Canada’s game returns, fittingly enough, July 1st with a classic doubleheader. First off the Argos and Tiger-Cats meet for the first of four meetings, then the Stampeders and Alouettes tangle in a Grey Cup rematch at McMahon. Don’t fret if you’re sad to see that the two will only meet twice this year. There will be a Grey Cup rematch on November 29th.
Here we predict the order of finish for Calgary and the seven teams looking to dethrone them.
1- Montreal Alouettes (2008 record: 11-7)
The perennial beasts of the east return essentially the same roster that got them to their sixth championship game of the decade. Avon Cobourne rushed for 950 yards in only 12 games, and receiver Jamel Richardson returns after turning down offers from multiple NFL teams. He led the league in receiving touchdowns with 16, and with Anthony Calvillo still under centre, little should change atop the CFL East.
2- Toronto Argonauts (2008 record: 4-14)
While Winnipeg’s 8-10 mark a year ago was good enough for second in the division, the Argonauts look poised to go beyond that and challenge Montreal. After Don Matthews failed to win a game in eight attempts last season, management brought in Bart Andrus from the Tennessee Titans. Andrus has extensive experience coaching on the offensive side of the ball in the NCAA ranks, the NFL and in NFL Europe. Though Toronto scored the fewest points in the league last season, expect the Kerry Joseph of old, as he received a vote of confidence from Andrus at the beginning of training camp that he would be the man to led the Boatmen into the season.
3- Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2008 record: 3-15)
The last time the Ti-Cats finished outside the East’s cellar was 2004, but the wheels of change are slowly moving in Steeltown. Head coach Marcel Bellefeuille and pivot Quinton Porter get their first chances to lead the team from the start, after the Casey Printers era came to an unceremonious end in mid-season. The addition of Agustin Barrenechea at the linebacker spot should aid the unit that allowed the second most points in the league last year.
4- Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2008 record: 8-10)
The major move in the Keystone Province will be that of Milt Stegall’s number 85 from the playing field to the ring of honour, but new head coach Mike Kelly didn’t stop there. In training camp he released running back Joe Smith, as well as long-time starting quarterback Kevin Glenn in favour of Stefan LeFors, whom he coached in Edmonton. Though the offence could suffer through growing pains, the defence should be what keeps games competitive. Barrin Simpson is healthy after missing most of last season, and Fred Perry was brought in to help Gavin Walls on the defensive line. Still, the CFL remains an offence-first league, which could prove to be the Blue Bombers’ downfall.
1- Calgary Stampeders (2008 record: 13-5)
The incumbent Grey Cup champs captured the hardware last fall with a fairly simple recipe; they led the league in scoring differential with a mark of +175. There’s little reason to see why that would change. The offence remains intact, led my Henry Burris and the league’s leading rusher, Joffrey Reynolds. Canadian defensive lineman Mike Labinjo showed in the Grey Cup why he could become one of the league’s premier defensive players. There will certainly be plenty of smiles on Burris’ face this year as well deep into the fall
2- Edmonton Eskimos (2008 record: 10-8)
In what should be the most highly competitive race in the league, the battle for second in the west comes down to one thing: quarterbacking. Ricky Ray has more than enough experience to pass around, and the addition of Jesse “Don’t-call-me-injury-prone” Lumsden in the backfield should only aid a team that struggled with consistency last season, never winning more than two stright games. Danny Maciocia stepped down as head coach, and his first move as full-time general manager was to hire player’s coach Richie Hall from Saskatchewan as his replacement. If the positive vibe coming out of training camp is any indication, the Eskimos’ march through the playoffs should go through the West this year.
3- Saskatchewan Roughriders (2008 record: 12-6)
The winners of last year’s Jekyll and Hyde Award, the Riders started with 6 straight wins before stumbling into the playoffs. Even with a home playoff game, they turned it over seven times against BC which resulted in then-quarterback Michael Bishop being let go two days later. Fast forward to today, and Darian Durant has the car keys to Saskatchewan’s offence, which should be boosted by the addition of tough-as-nails slotback Jason Clermont. His partner Andy Fantuz was effective after returning from a broken leg and should have a breakout season. The front seven could be the team’s weak link, with Fred Perry, Reggie Hunt and Maurice Lloyd of the 2007 championship team sporting different uniforms.
4- BC Lions (2008 record: 11-7)
Quarterback Buck Pierce is the main man yet again in Vancouver, but with fewer weapons at his disposal. The club chose not to bring back veteran running back Charles Roberts, instead turning return specialist Ian Smart into an every-down back. While Geroy Simon continues to give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares, the receiving corps will be hurt by Jason Clermont’s departure. Canadian Paris Jackson cracked the 1,000 yard plateau last season, and will be expected to do the same again. However, as Edmonton proved last season, finishing fourth in the West is not apocalyptical…
East Semi Final: BC over Toronto
West Semi Final: Saskatchewan over Edmonton
East Final: Montreal over BC
West Final: Calgary over Saskatchewan
97th Grey Cup: The Stampeders defeat Montreal again and succeed in their bid to become the first team to capture the Grey Cup at home since BC did it in 1994.