CIS Corner: Some conference final matchups are unusual, but all have strong favourites

As written here last Sunday, last weekend's surprising CIS semifinal victories by Sherbrooke and Guelph ensured we'd see some atypical matchups in Saturday's Canadian university football conference championships. However, that doesn't necessarily make for even matchups and good games; in fact, it may have created the exact opposite. We have three sides that will be overwhelmingly favoured in their conference championship games and a fourth that's still going to be a sizeable favourite. That may help ensure that the best teams make it to next week's national semifinals (the Mitchell Bowl, featuring the Canada West champs at the OUA champs this year, and the Uteck Bowl, featuring the AUS champs at the RSEQ champs), but it could make for lopsided games this week. Still, as last week proved, anything can happen in CIS football; that means all of Saturday's games will be well worth following. Here are breakdowns of when and where you can find each game, and what to expect in each contest. Rankings are from the final FRC-CIS Top 10 (from the week of October 30), while point spreads are from Rob Pettapiece's calculations; I discussed how he comes up with these with him here.

Loney Bowl (Atlantic University Sport championship): unranked Saint Mary's Huskies at #9 Acadia Axemen (-5), noon Eastern, This one's projected to be the closest by Rob's odds, but that seems a little off from this corner based on how the sides have played this year. Yes, the Huskies knocked off Mount Allison 49-11 last week, but they were just 3-5 in the regular season with only a +63 point differential, while the Axemen were a dominant 7-1 with a +97 point differential and had their only loss come on the road against #2 Laval in interleague play. Acadia won all three meetings between these teams by scores of 21-16 (home), 26-10 (road) and 12-5 (home), so a win by more than five doesn't seem improbable, especially considering how well Axemen quarterback Kyle Graves has been playing lately. Meanwhile, Saint Mary's lost two of their last three regular-season games against Acadia and Mount Allison and only made the playoffs thanks to a win over St. FX on the season's final day. The Axemen have edges in offensive yards per game, points per game and defensive yards allowed per game, and the Huskies' edge in points allowed per game isn't a massive one (15.8 versus 16.5). Still, following a season of turmoil, the Huskies would like nothing more than to get back to their days as the dominant AUS power. We'll see if they can do it.

Yates Cup (Ontario University Athletics championship): #5 Guelph Gryphons at #1 McMaster Marauders (-24), 1 p.m. Eastern, The Score: Dustin did a good job of previewing this one here Friday, but there are a few things to add. For one, while Guelph certainly has a chance here, and they impressed with a late comeback against Queen's last week (although much of that came from the Gaels' own mistakes), this point spread seems about right. The 8-0 Marauders were the most dominant team in CIS football this year by regular-season record, and they were a narrow second to Calgary nationally in points per game (45.6) and yards per game (582.5); they also have an impressive defence. Kyle Quinlan and company won't be easy to knock off, and although Guelph's 7-1 regular season and run to this game speaks very well for the Gryphons' future, head coach Stu Lang will need something special to pull out a win here.

Dunsmore Cup (Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec championship): #10 Sherbrooke Vert et Or at #2 Laval Rouge et Or (-15), 1:15 p.m. Eastern, Radio-Canada: I'm a little surprised this spread isn't larger. While the 6-3 Vert et Or didn't have a bad season, they looked like a clear third-place team in Quebec before the much-more-imposing Montreal Carabins melted down late in last week's playoff game. Sherbrooke did enough to win there, but the penalties and turnovers Montreal racked up played a massive role in that result. Meanwhile, after a bit of a slow start, the Rouge et Or are looking like their old dominant selves. Even a dominant Laval side can be beaten, as McMaster showed in the Vanier Cup last year, but the Vert et Or will need more firepower than they've shown thus far.

Hardy Cup (Canada West championship): #7 Regina Rams at #3 Calgary Dinos (-21), 4 p.m. Eastern, TSN: To me, this is the most enticing matchup of all, and the spread's a little high. It's calculated that way because Calgary was so dominant in the regular season, but it's worth pointing out that the Rams handed the Dinos their only loss, and they did so without star quarterback Marc Mueller. Granted, that was at home and in a game where the Dinos repeatedly shot themselves in the foot, but this is the only matchup this weekend where the underdog's won a previous clash this year. Meanwhile, while the Rams' offence doesn't quite stack up with the Dinos on a whole-year basis, they endured a long stretch without Mueller; with him under centre for Regina, there's a chance this could turn into a high-scoring shootout, and anything can happen in those. Calgary will still be a deserving favourite, but this looks like the game of the weekend. It should be interesting to see if the Dinos can pick up their fifth-straight conference title or if the Rams will be able to pull an upset.

Bonus video: I discussed the CIS playoff picture and these games in this week's Krown University Countdown show on Shaw TV:

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