By Rob Ficiur
The 2016 Canadian Football League season is four weeks old and already we are seeing surprises from some teams – and same old from others. During the off season teams think they have fine-tuned their club to make them competitive. Sometimes it works, but usually teams keep going with the same challenges (and successes) they had last season.
1. SURPRISE – The Saskatchewan Roughriders are off to a 0-3 start. After a last place 3-15, 2015 season the team made sweeping changes. Obviously a three win teams fires the past coach and hires a new one. Before the champagne was dry in the 2015 Edmonton Eskimos Grey Cup, the Riders had lured away the Grey Cup coach Chris Jones to lead Rider Nation.
Good news for Riders fans is that a Chris Jones has been a winner wherever he has been as a head coach (Edmonton) and assistant coach (Calgary, Montreal, Toronto). Fans know that three games is not a whole season. Jones will mold his team and get some of the same winning out of the Green Riders as he did in his other stops.
2013 Grey Cup quarterback Darian Durrant is injured – again. In 2015 Durrant tore his Achilles heel in the first game of the season. When he went down with an injury in 2014 the team fell apart – just like would do again in 2015. Now for the third year in a row the Riders Grey Cup quarterback is injured. The good news is that this year the injury is listed as week to week. The season may not be lost in July; compared to last year that is good news.
2. SURPRISE (NOT) – The Montreal Alouettes, who finished last in the 2015 CFL’s Eastern Conference, are last already in 2016. After winning the opening games of the season in Winnipeg (and spoiling the opening of their new stadium) the Alouettes have lost two straight at home. The good news (maybe) for the Al’s is that they have veteran Kevin Glenn to lead a young team. Kevin Glenn was the quarterback that replaced injured Darian Durrant in 2015 and lead the Roughriders to a last place finish. (Maybe Montreal will have another long season).
3. SURPRISE (NOT) – Winnipeg may be in for another long season. Last year’s 5-13 Bombers are off to an equally dismal 1-3 start. In 2015 the Bombers top quarterback Drew Willie played only seven games. This year, Willie is second in the CFL in passing yards.
Every team I write about the common theme is quarterbacks. Are they injured is the first question. After we get that figured out then we ask if how well they are playing.
4. SURPRISE – Henry Burris led the Ottawa Red Blacks to the Grey Cup final in 2015. Smiling Hank was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player. When Burris went down with an injury in Game #1, would the Red Blacks collapse? Trevor Harris, Ottawa’s #2 QB, is the top passer in the Canadian Football League. The CFL regular season is 18 long games, and without a reliable backup quarterback the season can seem much longer. The Red Blacks are first in the East.
5. SURPRISE (NOT) – The Calgary Stampeders were the best team for most of the 2015 regular season. No one remembers that. What they remember is the Stamps lost the Western final to the eventual Grey Cup champion Eskimos. For seven of the last eight years the Stampeders have been first or second in the CFL west. In that time they won two Grey Cups and lost in another Grey Cup final. Stampeders’ fans only care about one thing – another championship. No one cares that they are 1-1-1 after three games. Once a team has set a winning tradition, the only thing fans want is a championship ever year (they will probably settle for one every two years).
6. SURPRISE This past week the Calgary Stampeders tied the Ottawa Red Blacks. It was the first time since 2009 that there has been a tie game in the CFL. The one point gained (and also lost) by Calgary and Ottawa will make the standings more interesting. We won’t need to figure out tie breakers (which is based on the record against the team they are tied against).
7. SURPRISE (?) The BC Lions are the top team in the CFL west again. They Lions new coach is their old head coach Wally Buono. From 2003-2011 Wally lead the Lions to 101 wins and 60 losses; five first place finishes and two Grey Cup championships. In the next four years, two different head coaches failed to win a single playoff game. Coach Buono is back. The Wally Buono Lions are back on top.
Teams have played either three or four games. Look for more drama – surprises – and non-surprises in the always unpredictable Canadian Football League.