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2008 Preview: Saskatchewan Roughriders

At first glance, CFL fans may feel that the Riders have gotten a little cocky after winning their first Grey Cup in nearly 20 years. It almost seems as though they've decided to add a degree of difficulty to their campaign to repeat.

First, head coach Kent Austin left to become the offensive coordinator at his alma matter Ol’ Miss. Then starting QB and 2007 CFL MOP (that really is a quality acronym) Kerry Joseph was traded to the Toronto Argonauts. Throw in the loss of Fred Perry and useful RB Cory Homes… and… well... perhaps after all those years of losing and cleaning house might have joined watermelon headwear as an enduring if not always explicable Rider tradition.

But at closer glance, Riders fans have to admit that last year's storybook script of a season might not have been rewritable. After all, a lot of things bounced the Rider’s way: Joseph putting it all together for an MVP season; facing a rookie QB starting his first ever game in the Grey Cup; a poor season from Calgary; Luca Congi catching fire in the playoffs; the enduring presence of Danny Maciocia in Edmonton.

There are still reasons to be optimistic for the coming season. First and foremost, Marcus Crandell actually is an experienced and serviceable CFL QB - people forget he was the Grey Cup most outstanding player for Calgary in 2001. The integration of new coach Ken Miller should be a smooth one; apparently Miller called 95% of the plays last year, which might explain Kent Austin’s success given his abysmal play calling during the short-lived Ricky Williams era in Toronto. Throw in a year of playoff experience, a deep offensive line and the great Ronald Flemons (from all of us here in Toronto – you’re welcome, Saskatchewan). Oh, and Maciocia is still in Edmonton.

I'm predicting a second-place finish in a tight Western conference. with avoiding injuries and the integration of Crandell into the offense being the key for the Riders.

As an assed bonus, reason #239 why I like the CFL:

After trading for Hamilton’s pick in the final round of the CFL draft, the Roughriders selected the University of Regina Rams star quarterback – and two-time finalist for the Hec Crighton Trophy – Teale Orban (or is that Orban Teale)? The move made so much sense (draft a local kid from a local school to give the rabid fan base even more to get excited about), I seriously doubted it would happen. Yes, the lack of an import quota for quarterbacks will not help him, and there may be added pressure to play him if he looks even remotely up to it. But this was still a no-brainer and in a sports world sometimes gone mad (Maciocia), I do feel it is important to celebrate the no-brainers that do actually happen.

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