2011 Record: 8-0, first in Canada West (7-1 and first in Canada West before UBC’s wins were stripped). 299 points for (first in Canada West), 156 points against (second in Canada West).
Head Coach: Blake Nill, seventh year as Dinos head coach (32-16 record)
Key Losses: RB Matt Walter, RB Anthony Woodson, LB Sam Hurl, DB Chudi Nzekwu, DB Mike Lau
Key Additions: RB Mercer Timmis, Rec Brett Blaszko, Rec Elie Bouka, Rec Mac Sarro, DB Hunter Turnbull
Key Offensive Starters: QB Eric Dzwilewski, SB Chris Dobko, SB Jake Harty, RB Steven Lumbala, OT Kirby Fabien, OT Carson Rockhill
Key Defensive Starters: DT Linden Gaydosh, LB Jordan Verdone, LB Cory Roboch, HB Ty Noble, CB Mike Edem
Outlook: The Calgary Dinos are on a drive for five – five straight Hardy Trophy titles, a feat that has yet to be accomplished in the history of the Canada West conference.
Looking at their team on paper, it’s hard not to like their chances. They return all but five regulars from their lineup, including eight Canada West all-stars, led by BC Lions draft pick Kirby Fabien, who will return to school and solidify one of the best offensive lines in the CIS. They will also have 2010 CIS rookie of the year, quarterback Eric Dzwilewski, back behind centre. Last season, Dzwilewski was third in the conference with 1746 yards passing, second with 14 touchdowns passing and threw only three interceptions.
CIS first-team all-Canadian Steven Lumbala returns for his fourth year after finishing second in the conference with 898 net yards rushing in 2011. He will be expected to shoulder a much higher load than the 111 attempts he had last year, as veterans Matt Walter, who ran 63 times for 542 yards, and Anthony Woodson, who ran 66 times for 419 yards, are no longer there to spell him off. The Calgary running game will still be dangerous, but inexperienced running backs like Denzel Morrison and Mercer Timmis will not have the impact off the bench that Woodson and Walter had in 2011.
The Dinos’ receivers will be relied on to take the heat off of Lumbala, with fourth-year slotback Chris Dobko, a 2011 Canada West all-star, leading the way. In 2011, Dobko had 676 yards and eight touchdowns while first-year receiver Jake Harty finished second with 362 yards and four touchdowns. New recruits like Brett Blaszko, a star with the OFC’s Burlington Stampeders, and speedster Elie Bouka, a Laval, Quebec native who the Dinos recruited from Cégep school Montmorency, are expected to have an immediate impact on the field and improve an already strong Dinos receiving corps.
Defensively, the Dinos should have a strong front seven, once again. They gave up a conference low 937 yard rushing, although a lot of that can be attributed to the conference low 176 rushing attempts they faced, which was largely due to other teams needing to rely on the pass after falling behind the Dinos. Nonetheless, with a pair of second-team all-Canadians, defensive lineman Linden Gaydosh and linebacker Jordan Verdone, leading the way and with veteran tackle Josh Simmons returning from injury, the opportunities to put up rushing yards on the Dinos will be limited, at least between the tackles.
The loss of first-team all-Canadian linebacker Sam Hurl, who led the Dinos and finished second in Canada West with 52 tackles, will hurt. However, the presence of veterans like Zach McNeill, who had 19.5 tackles and sack, and Cory Roboch, who had 20.5 tackles, three sacks and four forced fumbles, will keep the Dinos near the top of the heap, defensively, in the conference.
The biggest gaps the Dinos have in their lineup are in the secondary. They lost two corners including Mike Lau, who was fifth on the team with 24.5 tackles and had a team high three interceptions and six breakups, while third-year corner Doctor Casama is recovering from a major knee injury. While the presence of veterans like fifth-year halfback Tye Noble make this a decent secondary, they did look porous last season, finishing third in the conference with 1752 yards surrendered on only 129 completions. It will be interesting to see if blue-chip recruit Hunter Turnbull makes an immediate impact, as the Dinos’ secondary is the area with the greatest need and greatest opportunity.
As stated earlier, the Dinos look good on paper and most observers will likely pick them as the favourites to win the Canada West once again. However, for an 8-0 team, they weren’t exactly dominant. Their first two games last year were come-from-behind, last-second victories of four and five points. They blew out a reeling Regina Rams team that had to rely on their third-string quarterback and the terrible Alberta Golden Bears, but they beat the Huskies by 14 and 12 points, the latter game consisting of a defensive struggle where neither team put up an offensive touchdown. They also lost to UBC, although it’s not officially reflected thanks to UBC having their wins taken away for playing an ineligible player.
While the Dinos will be good and deserve to be named the preseason favourites, they are not that much further ahead of Regina, Saskatchewan, UBC and Manitoba. It will be a much more difficult road for them this year, especially come the playoffs.