It’s football season and our pundits have predictions

by Gregory Beatty

sportsThe Riders open the 2014 CFL season with a Grey Cup rematch against Hamilton at Mosaic Stadium on June 29. To get us primed for all the great action to come we’re joined by Prairie Dog’s pigskin pundits Ron Mexico, Earl Camembert and Cal Corduroy.

As the DVD recapping their Grey Cup season suggests, the Riders were “all in” in 2013. Changes were inevitable. How do you think they weathered the off-season?

RM: Wow, it’s hard to believe how many key players are gone, for a variety of reasons… expansion draft, NFL signings, retirement, free agency. The first three are almost completely beyond the team’s control so I’m not bitching. If they lost LB Craig Butler to money, that’s an error as I would’ve made sure Geroy Simon’s salary was available during negotiations. I’m not sure money was the issue with him signing with Hamilton though, geography sounds like it was a big factor. Among the many things Roy Shivers used to run his mouth about was that running backs were a dime a dozen and easily replaced. We’ll see if that’s true. Keith Toston looked fine in pre-season. I’m willing to bet he’ll do fine behind that O-line.

EC: TSN re-ran the 2013 playoffs recently. When the Rider captains went out for the Grey Cup coin toss it was Darian Durant, Geroy Simon, Mike McCullough and Weston Dressler. Three of the four are gone — as are Kory Sheets, Keith Shologan, Jermaine McElveen and others. I think the Riders lost a lot of leadership, in addition to talent.

On the plus side, the O-line is intact plus they have some high draft picks as back-ups. They’re still the best and deepest in the league. Toston looked good at RB in the pre-season so we’ll see. In addition, the secondary might also be the best in the league. If you have two units arguably the best in the league, plus a QB who was unbelievable in last year’s playoffs, you’re going to be alright. The Riders will be alright.

CC:The number of players lost was over 20, I heard, so thinking the little Roughies will dance back to the Grey Cup and win is a tall order… not impossible, but a tall order. Fortunately, their O-line and defensive backfield are substantially intact, so that bodes well. But with a new running back, some new receivers (even if Taj “Mahal” Smith stays out of jail, and Rob Bagg doesn’t blow up one of his balsa wood  knees, they still have to replace Dressler), a supposed four import D-line, plus uncertainty at linebacker, this ain’t a slam dunk.

Coming off putrid 2013 campaigns, Winnipeg and Edmonton are long-shots in the West. How do you rate B.C. and Calgary?

EC: BC is in trouble because Howdy Doody Lulay hasn’t started throwing with any purpose after his shoulder injury last September. A shoulder is a bad thing to be hurting on a QB who relies on his mobility. Kevin Glenn is the back-up. He can’t win the big one and is 48-years old. Finally, their coach (Benevides) is a raver, and players usually get tired of that after a couple of years. Calgary is better than BC, although you have to wonder about their QB situation with Peanut Brittle Tate and a left-handed boob who looked good in a bunch of mop-up roles. I think they have some other holes too.

RM: I think these two teams, and the Riders, are extremely comparable. Calgary doesn’t have the Riders’ character and BC is flakey with a dink coach who needs to chill out more. I think Riders and Calgary battle for first and second, BC a close third.

CC: BC is impossible to pick. A few years ago, they lost their first eight games and won the Grey Cup. Travis Lu-lu has a bum wing (kinda important if you’re a CFL QB). With Kevin Glenn, they’ll win a bunch of games until one counts, then he’ll shit the bed.  Their defense is usually pretty good, and adding Jamal Johnson to a linebacking corps that includes Adam Bighill and Solomon “Rushdie” Elimimian makes them the best in the league at that position.

Now to Calgary. It will be interesting to see if the dick-meter can get any higher with their new acquisitions. Nik Lewis is back for another season, I see, and last year’s “Dick of the Year” Jon Cornish will still be productive — even if he DOES show his ass off every time he gets tackled. Overall, though, I think BC’s better than Calgary.

After reaching the Grey Cup last year, Hamilton seems to be the team to beat in the East. Do you agree?

EC: I have Toronto as the team to beat. Ricky Ray will keep them in first if he stays healthy, and they have a good coach who the Riders passed on for Greg Marshall. They ended up with Chamblin though so I guess that worked out. Hamilton is better than Montreal, who have a big hole without Anthony Calvillo. And they cut Jamel Richardson too. But they’ll be better than Ottawa.

RM: I think Toronto is way better, like they were last year before blowing the East final. Losing Chad Kackert was a blow but see my comments above about Shivers and running backs. I predict Ottawa will make the playoffs and be credible. They have better talent than they did the last time they were an expansion team.

CC: Hamilton had previous “Dick of the Year” Hennnrrryyy Burris last season. No QB this year so they’re hooped, although ex-Riders such as Craig Butler and Aaannnddyy Fantuz will help them marginally. Toronto with a healthy “Tricky Ricky” Ray and a good defense gets first, Hamilton second (by process of elimination), Montreal, then Ottawa. Oh, and Keith Shologan should request a trade back to Saskatchewan.

What’s your take on the CBA negotiations?

EC: The players didn’t have a bargaining position of any strength. In a negotiation where you have no power, you’re going to get your ass whupped. What I didn’t like was I thought the league treated the players like shit. There was no need for that.

RM: I felt bad for the players. I would’ve thought a salary cap of $5.2 or $5.3 million with modest increases would’ve been fair. I think they might have had more bargaining power than they thought. Loss of the TV money and public pressure might have moved the owners a bit more.

CC:Owners win (they usually do). The CFL Players Association was so freakin’ disorganized it was embarrassing.

Back-to-back titles in sports are rare these days. The Riders get a break in 2014 playing the Bombers and Eskimos three times and the Stamps and Lions only twice. The Grey Cup’s in Vancouver on Nov. 30. Do the Riders have a shot at repeating?

EC: The Riders have a shot. As you noted, they play Winnipeg and Edmonton three times each. That’s four or five wins. And I don’t think BC or Calgary are above the Riders. It will come down to injuries, and whether the Riders could have Franco Harris at RB and still be successful because of their O-line.

RM: Durant, the O-line, and the defensive secondary are outstanding. The Riders should be just fine.

CC: The Riders have a shot — certainly coming out of the West. Darian officially shut me up last year with his playoff performance. With no significant injuries, and a few replacement players stepping up, they could repeat. Besides, once Dressler fails to make the NFL he could return to Riderville — albeit beat up.