The CFL season is just hours away; which means it’s time for some good old fashioned Eastern bias! Why wait until mid-season to extol the glories of all things east of the Saskatchewan border?
Now this column has nothing to do with my ignorant Toronto ways but everything to do with a historic shift, that may, I repeat may, happen this season.
This could finally be the year where the East rules the league.
Do you realize that it has been over a decade, 2001 to be exact, since the Eastern Division held an advantage in regular season wins?
Of course Western fans will be happy to know that even though the East won the regular season, the Grey Cup still went west to Marcus Crandell and the 8-10 (Yes 8-10) Calgary Stampeders.
The simple answer behind a possible shift in the balance of power is of course quarterbacks. Hey it’s football; everything always starts with the signal caller, especially in a league where your typical starter throws the ball about 550 times compared with running backs where it’s rare to find one who cracks 200 rushes for the year.
Let’s do a quick tour of all eight team’s shall well?
Yes I know only fools and those prone to knee jerk reactions get excited about Pre-Season statistics. But how can I resist what Henry Burris has done? (23-37-402 yards) The only other player in the league with a bigger chip on their shoulder maybe his starting running back, Avon Cobourne.
Burris is one year removed from a 5,000-yard, 38 touchdown season. No one can accurately say whether or not he can hit that level again but with Andy Fantuz, Dave Stala, Chris Williams, and Bakari Grant as his targets I’m not prepared to bet against him.
The biggest question marks I have with Hamilton is a secondary that has a propensity to giving up the big play, a pass rush that will need to replace Justin Hickman and the dynamic play making ability of Marcus Thigpen.
Year after year us offensively starved Toronto fans have had to deal with a who’s-who of quarterbacks that ranged in talent from mediocre to embarrassing.
Even now I will wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat with images of Steven Jyles, a past-his-prime Kerry Joseph, Cody Pickett, Cleo Lemon, Mike McMahon and Eric Crouch dancing in my head.
If Ricky Ray can pick up where he left off in Edmonton last year Toronto should have their best offensive season since Damon Allen won league MOP in 2005.
Only in Montreal can a 10-8 season be seen as a failure. That is the mark of a successful organization. Yes they were blitzed for 52 points at the hands of Hamilton but the Alouettes’ secondary was just a mess due to a slew of injuries.
I just don’t see Montreal ranked seventh against the pass again this year. The team is loaded with the best running back in the game, Brandon Whitaker, the best player in the game Jamel Richardson (Robbed of the MVP award) and Anthony Calvillo. It was the Alouettes who led the league in points and yards gained in 2011.
Would anyone be shocked if Montreal reclaims their rightful place atop of the East? My biggest concern is the injury to DE John Bowman.
Here is how strange this CFL season could be, the Eastern representative to the Grey Cup, the Eastern Division champion may end up at the bottom looking up.
Let me stress again, may I?
I am on record as saying I do not believe all the doom and gloom that is predicted for a team that no longer has Fred Reid, Greg Carr, Brendon LaBatte, Clint Kent, Odell Willis and Doug Brown on the roster.
Remember, football is not like basketball where you can plug in new pieces and get immediate positive results.
Successful franchises are built from the ground up with young players in development that understand the system, who can step in for the veterans and perform at a high level.
Listen any team with Jovon Johnson, Jonathan Hefney, Brandon Stewart and Alex Suber on their defence can compete week in and week out.
The key for the Blue Bombers will centre around just how well new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton fits in with the team and the league as a whole.
It will be his job to get Buck Pierce to cut down on his turnovers and challenges defence’s downfield.
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Even without Wally Buono patrolling the sidelines the Lions are the class of the CFL. They’re so good they may even decide to not start the season 1-7.
I loved watching the development of Travis Lulay and I hope he continues to grow as a quarterback. Beyond the loss of Solomon Elimimian to the Vikings and Davis Sanchez to retirement, there is no team in the CFL with fewer holes than B.C.
It’s one thing to come off the bench and have success; it’s an entirely different animal to being thrust in the role of Face of the Franchise. Seven defensive coordinators have had an entire off season to pick apart Drew Tate’s game.
Let’s see how the rest of the league adjusts to what Tate brings to the table, let’s see how he deals with the pressure of filling the massive shoe’s left by Henry Burris.
Drew certainly has the skill set to succeed but being the no.1 quarterback is just such a different animal than being the backup. Again, Calgary is another Western team I could see taking a step back in 2012.
I have been ripped for underestimating this team, but hey some team has to come in last. I just get the feeling that Eric Tillman is building for the future and that 2012 is a season to develop new talent. Listen, when you spend the off-season debating between Steven Jyles and Kerry Joseph as who will be your starting quarterback you may as well start debating who to take #1 overall in the 2013 Draft.
Off all the teams, the Roughriders are the one franchise I have the least feel for going into the season. According to one report I saw, the 2012 version will be made up of just 50 per cent of the players who dressed for the team’s 2011 opener.
Matthew Cauz is the Weekend Host for 'GAME DAY' on TSN 1050 Radio. Previously, he was a producer and football analyst for SUN TV where he appeared regularly on the “Casino Rama Grill Room” and he spent seven years working for TSN's “Off The Record”. Follow Matthew on Twitter @mcauz56.