June 7, 2023

MOP Watch: Looking at quarterbacks

The Canadian Press

Yes, the proverbial sun of the 2023 CFL season is just peaking over the horizon and yes, it feels extremely early to have any kind of discussion about year-end awards.

At the same time, any player stepping onto the field this week will tell you that they’re only taking these first steps to get to those final ones in November. If you’ve got the league’s Most Outstanding Player on your roster, odds are you’re in for a fantastic journey this year and will be a serious contender to be playing for the 110th Grey Cup in Hamilton on Nov. 19.

Of course, at this point we don’t know who will take that award home, but history suggests that person is likely a quarterback.

Over the last 25 seasons, a quarterback has won the MOP award 19 times (going back to 1996 to make up for the lost 2020 season). This is a discussion that we’ll take through the 2023 season and it won’t stick to just the quarterback spot, but with every team standing with an unblemished record as we walk into Week 1, we’ll take a look at the most likely position group to claim the award.

Much will change over the next 21 weeks of play. As we move into this new season, here are four strong quarterback MOP candidates to watch.

Power Rankings: Kicking off the 2023 season
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» Get your tickets for 2023 games now

Zach Collaros, Winnipeg Blue Bombers 

We’ll start (obviously) with the two-time reigning MOP. At 34, Collaros put together the best season of his 10-year career in 2022, with 4,183 passing yards and a 70 per cent completion rate. His league-leading 37 touchdowns thrown blew his previous best of 25 (set in 2015) out of the water. Consider that the Bombers have gone 26-6 over the last two seasons with Collaros as their starter, add in the Grey Cup wins he led them to in 2019 and 2021 and you have a player working at his absolute best in a system that seems tailor made for him.

Last year, Collaros became the first back-to-back MOP winner since Anthony Calvillo in 2008 and 2009. While the Bombers fell short on their three-peat bid last year, Collaros could become the league’s first three-peat MOP winner since Doug Flutie won his third of what would be a four-peat of the honour that spanned 1991-1994.

Bo Levi Mitchell, Hamilton Tiger-Cats 

Bo Levi Mitchell is chasing his third career MOP award in his first season with the Ticats (Ticats.ca)

Mitchell heads into his 11th CFL season, but his first away from the Calgary Stampeders’ franchise that he’d become the face of over the last decade. After losing his starting job in Calgary to Jake Maier, Mitchell has thrown himself into his new surroundings and should like what he sees. The Tiger-Cats have loaded up for this season and are clearly intent on playing their way into the Grey Cup game that they’re hosting.

After trading for Mitchell in November then signing him to a three-year deal in January, the Ticats’ organization believes that Mitchell, 33, has lots left in the tank. A two-time MOP winner (2016, 2018) and Grey Cup winner (2014, 2018), Mitchell is focused on the latter this year, but if the Ticats are in the Grey Cup hunt, it’ll be on the back of an award-worthy performance from Mitchell.

Trevor Harris, Saskatchewan Roughriders

While the Montreal Alouettes found themselves in a 2-6 hole to start last year, Harris’ play was a key in what eventually got them back on even ground, finishing 9-9 and playing in the Eastern Final. The 37-year old threw for 4,157 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2022, surpassing the 4,000-yard passing mark for the fifth time in his 10-year career.

He starts on another new chapter in that decade-long ride this season in Saskatchewan, where the team’s offensive line play must improve (77 sacks surrendered in 2022) for him to have a shot at first winning, then putting together a MOP-worthy season. Harris has been in that conversation through his stops in Ottawa and Edmonton. If he has the right support in front of him, he could be back in that discussion this year.

Vernon Adams Jr., BC Lions

Adams landed in a perfect situation last year, with a red hot BC Lions team in need of a starter-level QB in the wake of Nathan Rourke‘s injury. Adams took on the task of learning a new offence and teammates mid-season and helped the Lions to a 12-6 finish, with Rourke rejoining the team in time for the playoffs. With Rourke now off to the NFL, Adams has the gig full-time in BC.

An East Division All-Star with the Als in 2019, the 30-year-old stands in the midst of a golden opportunity in his still-young career. He has talented receivers around him and a strong team in all three phases of the game. His preseason play — he was 12-12 for 213 yards and three touchdowns last week against Calgary — was as encouraging as preseason play can be. Adams has been a better-than-average quarterback since becoming a starter four years ago. He’ll have to take a step forward this season to enter the MOP conversation — was a 6:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year with the Lions a sign of that? — but has a great chance to do it in BC.

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