Thursday, June 21, 2012
2012 CFL Preview
Hooray! Football is back in just another week!
The summer is hard for us football fans. Some people throw themselves into other sports (God knows I do). Some watch that awful miscarriage of basketball with helmets, Arena Football. But I grit my teeth and wait until summer when the closest variant of the real beautiful game (nothing against soccer, which I love) the CFL, comes into play.
I believe this is my third time writing a CFL preview on this site. I won't go into long details about the differences between the Canadian and American games like I have before, but I will highlight the important ones.
1. A touchback gives the other team a point. Ever seen a CFL score be something like 36-1 and wonder how that could have happened? Now you know. You get the ball at the 35 though.
2. The field is 110 yards long rather than 100, so midfield is the 55.
3. The end zones are 20 yards deep instead of 10, and the uprights are at the goal line rather than the end line, meaning you're pretty much in field goal range if you're in your opponents territory. This never stops looking strange to me and is my least favorite difference.
4. You get three downs, not four. This has two basic effects: a) teams pass a lot more, because they are more often in a fit-or-fold situation, and b) this in turn makes running more effective. a 4.5 ypg average would be very good in the NFL, but not in the CFL.
Onto the teams for 2012:
Last year: 8-10, lost in Eastern Conference division final.
Names you may recognize: Former Bears QB Henry Burris, former Boston College QB Quinton Porter, former West Virginia RB Avon Cobourne.
The Ti-Cats are sort of the hapless Los Angeles Clippers of the CFL, but like the Clippers, they have turned things around of late, with three straight playoff berths. Their trade for Henry Burris was a good one. He's 37, but is just a year removed from being the CFL's Most Outstanding Player, and three removed from being Grey Cup MVP. While I don't exprect a breakout year from Hamilton, I do expect a winning record and for them to return to the playoffs again.
Last year: 10-8, lost in division semifinals.
Names you may recognize: Former Florida State QB Adrian McPherson, former Nebraska RB Dahrran Diedrick, former Northern Illinois and Bears RB Garrett Wolfe.
The Als took a step backward last year, failing to make the Grey Cup for the first time since 2007. As the owner of every meaningful quarterbacking record in the CFL, Montreal goes as far as Anthony Calvillo takes them. He'll turn 40 during the season but is still playing well enough to be named an All-Star last year, with 32 touchdowns against 8 interceptions. It's hard to know when he'll stop being effective and hang it up, but no reason to do so now, and no reason to think he can't have another great season. I expect at least one more last hurrah from this team.
Last year: 6-12, missed playoffs.
Names you may recognize: Former Notre Dame QB Jarious Jackson, former South Carolina RB Cory Boyd, former Tennessee RB Gerald Riggs, Jr.
Like their rivals Hamilton, Toronto seriously upgraded at QB by trading for all-everything signal caller Ricky Ray from Edmonton. He will be a big improvement over another name you may recognize, former Dolphins QB Cleo Lemon, who has disappointed and been drummed out of the league. They are also breaking in a new head coach, Scott Milanovich, who has assembled a new coaching staff, as well. With these adjustments, Hamilton improving, and Montreal continuing to look good, it's hard to see them returning to the playoffs this year.
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMERS
Last year: 10-8, lost Grey Cup.
Names you may recognize: Former Georgia RB Terrence Edwards, former Colts RB Chad Simpson, former Washington State QB Alex Brink.
It was a worst-to-first season for Winnipeg, who went from 4-14 to division champs and a Grey Cup appearance, thanks to perhaps the best coach in the league, Paul LaPolice, who found success despite having a non-star-studded roster.
He'll have to work some magic again, because this team actually went 3-7 to close out the regular season last year and lost a lot more than they gained in free agency. Staying healthy, which they did not do last year, will be key.
Last year: 11-7, won Grey Cup.
Names you may recognize: Former Nebraska G Patrick Kabongo, former Vikings DT Eric Taylor, former Miami DB Anthony Reddick.
It seems like there is nowhere to go but down for BC after coming out of the far-tougher Western Conference and winning the Grey Cup, but BC actually improved during the offseason. They picked up two of Toronto's better defensive backs in the offseason, Byron Parker and Lin-J Shell, and while the league's great quarterbacks are fast becoming greybeards, the Lions are guided by reigning CFL Most Outstanding Player, Travis Lulay, who is only 28. They have a new head coach, but only because the legendary Wally Buono, he of nine Grey Cup appearances in 21 years as a head coach the league, kicked himself upstairs and will likely still be very involved in the day-to-day running of this team. This is a very, very good football team.
Last year: 11-7, lost in division semifinal.
Names you may recognize: Former Iowa QB Drew Tate, former Ohio State WR Ken-Yon Rambo, former Tennessee DT Demonte' Bolden.
Calgary has acquired some serious bad mojo. First, they jettisoned Henry Burris after a shaky mid-season last year, and released their legendary RB Joffrey Reynolds. While they had to go back to Burris in the playoffs, it was too little too late and now they move forward without him. With no proven commodities to replace the skill position stars they cut, expect a big leap backwards for the Stamps this year.
Last year: 11-7, lost in division final.
Names you may recognize: Former Oregon and Mississippi QB Jeremiah Masoli, former Florida State WR Greg Carr, former Georgia DL Marcus Howard.
This is another team stung by free agency. After letting Ricky Ray go to Toronto, they will have two former Argonaut signal-callers, Steven Jyles and Kerry Joseph, battling to replace him. In difference circumstances, the offseason would indicate a step down for the Esks, but since Calgary looks to have fared even worse and Saskatchewan is starting over from scratch, Edmonton should still compete, and that's appropriate for the team that is not only the most storied in CFL history, but a team that is very clearly the Packers of the CFL (same history of success, same cold-tundra reputation, same colors, similar helmet logo).
Last year: 5-13, missed playoffs.
Names you may recognize: Former North Carolina QB Darian Durant, former 49ers and Bengals QB (and Kissing Suzy Kolber favorite) J.T. O'Sullivan, former Florida RB DeShawn Wynn.
First, the good news. This is the only team where I really had to choose which three players I would highlight for "names you might recognize." Lots of former college stars and NFL journeymen on this roster. Besides the ones named above, there's also Dallas Baker and Sinorice Moss.
The bad news is, this is a team coming off a 5-13 record that just absolutely cleaned house in the offseason, including their coach, so it's hard to know what to expect this year,especially since many of the signees do not have CFL experience. The offensive line in particular will almost entirely brand new. The Riders rolled the dice in the offseason and hope their USA College All-Star team will mesh quickly in the CFL. But it's hard to actually predict that.
Predicted order of finish:
BC over Montreal