AUS Preseason Predictions
Friday, September 17 is still a few weeks away; what is the significance of that date you may ask? Well it just happens to be the return of Atlantic University Sport football, featuring the St Francis Xavier X-Men visiting the Saint Mary’s Huskies.
As of that date it will have been 678 days since an AUS football game last saw the light of day. If you want to go back to the last fully Atlantic matchup, you have to add fourteen more days to the conclusion of the 2019 regular season (Bishop’s, in Quebec, played in both AUS playoff games in 2019).
To gear you up for training camps, which begin at the end of August, I’ve made one prediction about each team in terms of what to watch for and what to expect from them in 2021 when they return to play.
Acadia Axemen – Will have the AUS leader in rushing yards
Cole Estabrooks finished fifth in the AUS in rushing in 2019, with only 46 carries. To put that into perspective, the top four rushers had 143, 127, 83, and 109 carries respectively, and the conference’s leading rusher in terms of carries and yards was Estabrooks’ teammate, Dale Wright.
Estabrooks averaged an incredible 8.8 yards per carry in 2019, so extrapolate that data over 140 carries and he is projected to accumulate 1,232 yards. I’m not saying he’s going to hit that total or even cross the 1,000 yard threshold, but I think Estabrooks is primed for a breakout season as the premiere running back not only for Acadia but in the conference. The native of Moncton, NB is a wiry and elusive speedster who has elite-level speed, and is one of the more explosive and exciting players in the conference.
Bishop’s Gaiters – Will lead the AUS in Sacks
This one seems fairly straightforward; the Gaiters led the AUS in sacks in 2019 and were second in 2018. In the last season of AUS Football, the Gaiters had 24 sacks in the 8-game regular season, and followed that up with six sacks in the AUS Semi-Final against Mount Allison.
Bishop’s tends to lean on long, lanky defensive ends and linebackers, which have obviously given all kinds of problems to many offensive linemen in the conference, and also means they can be a little more unpredictable in terms of who could rush and who might drop into coverage. Defensive coordinator Fabrice Raymond will look to build on a strong 2019 and I think if they are anything close to what they were last season, they’ll have no problem leading the conference in sacks again.
What makes Bishop’s defensive front so intimidating is the fact that despite leading the conference in sacks, they only had two players in the AUS top 10 for individual sacks. That kind of sack distribution and the idea of the question “who’s going to step up?” having potentially many answers means it’s not a one-horse race here, and I certainly expect more than two Gaiters in the top ten in sacks in 2021.
Mount Allison Mounties - Will lead the conference in turnovers created
Sticking with the defensive theme for this one, this was an easy conclusion to come to. Consider that the Mounties had 19 Interceptions in 2019, it’s not even outrageous to say they could get 21 in ’21. With safety Lucas Cormier patrolling the middle of the field with halfback Daniel Bell, those are two physically daunting individuals for opposing offences. Both should have been All-Canadians in 2019, which was only their first season in U Sports, which speaks volumes to how talented they are.
With unpredictable fronts and blitzes, and a talented back end in the secondary, it stands to reason that with mostly young quarterbacks playing in the AUS, that back end can benefit from some pressure and some of the usual mistakes made by young quarterbacks.
If you want a really bold statement, I would say they could very well lead the entire country in turnovers forced. The only way I don’t see this happening is if teams give up trying to do anything in the middle of the field…which, come to think of it, could happen by week 3 or 4…
St.FX X-Men - Will lead the conference in total rushing / sacks allowed
This one seems complicated but it was really the only way to quantify the statement that St FX might have the best O-Line in the conference. They have had very strong ground attacks for over a decade now, and the consistency offensively has been maintained through several different offensive coordinators during that time span.
Acadia may have the individual rushing leader, but St FX could have more of a rushing by committee feel to their offence, and if they continue their trend of quick strike offences and using screens and quick game, their quarterbacks could finish the season ending up on the turf the least. 2019 may have been a down year for the X-Men running the ball, but I expect the time off and the two years of recruiting to really benefit the X-Men’s front line. Just wait until the end of the season and seeing the Team Stats before you tell me I’m right.
Saint Mary’s Huskies - Will lead the conference in special teams TDs
This is one I feel very confident in. Their return game has been electric for four or five years running, and I will make a prediction-within-a-prediction here in that I think they will score a touchdown on a fake punt or field goal in 2021.
I also feel like this prediction could be what the Huskies need to have happen in order to win some games.
Their offence and defence have both struggled to find consistency in recent years, so special teams could be the difference-maker in some games this season. If their offence continues to struggle especially with turnovers and on 3rd down gambles, look for their kicking units to create things either through a fake or turnover.
Despite the Huskies’ record in 2019, their special teams have been fairly consistent, and consistently good, over the past couple of seasons. That spark should continue this fall, resulting in some points on the board for Saint Mary’s.
Wray Perkin is a former staff member with the Mount Allison Mounties and Ottawa Redblacks, now Offensive Coordinator for the Tantramar High School Titans based in Sackville, NB.