With the start of the CFL Regular season less than 24 hours away, it's time for the Twelve Men on the Field fearless forecast. A bit of sooth saying that will be handy to throw in my face come Grey Cup Sunday in November.
From the West we suggest the following.
First Place-BC Lions, with Dave Dickenson sercurely in at number one now the Leos will be ready to roar all season long. As the Lions host the Grey Cup this year at BC Place this is THE year for them to get this done. Close last year but just a little too short a healthy Dickenson will go a long way to pacing them all the way to a first place finish. A strong defence, balanced offence and superior coaching should help this team along the way through the West standings. Only possible cloud on the horizon is a dis-satisfied Casey Printers who having had some success this year is making a fair amount of noise about wanting a better deal and a chance to hold down a number one QB spot. Pointing to Ricky Ray, Printers has been quite vociferous in the Leos camp the last week or so, it could prove to be a distraction if it continues on into the summer.
2nd Place--Edmonton Eskimos, two top pivots and a new coach with a new direction the Eskies have reloaded and are ready to challenge once again. Never far from the top even in their lean years this Eskimo team will keep the pace with the Lions all season long. Danny Maciocia begins his career as a CFL head coach by taking on the challenge of one of the CFL's most revered franchises. Every night there will more than 30,000 other coaches watching each and every play, Edmonton is a pressure city for CFL coaches it won't be long for us to see how he handles the magnifying glass.
3rd Place--Saskatchewan Roughriders, they had their shot at glory last year and came up a little short, since then they've lost the QB that they waited patiently for after an NFL experiment. With Henry Burris' s departure for the Stamps, Nealon Greene is thrust into the pressure cooker that is a Rider QB, with memories of Ron Lancaster still seared upon the prairie mindset, being a QB in Saskatchewan is a bit like following the pope to deliver a mass. It's been over three decades since Ronnie L strapped on the pads but he's still the gold standard in Regina. How Green fares will go along way to determine the success of the Riders. The running game will again be strong and the Green Defence will prove to be a stingy bunch, Edmonton could be within sight if things go right early in the season.
4th Place--Calgary Stampeders, a laughingstock no more the rescue from the Feterik clan is complete and finally football fans can concentrate on the game and not the circus. The first thing the new owners did was shore up the football angle of the team, Jim Barker is back in the Corrall as a player development guy the perfect spot for him, Tim Higgins brings his many years of Eskie knowledge down the Queen Elizabeth Highway as he takes over the coaching and GM reins. Two high profile acquisitions in the off season showed right away the new crew means business as Henry Burris was lured across the Saskatchewan/Alberta border and Jermaine Copeland was brought in to play catch with him. Already the offensive output in Calgary should jump. It won't be a banner year in Calgary but it's a sure bet to be a more enjoyable one than the last one was.
5th Place-Winnipeg Blue Bombers, for the Big Blue and their fans 2005 may be a very long year. The Blue stumbled badly through the year last season and while they've tried to improve their core group of players and look to revamp both offence and defence it will be a long season at CanadInn stadium. Kevin Glenn gets the ball to start the season, with Tee Martin and Spurgeon Wynn the designated followers, yet the name Khari Jones popped into conversation today when Jim Daley gave his state of the Blue talk. Suggesting that should injuries arise or a problem develop requiring immediate assistance he would have no hesitation in bringing Khari back to the scene of his greatest CFL success. If the Blue go 0-5 or so one wonders how long it takes the Jones' to pack and come home, we also wonder if they sold their home in the Peg. Regardless things seem to be rather tentative in Winnipeg a slow start there will be a death knell for the season.
OVER TO THE EAST
1st Place- Toronto Argonauts, Damon Allen's swan song (then again the ageless one seems to be like the Energizer bunny, he keeps going and going and going). As defending Grey Cup champs the Argos will be a year older, bolder and ready to defend. Solid in the receiving corps, a dangerous running game and one of the best Defences in the league defense of the Grey Cup begins with pretty much the same crew that won the thing. Pinball Clemons seems to have a way with his players and shows no ego by delegating offensive and defensive duties to his respective coaches. Kent Austin and Rich Stubler. As long as Allen stays healthy the Argos are in a great position to repeat as East Champs.
2nd Place-Montreal Alouettes, Anthony Calvillo gets another year older and his Alouettes age with him. The dominant team in the East the last ten years shows signs of slowing down from time to time and then ramp things up to dominate again. Never count out a Don Matthews team as he badgers, bullies and motivates his teams to take on challenges they haven't thought of yet. The loss of Jermaine Copeland and Bruno Hemmill may be a worry, though the running game seems secure with former Argo Michael Jenkins picking up the slack. The big question mark for the Als will be Calvillo's back up, Ted White saw little to no action last year and it cost the Als in the playoffs. An injured Calvillo could send the Als tumbling fast, for the sake of the football fan at Molson stadium the O line had better be up to the task.
3rd Place-Hamilton Tiger Cats, everything seems positive for the Black and Gold in Hamilton, the fans are back and football is once again a vital part of the entertainment scene along the Horseshoe. Ivor Wynne Stadium is no longer a graveyard for the CFL but indeed a celebration of it's success and importance to a community. With Greg Marshall's amazing run last year under his belt this is a wiser more stable Ti Cat squad which is showing some confidence as the season begins anew. Danny McManus is back to prove the nay sayers wrong as the long reigning CFL QB takes charge of his Ti Cats offense for what may be his farewell tour. The Cats caught a lot of teams by surprise last year and that won't happen this year and McManus' age is of concern. Not to mention the sour feelings that developed when the Cats were courting a Flutie family reunion. Whether that has any long term effect on the teams make up will show through early on.
4th Place, Ottawa Renegades, the good news is the franchise survived it's neglect of the off season as the CFL desperately tried to find someone to take over the financial mess that developed in Ottawa. The jury will be out for a while as to whether the return of the Gliebermen will have been the best move, but to their credit, they did step up with their cheque book ready and plan to polish up their image from the last stay in the Capital. As for the football, Joe Paopao has done an amazing job of keeping this team focused on football as training camp started. From virtually no work in the off season Paopao has at least brought in a strong group to challenge for positions. Kerry Joseph will once again be the QB for the Rens and Rens fans hope he can return to form and pick up some early wins. It will probably be a long year for the Renegades but at least they're still in business. The ball shifts to the Gliebermen, to prove their dedication to Ottawa they will have to head to the bank a few times as the season progresses to bring in some help. Ottawa fans who have for far too long had to live with substandard teams are watching intently, a show of good faith on the part of ownership may help sway some of the negativity that seems to permeate the CFL in Ottawa.
SASKATCHEWAN BEATS EDMONTON
BC BEATS SASKATCHEWAN in West Final
MONTREAL DEFEATS HAMILTON in Semi
TORONTO DEFEATS MONTREAL in Final
BC WINS GREY CUP, DEFEATING TORONTO IN Grey Cup 2005 at BC Place Stadium!