In line with feedback, we’re changing things up a bit this year in how we do our Uniball predictions. One thing we continue to receive feedback on is the inconsistency of the depth and quality of predictions between one conference and the next, due to the available time and ability of the writers that cover each group of teams, and how much information is made available to them.
To that end we’re going to shake things up this year and rather than attempting to cover all games with as much detail as possible with the resources available, we’re instead going to focus on particular stand out ‘Games of the Week’ - looking more closely at anywhere between one to three games, spread across the tiers, focusing on those games that perhaps looks particularly tasty and we can go into greater detail in the coverage of.
Durham Saints vs Stirling Clansmen
By Pete Laird
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to call these teams the power programmes of the North. It would also be fair to say there isn’t much love lost between them.
Since Uniball came under the BUCS umbrella the Clansmen have appeared in the first four championship games, claiming three crowns to add to their title from the naughties. And whilst the Saints came up short when the two teams went head to head in the 2016/7 National Championship, losing a war of attrition in a nailbiting 10-7 loss, they claimed their first crown last year with a convincing victory over Derby.
These teams have dominated the Northern division for five years so we can expect a meaty encounter this Sunday.
As a writer, you can’t write about either programme without taking stick from protagonists on either side of this divide… So in for a penny, let’s start with a look at Durham and address the elephant in the room:
No other team has attracted such ire, and so many hashtags from our keyboard community, quite like the Durham Saints. It seems harsh to throw labels around in the era of Scholarships U, (and a look around the Premiership would show more than a few teams all aboard the bandwagon) but the Saints were demonised in part perhaps, because they were one of the first to successfully attract some outstanding American recruits.
But look behind the curtain, and you will see a team, that despite its talents, that underperformed under Jeff Rutter until the arrival of Head Coach Jonathan Rooney. (It’s also worth noting, that Durham’s underperformance allowed the rest of the country to revel in schadenfreude)
Rooney is steeped in Football experience from one of the UK’s footballing hotbeds the North-East, previously working at Northumbria. Not only has he harnessed the available talent, engaged the university, and improved the facilities, he has created a siege mentality on their Queens campus. Add in a sprinkle of controversy, voided results, and an occasional player discipline issue, and you begin to appreciate the firm hand at the tiller that not only steered its way through, but came out on top. Rooney as a coach deserves far more credit than is given, and it looks like Uniball has an outstanding new SAG chairman.
Ones to Watch
Afraid we didn’t hear back from the Saints when we reached out to them for this article - the committee at Durham have previously taken the decision to close ranks following what they saw as some bad press around one of their recruits a couple of seasons ago.
You don’t have to be a sports psychologist to appreciate the merits that creating an atmosphere of a lack of recognition and due praise can give a team (just ask Alex Ferguson), and an ‘us against the world’ approach has served the Saints well in driving them to success in recent seasons.
However, it’s a real shame for the rest of the football community, as we get to hear very little about some of their home-grown talent. Amongst the standouts in this group are TE Liam Coxon and Wide Receiver Jacob Shotton who nabbed three scores last weekend. On the defence, look for the talented D Line featuring Joe Partington and Elliot Peach.
Of course, alongside their domestic talent Durham continue to find success drawing elite imports to the British game. This year’s crop includes Quarterback Kenyatte Allen Jnr from FCS school Robert Morris. He finished Game One with two rushing TDs and three passing TDs, in their 32-9 Championship game rematch over Derby. He was equally impressive in the 43-0 dismantling of the Braves in the reverse fixture last weekend.
Of course, Durham have not always been the totem of hate in Uniball. In fact, it was Stirling who were the original targets of the infamous ‘Built not Bought’ jibe when back to back titles in 13/14 and 14/15 were followed by a loss to the Birmingham Lions.
The Clan became a Uniball powerhouse based not on NCAA experience, but on its ability to attract the best young talent in Europe. Harnessing free EU tuition fees in Scotland (hello Brexit), a great scouting network, a Filton connection, and a cooperative university, the Clansmen have enticed some of the best ballers in Europe to its campus. That said, they haven’t been averse to attracting the odd American player either. In fact, you could argue that it was the arrival of Jerome Christmas and Austin Jacks that opened the Pandora’s Box that is the current Uniball Arms Race.
Head Coach Victor Peredo took over from long-term incumbent Rob Orr in 2016, and with his own National Championship under his belt, has moved well out of the long shadow cast by his mentor.
They’ve attended four of the previous five National Championship games, winning three of them, and as such each season are to be considered title contenders…
However, their 18/19 campaign opened with the Clansmen taking an unusual stumble to start the year, and it may be they are struggling a little from the loss of longtime coordinator Andrew MacIver.
An opening day 50-28 loss to Leeds Beckett was surprising to everyone outside of Leeds and it may be there will be some adjustments to be made ahead of this weekend’s fixture.
We reached out to the team for comment, with Head Coach Victor Peredo’s message for his team building up to this weekend a clear one:
“We are staying focused on us, and what we do.”
Ones To Watch
They certainly have some outstanding talent on the field, with Héros Du Pouvoir (RB), Nathaniel Prince (WR), Alejandro Herrero (LB), and the outstanding Vangelis Trasanis (OL/DL), all starring at this year’s Podyum Breakthrough camp.
Ultimately, the Clan are a well-coached team with some prodigious talent but it may be that this season has more than a little hint of ‘rebuild’.
When last they met…
On paper the Saints only took the one way away from the Clan last year when their later season result, Durham’s 0-30 Week Twelve victory was voided due to the most Uuniball thing ever, an unreported game result.
On the field of play however, you have to go all the way back to November 2015 for the last time the Clansmen defeated Durham in the regular season.
But who’s winning this one?
Let us know your thoughts on who’s taking the W this weekend, and in the meantime we asked our BUCS office to make their pick of who’ll win this classic rivalry showdown - Open the spoiler tab to reveal their choice!
Predictions for all BUCS fixtures are also incoming, they’ll just be in a simpler, pick’em style format this season.