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November 5, 2018

Cauz: Is there any room on the Riders’ bandwagon?

Arthur Ward/CFL.ca

I would like to apologize to all Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans right off the top because you’re not going to be happy. But just remember, I’m the guy who wrote a couple weeks ago that Adam Bighill deserves to be right in the thick of the 2018 MOP conversation. Does that buy me any good will? Probably not.

Just so you know, Winnipeg, my official choice for the team I’m rooting for has nothing to do with you but has everything to do with your opponent. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are the most unorthodox and interesting team in the post-season, and for that reason I have picked them as my official playoff team.

If you live in Edmonton, Montreal or Toronto, who do you root for? You have no direct vested interest in the playoffs beyond hoping for entertaining contests. You have to pick someone, right? Since my team was officially eliminated in Week 2 after Calgary dummied them 41-7 in their home opener, I needed to adopt someone and there’s no squad who is as fascinating as the Roughriders.

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Zach Collaros has had his moments, but the Riders have found other ways to score in 2018 (Jason Halstead/CFL.ca)

Saskatchewan went 12-6, nearly unseating Calgary as West Division Champions without much of an offence. No team in the West had a harder time scoring touchdowns than Chris Jones’ squad. They went the final four weeks without one passing touchdown and only registered three aerial scores against teams from the West. They jettisoned their top receiver in 2017 (Duron Carter) and didn’t have a wideout finish in the top-15 in yardage. They love to punt, and even the Montreal Alouettes’ offence found the end zone more times than Saskatchewan.

Despite all of these offensive woes, the Riders still finished the year with the second best record in the league. That is not your traditional path to a 12-win season. The source of so many of their points has been well documented as Saskatchewan lapped the field in return touchdowns with 11 different players scoring a combined 15 touchdowns. Whether it be by punt, kickoff, fumble or interception, this team harnessed every ounce of athleticism and aggressive philosophy to beat its opponent. Chris Jones has put together an unconventional blueprint for winning and I’m so curious to see how it works in the post-season.

Now the biggest reason to hop on the Roughriders’ bandwagon is if they win it all, we have no idea who will be the winning quarterback. It could be the former superstar who has been beat up as much, if not more, than any other quarterback. It could be a Canadian, or it could be a defensive analyst from Coastal Carolina University. Now that is some range!

Zach Collaros went to Saskatchewan hoping to regain his MOP form from 2015. Instead Collaros has been forced out of games on three different occasions. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns, but the Roughriders are 10-4 with him in the lineup. As someone who got to see peak Collaros up close, I would love nothing more than for him to go on a playoff heater and finally capture his first Grey Cup that he came so close winning back in 2014.

 

But what if Collaros isn’t fully healthy from that Odell Willis hit? Then it gets really interesting! Brandon Bridge did not have the 2018 that he envisioned after nearly leading Saskatchewan over Toronto in the 2017 Eastern Final. As an Argonauts fan, I can tell you that he scared the hell out of us in that second half and, if not for a clutch third down conversion between Ricky Ray and James Wilder Jr., it would have been Bridge playing in last year’s Grey Cup. There is a very plausible reality that sees Bridge doing something that hasn’t happened since Russ Jackson in 1969, a Canadian starting quarterback winning the Grey Cup.

Now, for the final possible outcome that was wildly less plausible about a month ago, the defensive analyst for Coastal Carolina University being showered with confetti as he holds up the Grey Cup trophy. After “retiring” from the game in June, Drew Tate took a job lending his experiences as a quarterback to help the defensive coaching staff for Coastal Carolina. That’s quite a role reversal for the former Big-Ten Offensive Player of the Year (Need proof? Check out his LinkedIn account). I told you this is a unique team. Yes, the odds of Tate, who has been with the team for less than a week, having that sort of impact is slim, but with so much talent on the offensive line, defence and special teams, there is a roadmap for all this to happen.

So for most of Canada, you can take your 5,000-plus yard passing quarterbacks, flashy receivers and quick strike offences. I’ll go with the squad where you can expect the unexpected, where touchdowns come from players with all sorts of jersey numbers from 1 (Shaq Evans) to 92 (Zack Evans). I’m cheering for a team that had more wins (12) than points they outscored their opponent by (6). A Roughriders Grey Cup win would be a triumph for unconventional football and would be crazy story. Now that is something worth rooting for.