University football has started in Canada.
Last week, the OUA kicked off with some games, this week Canada West and the Quebec Conference go at it. And next week, the four-team Atlantic conference will begin play.
To no one's surprise, Laval is the top-ranked team in the nation.
Laval has started seven of the last nine seasons in the number one spot and the other two times they were in second spot.
One of those times was last year when they were second to McMaster to whom they had lost the 2011 Vanier Cup, 41-38 in overtime.
Laval has been in four Vanier Cups in the last five years, a mark only done by the Saint Mary's Huskies, who appeared in three in a row and won two of them.
I can pull out last year's column or the year before or the one before that because it's the same year after year. In brief, the Laval Rouge et Or are strong. The have depth, experience and usually get the recruits that they want.
The Rouge et Or are the defending CIS champions, winning an unprecedented seventh national crown since 1999 with head coach Glen Constantine becoming the first man to coach six Vanier winners, all with Laval.
Laval is solid everywhere.
They have a glorious past but Constantine doesn't dwell on it, in fact he doesn't wear any of his six Vanier Cup rings.
"The rings stay in a drawer and maybe when I am done as a coach, I will look back fondly on all of them," he said. As for the current year, he says "every year is different and we always lose veterans and get new talent. It's challenging and interesting and I always enjoy it."
Other teams from Quebec in the top 10 include the Montreal Carabins and Sherbrooke Vert et Or.
Sherbrooke has steadily improved over the years while the Carabins seem to be the only team that can beat Laval or stay close to them in conference tilts. It's been years since Laval has lost a home conference game and that was to Montréal on September 19th 2004, losing a 14-13 squeaker. In fact, they haven't lost since. That's almost a decade of home field wins. Simply amazing.
The proverbial question is not will Laval win the conference but will they lose a single game on the road or at home.
In Ontario, there are four teams from this conference in the top ten.
Western University, coached by Greg Marshall, always seems to be there. Another, McMaster has been a power for five straight years under coach Stefan Ptaszek. They have been in the Vanier Cup the last two years, winning in 2011.
Guelph came out of nowhere to make the conference final last season and have many returnees. And every four or five years, Queen's has a really strong team and this year seems to be the case.
"We've got a great group of returning seniors, some were here during our Vanier Cup season (they won the Vanier in 2009, beating Calgary 33-31)," head coach Pat Sheahan said. "We've had solid recruiting classes since and have built a competitive nucleus. And, there are a number of big-play guys on this club. We play McMaster on Monday so we will know if we're for real or not."
They must have a good club to start the season as the #2 team in the nation.
Also there's a new team in the Ontario conference as the Carlton Ravens are back in the fold after a 15-year absence and coach Steve Sumarah is getting ready for a "learning experience".
"This is a very strong conference with some of the top teams in the country so I'm sure we will get our knocks but I see us growing in the next few years," Sumarah said.
Sumarah is the former head coach of the Saint Mary's Huskies. In fact, the last time an Atlantic school made it to the Vanier, Sumarah led SMU against Western in 2007. They won the Uteck Bowl by upsetting Laval, 20-2.
Out west, the Calgary Dinos have won five straight Canada West titles for the first time ever under head coach Blake Nill, who is glad to be placed as the third-ranked team but admits it could be hard to repeat.
Nill keeps hearing the names of his former payers on CFL on TSN broadcasts.
"We've had great success in the last five years and there are around nine guys playing in the CFL such as Edmonton's Nate Coehoorn, Calgary's Matt Walter and Anthony Parker," said Nill.
The first overall pick in this year's CFL draft was Calgary Dinos lineman Lindon Gaydosh.
But Nill sees Saskatchewan and Manitoba as strong teams out west.
"The Saskatchewan Huskies are always strong and I hear this season Manitoba is up there," said Nill.
And, in Atlantic Canada there is not one team ranked in the top ten for the first time ever.
"That is not surprising," said Jeff Cummins, who coaches the defending Atlantic champions Acadia but his Axemen have lost a lot of seniors, including MVP quarterback Kyle Graves.
Saint Mary's which usually gives Acadia its best battle and may be the favourite in this conference, reason being they may have one or even two good quarterbacks.
"Last year, senior Jack Creighton got knocked out for the season in the first game of the year. Creighton is trying to make a comeback following neck surgery and we have Ben Rossong, who transferred from Western but could not play last season," head coach Perry Marchese said.
In a conference that has very limited quarterbacking talent now that Acadia's Graves is no longer a force, Rossong may be the QB to watch.
The Atlantic conference hasn't made the Vanier Cup since 2007 and have been soundly beaten in the national semifinal the last five seasons and that may well be the case this year.
For TSN.ca, I'm Alex J. Walling
Alex j can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org