Well we're quite close to camp starting and I just couldn't resist the urge to get the ball rolling. As always, before I jump to the rankings I'll take a quick look at the questions/developments from each conference;

-Can anyone knock Western off? The Stangs ran wild on the conference last year and continued in the nationals playoffs notching the most dominant victory over Laval Sea Dogs put the boots to them in 2007. Whether or not Western could do it again at the nationals (Laval came back and slapped Mac after the "Greatest Vanier Ever" loss and they have to play CW in the semi) it remains to be seen if anyone in the OUA can hang with them.
-Will the tiers hold true? Last year I spewed my thoughts on the OUA tiers ad nauseum. We know Western will be elite, can WLU, Guelph, or Mac make the jump up or will any of them fall back? Will the lower middle (mostly eastern Ontario) teams make a move up? Can any of the bottom feeders escape the basement?
-Can the conference as a whole be somewhat competitive? The tiers were solidly enforced by on-field results last year, will we see any competition with teams in separate tiers or can we easily predict winners before the games happen again?

The Q
-Who wins the 2 team race? We all know who is going to be in the Dunsmore but, in recent years, it's been down to the wire as to who represents the winningest conference in the nationals.
-Can anyone else compete at all? It certainly doesn't look good as nobody has knocked either of the big 2 off in the playoffs in quite a while.
-Will the league continue to lose teams looking for something more than routine beatings? Bishops took off after years of futility, will any other teams follow suit?

-Will the Dinos and Birds be finalists again? Though the CW is the most competitive conference week to week of the Big 3 the finals have been the same two squads the last 3 seasons. I never like to count out the Bisons (I have a ton of respect for Dobie), the Rams have been quite solid the past couple years, and the Golden Bears have shown a ton of fight in them so things should be interesting again out west.
-Is the dog still sleeping? USask was an absolute pillar of the CIS football community when I was playing (and well before that) but they have fallen on hard times in recent years. Considering they have a rich history and a very supportive community one thinks it would be a matter of time before they start biting again but the loyalists on this board seem less than optimistic. If they could get back on the horse the league would be a real slobberknocker from top to bottom.

-Can they compete in nationals? This is the obvious question, the AUS has been the whipping boy of the other 3 conferences every year since 2008 and there doesn't seem to be much to indicate things will change. It certainly would be good for the league in general if they could get back up as the national semi bye is a bad look for the league as a whole.
-If they can, who will do it? My money is on SMU, I think they have the best coaching/recruiting situation and they have the history backing it up.

Top Ten

1. Western: As I have done with Laval before, until someone knocks them off they are the reigning champs and #1 in my book. Last year's run seemed like destiny as they were blessed not only with amazing talent, great coaching (Snyder really kicked the offense into another gear), and ridiculously good health at the end of the season. This year they are still the HEAVY favorite in the OUA and, as long as they are undefeated, in the country (not so heavy in that realm) but they have to play both of the other big conferences in nationals and (most likely) Laval is lurking in the finals which I believe are in QC? Beating Laval twice in a row is a brutal task, beating them at home is unheard of. To fall short would be expected, to slay the giant would put Marshall into the super elite coaching echelon.

2. Laval: The big bad R & O are (for now) back to their bi-annual Vanier winning tradition which means trouble for everyone else in this even numbered year. They got humbled by Western but they bounce back better than anyone as they rolled Mac in their Vanier rematch back in 2012. They have the best program, get a great pick of the recruits from the best pre-CIS league in the country, and they coach them up expertly. If I'm a betting man this is my pick for the 2018 Champs but you could really say that every year and be right half the time. I do think they might roll the Q more convincingly this year than they have since U de M's rise though.

3. Calgary: I thought they would fall off when Nill went further west but they're kept their spot as an elite team who just can't get over the Laval hump. They had a great opportunity last year getting them at home but couldn't quite pull it off. They'll be in tough every week in the CW and I expect a shocking loss (at least 1) in addition to a possible loss to UBC at some point but I think they are the favorites again. Their recruiting class, according to CFC, was historic and they have kept the wheels turning just fine with Wayne Harris. I'm curious if they meet Western in the national semi (this time in Western I believe) will it be like their demolishing of the ponies in 2013 or more like the Dinocide Mac put down in 2012?

4. UBC: They have Nill and O'Connor and that, by itself, is enough to make them a dangerous squad. Add in the heavy talent in many other areas of the team and them being thoroughly war-tested with 3 Hardy Cup appearances in a row and they are another solid bet to make the Vanier. I think Calgary is the better team but a great QB/Coach combo is an ace in the hole.

5. Montreal: I would normally have had them at #3 but they've lost a lot of coaching and, despite people saying Maccocia does everything himself anyway, that can't help matters. They have proven themselves elite since 2014 but Laval is so tough year in, year out that they might run out of steam this year. I'm picking them to (of course) be 2nd in the Q but for Laval to take the conference by two scores, at least 10 points.

6. WLU: This begins the logjam of OUA/CW teams and I start with WLU because I think they have the best combination of recent success and coaching prowess. In 2016 they won the conference in the historic comeback against Western and then caught a beating at the PEPS but, to be fair, how many teams go into PEPS and don't catch a beating? I had the utmost respect for Faulds as a player and if he can continue his rise as a coach they could take a step into the elite.

7. Manitoba: I know I'm going out on a limb here a bit but as I said in the general CW write-up I have a lot of respect for Coach Dobie. Manitoba is one of those teams that isn't always in the playoffs but, when it is, can go all the way to the nationals. Look at 2014 when they came within a forced fumble inside the 10 yard line from beating U de M at CEPSUM. Their recruiting class was small but mighty and, to really pound a dead horse, I love their coaching. I have them as the dark horse in CW.

8. Mac: Another one people will probably question heavily but I am a firm believer in the power of a defense. Coach Knox knows how to coach defense and, since their rise in 2011, Mac has been one of the stingiest teams in the country. I have them as the dark horse in the OUA.

9. Regina: They had an amazing run to the top of the conference last year but bowed out in the semis, such is life in the CW. They still have talent and now more experience than last year but, without the elite recruiting that Calgary and UBC do, how long is the window open? They had a solid recruiting class so, hopefully for the Rams, it stays open a while longer.

10. Guelph: A bit of a perplexing team. During the Stu Lang HC years, in which they were resurrected and pushed to the top of the conference, it seemed like all they were missing was a more football-heavy coach. Post Stu Lang they have fallen back and, aside from the 2015 Yates win (which one could argue was largely a product of Western's starting QB being out for the game), have shown nothing above upper-middle OUA status. Even last year they had some odd results such as going 1-1 with Ottawa (though the decisive playoff win clearly shows them over Ottawa) and splitting games with WLU (solid win) and Mac (brutal loss). They always have good recruiting and they have the facilities, can they turn that into something this year?

Missed the Cut
-Ottawa: You all know I'm a sucker for the GG's but they just haven't shown anything beyond lower-middle OUA status. If they can win the Panda, not get absolutely blasted by Western, and score a win over at least 1 upper-middle team they can take a solid leap.
-Alberta: Last year showed the Bears have a lot of gumption but they lost their monster RB and it's always tough to win a slew of close games. Doesn't help how tight CW is either, every week is a tough out.
-Waterloo: Everybody's 2017 darling, it remains to be seen if they can keep their upward trajectory in 2018. If they can it's great news for the OUA as it only leaves 3 bottom feeders in an 11 team conference.

*****The "Missed the Cut" section could be expanded but, at that point, we'd be talking about every OUA/CW team who isn't an OUA bottom feeder.*****