August 30, 2011

Obrand: A promising second half looms

Richard Obrand

Nine weeks ago, if you would have told any casual CFL fan that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would be leading the East Division with a four-point cushion over the Alouettes, you would have heard laughs from St. John’s to Victoria.

What was once a laughable prediction is now an inspiring reality.

Winnipeg’s resurgence is one of many unexpected storylines that have taken centre stage throughout the first half of the 2011 season. With Saskatchewan’s hardships, Montreal’s apparent return to earth and Edmonton’s bad luck, fans have been provided with nothing short of a thrilling first half of Canadian football.

Here now, are a few things to keep your eye on for the second half of the season.

Can Winnipeg keep up their pace?

Winnipeg’s situation has been played out countless times throughout the history of sports. It seems as though there is always one team in every league that enters the season with low expectations, but then proceeds to blow their opposition – and expectations – out of the water. Those teams end up in either one of two places.

The first scenario sees the team simply run out of steam and fall back down to earth with the rest of the pack, while the second scenario has the team engage in a playoff run that is seemingly as inspiring and unforeseen as their season.

However, the 2011 Winnipeg Blue Bombers have an aura surrounding them that doesn’t necessarily follow either of these two situations.

The team is playing as if they were absolutely expected to be 7-1 and they look spectacular while doing it.

Swaggerville is letting teams know that they are for real – and have no intention of being pushed to the wayside.

So will the Blue and Gold be able to continue at their torrent pace? You will have to stay tuned to find out.

Which Eskimos team will show up?

Blame it on bad luck, blame it on the offensive line, or blame it on injuries; fact is, with the way things are going for the Edmonton Eskimos, you could have a valid argument for all three.

Having stormed out of the gate with a 5-0 record to start the season, Edmonton had everything going its way.

The highly maligned offensive line was protecting Ricky Ray, who, in-turn, was able to heave passes downfield to Fred Stamps.

Four games ago, the above sentence seemed highly plausible. Today, it seems flat-out fictional.

Injuries to Edmonton’s top-four receivers in addition to its offensive line have brought upon three-straight convincing losses in which they were outscored 91-21.

Fortunately for the Eskimos, injuries are a temporary matter and the return of their players is imminent.

The question is will it be too late for the Eskimos by then? Or will the club peak once again, this time as the playoffs appear on the horizon?

Montreal’s return to earth

Quarterback Anthony Calvillo has been enjoying another MOP-calibre season. His 104.0 efficiency rating is tops among all starting pivots, as are his 17 touchdown passes and 2,464 yards,

Despite his strong play, the Alouettes have already suffered three losses. Has the rest of the league finally figured out how to stop the mighty Als? For years, Montreal epitomized consistency. The team featured a high-octane offence, which was supported by a sturdy and reliable defence.

While it seems that Montreal still features the very characteristics that led them to success in years past, the rest of the league is finally figuring out how to limit them on the field.

Parity is one of the many themes that have dominated CFL airwaves this season, perhaps, it is finally rearing its head on the Alouettes.

Trouble in Riderville

As if losing two consecutive Grey Cups wasn’t enough of a heartbreaker for fans of the Roughriders, their disastrous 1-7 record certainly doesn’t take the sting away.

The Greg Marshall experiment was short-lived, paving the way for Ken Miller to reassume his role on the sidelines.

Can he single-handedly reverse Saskatchewan’s fortunes? Almost certainly not. Miller will need immense support from his players, especially quarterback Darian Durant if the club is to salvage a shot at a third-straight Grey Cup appearance.

Saskatchewan’s back-to-back matchups with rival Winnipeg on Labour Day weekend and the Banjo Bowl seem like the perfect opportunity for them to get their season back on track.

However, two-straight losses against the confident Bombers may also prove to be their official demise.