’s chances at the playoffs.
Another negative of the abbreviated schedule: chances to gain revenue and showcase talent. All sports leagues are suffering the consequences of the pandemic, including university sport. U SPORTS and the OUA have a difficult enough time generating revenue and putting their talent on display nationally; now schools have two fewer chances to do so at a time where it could really use the exposure.
49 Sports OUA FOOTBALL PREDICTIONS:
1. Western v. 4. Guelph. 1. Carleton v. 4. Toronto
2. Waterloo v. 3. McMaster 2. Ottawa v. 3. Queen’s
1. Western v. 2. Waterloo 1. Carleton v. 2 Ottawa
113th Yates Cup
E1. Carleton v. W2. Waterloo