Homecoming has all the makings of an epic matchup and a fantastic game day atmosphere. 3,600 people have clicked "attending" on the game’s Facebook page, and UBC Athletics is expecting even more. The fans are coming -- will the team show up?
Last year, in front of a crowd of over 4,000 the ‘Birds couldn’t find their wings and were crushed by the Dinos, at that time headed by now-UBC coach Blake Nill. Now, the tables have turned, and Nill's team has a chance to redeem themselves. While the ‘Birds wont be playing Calgary at this year’s homecoming, the game certainly feels like a second chance.
This season feels uncomfortably familiar to the 2012 and 2014 seasons. UBC is ranked seventh in the CIS, there are high hopes from players, coaches and fans, but disaster could lurk around the corner. Early losses piled up in 2012 and 2014, hopes fell, and the team finished 2-6 to miss the playoffs.
However, this may be the season to change that trend, at least if UBC’s preseason game against Laval is evidence of what this year’s roster is capable of. UBC doubled Laval's first downs and passing yards and outran the team. The only thing UBC didn’t beat Laval in was punting yards, which, funny enough, was the only stat UBC had over Calgary at Homecoming last year. If UBC plays like they did against Laval, the game is theirs, but if they can’t, Homecoming may be another disappointment.
UBC is playing the Regina Rams at Thunderbirds Stadium tomorrow. The Rams are coming off a season opener loss, falling 29-22 against Alberta. Both UBC and the Rams started their games strong and drew first blood, UBC with a school record-setting catch. But the 'Birds quickly lost their lead and never regained their footing. Regina, on the other hand, kept the competition within a point into the fourth quarter.
Regina is a team to watch out for, even after their loss. They also have a new head coach, Mike Gibson, who’s been coaching in the CFL for the past ten years. Regina also has returning talent in quarterback Noah Picton, who was the first rookie in Canada West to throw 2,000 yards, which he did in just three games. Returning running back Atlee Simon also had a breakout season last year, collecting 380 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in Regina’s final three games last season.
On defence last week, the Rams kept Alberta to 440 offensive yards (to their own 516) and 27 first downs to their own 33. UBC is going to have to come in ready to fight for every yard if they want come away with a win.
Tomorrow's game is about more than one game. If the game is exciting, Homecoming will be an event students look back fondly on. If the Thunderbirds lose, it will be that much harder to drum up support for athletics at the university. Even with the hype surrounding the football team this year it was still a massive marketing campaign to draw a crowd to the game. The combined efforts of the AMS, UBC Athletics and the Calendar might not be enough to bring students out next year if the 'Birds are embarrassed again. So no pressure.
UBC will take on the Rams at 6 p.m. tomorrow. Festivities start at 3 p.m. at the new SUB.