Are we really a third of the way through the CFL season? We've seen a lot over the first six weeks of the campaign. I think its far too early to determine what teams are going to be playing in the Grey Cup although it would be a safe bet to say this year's game will be a rematch of last years. Here are my thoughts on each team after the first third.
Is it safe to say the only positive for the Lions after six weeks has been the new Empire Stadium? The new digs look great, but that's about it. At the start of the year, I thought BC might have been the 2nd best team in the West, but I was wrong. As is the case when any team loses its starting quarterback, there is usually a drop-off and there certainly was when Casey Printers went down giving way to Travis Lulay. The Montana State product did not do well as a starter and has now lost the job to Jarious Jackson. On the surface, it would appear as if age has caught up to the Lions as they have several players in their 30's. Its up to Jackson to change the fortunes of this team. I don't know if he can.
The Stamps are 5-1. They haven't played Montreal yet though and they still have a pair of games to play in Regina. I have to give Calgary credit because I didn't think they would be 5-1 at this point of the season. Several retirements had me wondering about the state of the dressing room. The o-line was basically brand new meaning I thought life would be tough for Henry Burris and Joffrey Reynolds, but so far its been pretty good for Calgary. One could argue they could have been 6-0 were it not for two quick back to back games in southern Ontario. I don't think the Stamps are as good as their record indicates, but they have proven that they are Saskatchewan's biggest threat when it comes to who represents the West at the Grey Cup.
If Kelly Campbell and Fred Stamps could have hung on to some key passes in the opening weeks of the season, Danny Macioccia might still be the GM. The Eskimos were team turmoil in the first third of the season. I still think Ricky Ray has fallen from the level of elite quarterback and is far from the QB he used to be. I think Richie Hall still has quite a lot of work to do to get this team to a level of respectability. I laughed aloud when media types from across the country (yes, I'm looking at you Sportsnet) took the Eskimos to win the West. Those that did that have to be wondering if they can get a haircut so that the wool is no longer over their eyes.
Its tough to get a read on Hamilton because they have played Winnipeg three times(four after this week! ????)One week the Tabbies look good and the next week, not so much. The biggest story involving this team is where are they going to put their new stadium and will they be around when its time to move in. At 2-4, one would have to say the first third wasn't kind to Hamilton, but they still have a lot of games to go including ones against Toronto.
Same old, same old. The years might change, but the Alouettes don't. Marc Trestman has this team operating on all cylinders once again. Yes, they didn't win the season opener at Mosaic, but they have won every game since. They struggled against the Riders, but they did enough to hold the lead once they got it. Say what you will about the Riders, but these guys have to be considered the faves again to hoist the trophy right now. I think many people want to see a Montreal-Saskatchewan Grey Cup, but even those in Saskatchewan must admit that the chances of the Alouettes being favoured on GC week should the two teams meet is very high. One question about the Als though--and maybe this puts Marc Trestman in a very positive light and Wally Buono in a very negative one. The Als have just as many players at key positions that are in their 30's. Why are they successful while BC isn't.
I would have told you at the start of the season that the Riders would finish the first third of the season 4-2. The only question I have about the Riders is when are they going to have a complete game. When they start doing that, they will be downright scary. Until then, you just don't know what you are going to get. Offensively, this team can move the ball even when their quarterback is far from 100 percent. When Darian Durant gets healthy, what will he do. Gary Etcheverry's defence does need to pick it up, but if they can carry some of the momentum from the 2nd half in Montreal, they just might be on their way to doing that.
Jim Barker is definitely the coach of the year after the first third. He has somehow gotten this team to a record of 4-2. Who's kidding who, if I told you that the Riders and Argos would have the same record after six weeks of the season at the end of June, you'd have said its time for Ken Miller and Brendan Taman to go. Cleo Lemon hasn't been spectacular, but he has done what coaches want. He has "managed" the game. Cory Boyd might not only be the league's best rookie, but the league's best player six games in.
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
Like the Ti-Cats, the Bombers are tough to call right now because they have played Hamilton seemingly all season long. Like BC, the Bombers lost their starting quarterback in Buck Pierce, but the drop-off to Steven Jyles wasn't as dramatic as the one in BC was. Paul Lapolice knew he had a rebuilding job when he took over from Mike Kelly. He is starting to put the pieces in place. He also knows that road is a long one. Can Winnipeg challenge Montreal for first in the division? Not yet, but they might have enough to chase down Toronto and get a home playoff game before all is said and done.
That leads me to awards. If the season ended today, who do I think would win league awards.
MOP-Anthony Calvillo. When he is on his game, there is no one better and when you are the QB of the league's best team, you get the role of favourite. Will this guy ever tell us where the Fountain of Youth is? C'mon Anthony!! Its a pleasure watching him do his thing.
Canadian-Andy Fantuz. Fantuz is having the type of season that many in Saskatchewan and I think many across Canada knew he was capable of having. He will put up huge numbers if he stays healthy. A cereal and a top Canadian award in one season----something else that is grey and shiny would make it quite the hat-trick for 83 in green.
Defensive Player--This one is tough because no defensive player has really stood out this year the way John Chick and Cam Wake have the last two years. Two guys I have noticed though are Chip Cox of the Alouettes and Edmonton's Chris Thompson who has 5 INT's. I would take Cox. Winnipeg's Phillip Hunt might also make a case with the way he has played over the first six weeks.
Rookie--Hands down its Cory Boyd. As I said, the Toronto RB might be in the eyes of some, the league's best player after six weeks.
Special Teams Player-Hamilton's Marcus Thigpen. Do I really have to explain this one?
Offensive Lineman---Once again, Scott Flory has been outstanding in Montreal. Dan Comiskey is having a nice year in Calgary as well.
Those are my thoughts after six weeks. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. We'll do it again after 12 weeks.