1. Laval (Last week: 1)
Their run defence against Concordia was clinic-worthy. They held the Stingers to just 20 yards rushing. No team is better at the point of attack, meeting potential blockers in the hole and having their support players tear down the line of scrimmage to rally to the ball carrier. Their ability to stop the run on first down allows them to bring blitz pressure on second. If they are going to be stopped on their way to an unprecedented third straight Vanier Cup championship, someone is going to have to figure out a way to move the ball against them on the ground.
2. Calgary (LW: 3)
Word to the wise—blitz the Calgary Dinos’ offence at your own risk. It’s a proposition that rarely ends well for the defence as the Regina Rams learned last week. Calgary does a great job of changing the launch point and having a plan of attack against the blitz. Both of their quarterbacks are efficient and get the ball out quickly. That’s the chief reason why Calgary threw for 13 first downs against the Rams. As soon as Andrew Buckley’s back foot hits in his drop, the ball is out of his hands. In a conference full of explosive offences the Dinos are, schematically, a cut above.
3. McMaster (LW: 4)
In beating Western in London, the Marauders showed why internally they feel they have the best receiving group in the country. They had four receivers catch five or more balls against the Mustangs and many were of a high degree of difficulty. They’ve now navigated the business end of their schedule flawlessly and have emerged healthy. They should stay that way as their win against Western virtually guarantees them two byes in the next five weeks and puts them in the driver’s seat for home field in the playoffs.
4. Western (LW: 2)
Some of the flaws that made them inconsistent against weaker opponents proved to be fatal at home against McMaster. On offence it was committing three turnovers while allowing six sacks and countless hits on quarterback Will Finch. On defence it was ill-timed penalties and an ability to get off the field on second and long. Their talent level is huge but their inability to do the little things has recently become glaringly obvious. The big wake-up call against Mac will either wake them up or provide the country with a blueprint to lead to their demise.
5. Mount Allison (LW: 5)
The most improved position group in the country might be the Mounties’ offensive line. Helping to usher in a youthful backfield, Mount A’s o-line has improved every week. They take care of the backside tear on run plays, provide a clean pocket on pass plays and, unlike this time last year, are climbing up to the second level to spring big plays. As the Maritimes weather gets nasty this fall, their new and improved run attack will be central to their success.
6. Guelph (LW: 6)
Slowly returning to health, Jazz Lindsey’s ability to extend drives, making plays outside the pocket, has given the Gryphons a new lease on life offensively over the last couple weeks, but their defence is what keeps them in games. They remain in the title conversation because the defence nobody talks about is dominant.
7. Saskatchewan (LW: 7)
The Thanksgiving break comes at an opportune time as Saskatchewan has been playing with a multitude of banged-up players. I love the improvement QB Drew Burko has made in his game this year. I don’t love the fact that the entire game falls on his shoulders. I’m sure head coach Brian Towriss will use the bye week to help out his QB with some focus on the ground game.
8. Concordia (LW: 9)
After rushing for over 200 yards in an exhibition game against Queen’s, the Stingers have yet to reach that plateau in the regular season. Their run game has gotten worse—not better—throughout the season. They valiantly battled with the Rouge Et Or even though they were down double digits early. Concordia’s defence is stout. They are now the only team to keep Laval under 40 points, but that defence needs to get a rest. Their offence’s ability to run the ball and run clock will determine how long their Cinderella run continues.
9. Montreal (LW: 8)
Gabriel Cousineau is progressing as a QB at a rate that not even Montreal coach and quarterback guru Danny Maciocia could have expected. An offence becomes dangerous when its QB and play caller are on the same page. The defence in Montreal is never in question. As Cousineau turns the corner with his reads and audibles at the line of scrimmage, the Carabins have now become the most balanced team of Maciocia’s tenure.
10. Laurier (LW: 10)
Plain and simple, a young team that almost fell to the ills of a trap game. Laurier probably overlooked struggling York to get ready for their short-week contest against Western. They did enough to get the win, and even though it was their least impressive one of the season it was probably the one they needed most to keep their playoff aspirations afloat.
Honourable mention: Windsor (LW: honourable mention), Sherbrooke (LW: not ranked)
Dropped out: Manitoba (LW: honourable mention)