There's only one thing on university football players minds in November.
"Vanier," says Dinos defensive lineman Deji Oduwole. "That's all I think about right now."
November is the time in Canadian football that players make a name for themselves. Over the next three weeks, we'll see what this Dinos football team is all about after they finished the season with a 7-1 record, their best since a similar showing in 1988.
"We went to the semi-finals last year, so we gotta take that step up and win the whole thing. That's our biggest thing right now," he continues. "You can't settle for going home in the second or third round. That doesn't mean anything. That great season we had, meant nothing then. Unless we make it to the big show -- that's all we'll be happy with."
Beyond the 7-1 record, the Dinos finished the season with several new marks in the club record books: 4,651 offensive yards, 719 more than the old mark set in 1989; 236 first downs, 40 more than the 1983 record; 65.1 completion percentage, 4.4 percentage points higher than the 1999 peak; 39 touchdowns, tied with the 1995 record set during their last Vanier Cup winning season. But as Oduwole says, all that is meaningless if they don't perform in the post-season.
"You can't rest on your laurels," says runningback Matt Walter. "You can't think about what you did in the regular season, you just have to treat it as a new season, pretty much."
"It's definitely a different mentality," agrees quarterback Erik Glavic. "It's pretty much the strong survive, the weak go home. If you don't bring your 'A' game, you can go home and lose. Back at St. Mary's [University, Glavic's previous team], we won a game by one to a team we beat by 50 in the regular season. It's a whole different monster when you step on that field come playoff time."
Much like that St. Mary's team, the Dinos will have to face an opponent that they beat handily in the regular season. Last week, the Dinos travelled north up the QE2 to take on the University of Alberta Golden Bears and played probably their most complete game of the season in a 40-5 victory. That was the second match-up between the provincial rivals, the first being a narrow 34-31 win for the Dinos at McMahon in September where the Bears nearly surprised the Dinos with a last second comeback.
This is a match-up that by all measures should be owned by the Dinos. The Dinos led the league in points with 39.5 per game; the Bears were fifth with 20.5. The Dinos were first in both passing and rushing offence; the Bears fifth and sixth. Even the Dinos much exploited pass defence is only 0.4 yards worse on average than the Bears. But if that early match-up says anything, it's this Bears team isn't to be taken lightly.
"That's definitely tough. Especially back-to-back," says Glavic. "They know what to expect, you know what to expect. It's a lot on the coaching staff to see who can do the best job of tweaking the playbook a little bit to adjust to what they did successfully."
For Oduwole, it's as much about the future of both squads and the bragging rights in a long-running rivalry.
"Pride -- you wanna show them that we're the big dogs in this province," he says. "We gotta come out there and dominate them. As coach always said, it's about recruiting, it's about getting better over the years. We beat them, we take control of Canada West and we'll be fine for years to come."
This will likely be the last home game of the season for this Dino squad (barring the highly unlikely event that the University of Saskatchewan Huskies get upset at home for the second year in a row), and the players are hoping fans will come out to cheer them on at the beginning of what they hope to be a long journey to Quebec and the Vanier Cup final Nov. 28.
"Yo, give us some damn support," says Oduwole.