It's the OUA's game of the year 3.0.
If one were to look back on pre-season predictions, the majority would have selected the final standings to read Western, McMaster and Guelph, in that order.
That's changed, as McMaster defeated the Mustangs, Gryphons and all other comers en route to its current 6-0 record. That leaves Western and Guelph, both 5-1, to fight for second place in OUA and an all-important first-round bye in the playoffs.
They meet Saturday in Guelph.
Western lost two weeks ago to McMaster, then rebounded for a 61-20 demolition of Laurier, despite not having quarterback Will Finch for the game due to injury. He's expected to be back for Saturday's game. If not, Stevenson Bone would get a second-consecutive start.
It's a familiar name and position at Western, as Stevenson is the son of Jamie Bone, one of the best quarterbacks in CIS history. Against Laurier, the younger Bone showed off some of the old man's arm as he passed for 285 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He also rushed for 86 yards on seven carries, one of which was for a touchdown.
That said, of any player in the league, Finch still causes the most unrest among opposing coaches. He can beat you with his arm, but is more mobile than most give him credit for. However, by his lofty standards, his statistics are lower than one would expect. The one that is most surprising is his six interceptions in just 140 passing attempts, or roughly one every 23 passes.
Derek Wendel in Ottawa is the only OUA quarterback to throw more interceptions. He's thrown seven in 229 attempts, or one every 32 passes. Windsor's Austin Kennedy has, like Finch, thrown six interceptions, but he's thrown 201 passes for an interception rate of one every 33.5 throws.
Guelph does several things well on defence, one of which is getting to the football. The Gryphons are in a three-way tie for the OUA lead with nine interceptions, led by freshman Nick Parisotto with three. It sets up an interesting game within the game, watching the cat and mouse baiting that will go on between Finch and the Gryphons secondary.
That secondary, as well as every other aspect of Guelph's defence, will have to play better than it did last week when Carleton threw for over 300 yards, though much of that came in the fourth quarter when the game's result was no longer in doubt.
There are times when Western can seemingly move the ball at will either on the ground or through the air. The battle on that side of the ball will be very interesting.
Western's main job defensively will be to slow down the potent Gryphons running game led by Rob Farquharson. The running back has battled injuries, but has averaged 117 yards per game on the ground, the fourth best average among all CIS backs. He missed last week's game while his replacement, Johnny Augustine, left the game with an injury. More will be known on their status as we get closer to game day.
When the Gryphons throw the ball they'll have to give Jazz Lindsey time in the pocket. That's easier said than done against a Mustangs defence that has 23 sacks to its credit, tied with Montreal for the CIS lead.
From a statistical point of view, the kicking is remarkably similar. Guelph's Daniel Ferraro and Western's Zack Medeiros have identical 39.4 yard punting averages, while when it comes to field-goal kicking, Ferraro has an 86% success rate, while Medeiros has hit on 83% of his attempts. Both kickers have strong legs.
When McMaster and Guelph met on opening day the game was decided in overtime. McMaster's win over Western was an amazing game, featuring eight lead changes and a three-point margin of victory.
If Saturday's game lives up to the first two meetings between the 'big three' OUA teams, it should be nothing shy of fantastic.
The O-Zone: Things are getting interesting in the hunt for the final two playoff spots. Laurier and Ottawa currently occupy the final two berths with four wins, one victory more than Carleton. It may be tough for the Gee-Gees and Golden Hawks to improve on their win totals as Laurier's two remaining games are against McMaster and Guelph, while Ottawa's only remaining contest is against McMaster.
Should Carleton defeat either Windsor or Queen's in its final two games, it would set up a potential three-way tie for the final two spots. Since Laurier and Ottawa did not play each other, the fifth tie-breaking factor would be used, which is the record against common opponents. Those games would be the ones against Waterloo, McMaster, Toronto, Guelph and Windsor.
Using the hypothetical of Laurier and Ottawa losing their remaining games, Ottawa's and Laurier's record in the games against common opponents would be 2-3. Currently Carleton is at 2-2. A win this week against Windsor would give them four wins on the season and a 3-2 record among common opponents. If they were to lose this week and defeat Queen's in their final game, they'd still have four wins and be 2-3 in the common games.
The next tie breaker would be point difference in all games, not just those against common opponents (that's the next tie-breaker). There's also a 33-point maximum differential in each game.
As it stands now, Laurier is +78, Ottawa is +44 and Carleton is -31.
Carleton needs a lot of help at this stage to find its way into the playoffs. It may need to win both games.