While the University of Alberta and University of Calgary football teams enter this season in vastly different positions, the provincial rivalry between the players remains as intense as ever.
The Golden Bears will be significant underdogs heading into McMahon Stadium on Friday to play the U of C Dinos, a team ranked third in CIS. The Bears were shut out 32-0 in their season opener against the University of Saskatchewan, while the Dinos won their first game against the University of Regina 37-27 despite not having played any exhibition games in the preseason.
With the defending conference champion Dinos poised to once again be one of the top CanWest teams, the competition posed by the Golden Bears in the battle of Alberta is perhaps not as difficult as it once was.
“Calgary is strong. They’re at the peak of their cycle; they’re loaded with fifth-year guys,” Golden Bears head coach Jeff Stead said. “But I do think that we are in a position to be a lot more competitive with them, and in the CanWest any team can win on any given day because we’re still dealing with young men. Talent-wise I put Calgary very close to the top based on the eligibility of a lot of their athletes.”
Recruitment of Alberta prospects is one of the most important aspects of the university rivalry, and is still a source of competition between the two teams.
Overall, Calgary’s more experienced squad gives them the advantage against the Bears this season, but looking to the future, Stead has confidence in his team’s ability to compete with Calgary.
“When you look at recruiting out of Alberta, we definitely got the top kids out of Alberta,” Stead said.
“They did get a good receiver and a good tailback out of Ontario, and really, other than that, there weren’t many big name guys. In terms of the youth and the future, I really think that the addition of some of the guys we got compared to what they got put us in a very good place.”
As both teams compete with one another to recruit the top Albertan prospects, the recruits themselves will scrutinize both teams closely to help inform their eventual decision. While Calgary boasts a program that has been developed over the past six or seven years, the youth of the Golden Bears has the potential to create just as bright a future for the team.
“I would compare coach Stead’s squad to my first and second year here in Calgary,” University of Calgary head coach Blake Nill said.
“He’s trying to get his identity, develop his culture, his way of playing the game. But there’s a big advantage to playing guys who have been successful in the playoffs and been in the program three or four years to playing guys who are coming out of high school or in their second year within the program.”
That assessment of the Golden Bears is especially true on offence, with the Bears’ starting first-year tailback Joel Mukendi and two third-year quarterbacks with little experience as starters.
While Curtis Dell was chosen as the team’s starting quarterback, both players got an opportunity to show their skills against the U of S in week one. It’s not clear whether Stead will stick with Dell starting behind center or give Schwartz the opportunity, but whichever player starts will be feeling the pressure along with Mukendi and the rest of the offence to generate more scoring against the Dinos than in their season opener with the Huskies.
The game takes place at McMahon Stadium in Calgary at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 7. Despite their loss in week one, the Golden Bears will look to respond with the “ABC” mindset Stead says the Bears always bring to their provincial rivalry: “Always Beat Calgary.”
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