Friday, 27 February 2015

A Condemnation of Rider Nation

All fanbases have their obnoxious fans. The ones who, no matter what, refuse to believe that their team is anything less than perfect. Their favourite team will go undefeated and win the championship every year, and any time they fail to do so, it is always someone else's fault.

I hate fans like that, and nowhere is that attitude better exemplified than with the people who make up "Rider Nation."

Earlier this week, the team itself sent out a tweet and in said tweet they referred to themselves as "Canada's Team."

Ugh.

Sorry to break it to everyone, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders are not, in any way, Canada's Team. In fact, NO team in the CFL is Canada's Team. To be considered the nation's team, one would have to be beloved by a vast majority of the nation. No team in CFL can claim anywhere near 50.1 per cent of the national population as being fans of their team. So just cut this Canada's Team shit out.

But it is not only this Canada's Team nonsense that irks many about the Riders are their fans. No, it goes deeper than that. And the sad part is, it wasn't always this way.

For quite some time, if you asked a CFL fan who they liked besides their own team, more often than not their answer would have been Saskatchewan. They were the plucky underdog, the lovable loser, the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Browns of the Canadian Football League. The Roughriders WERE the identity of Saskatchewan (still are, frankly) and fans from around the country wished for nothing but good things for the team in green.

But then things changed. I don't know when it happened exactly, but that plucky underdog became a hypocritical, arrogant, insufferable juggernaut and fans turned. And I don't mean juggernaut off the field. Sure, the Riders have had plenty of success over the past decade or so, but no more so than any other team. No, it was the financial success of the team that turned their fans from fun loving into full-on jerks.

Now, I must stress that I am not trying to say every Rider fan is an asshole. This is about that segment of the fanbase that rational Rider fans probably despise.

Also, I do not in any way begrudge the Riders their financial success. I laud it, I cheer for it, as I would for any team (yes, even the Argos). I want every CFL team to be not just financially stable, but to be making money hand over fist. The better off each individual team is monetarily, the better the league is as a whole.

But it seems that once the Riders become the financial powerhouse that they are today, something changed. The fans become nastier, angrier and just downright rude to anyone who dared question Saskatchewan's superiority.

It is like they forgot that not long ago, it was their team that was on the brink of folding. It was their team that needed to hold a telethon in order to keep the lights on. It was their team that needed NFL money to help keep their team from going under.

And now, because they found stable footing and are rolling in money – again, good for them – they turn their noses up at the Hamiltons and Torontos of the league who have gone through tough times. You would think, or at least hope, that a group of people who so identify with their team would not wish the same on others. But yet, whenever someone dares say that the Riders aren't the be all and end all, one of the first things they thrown in your face is how much money they have.

Another point they love to make is how attendance goes up when the Riders are in town. There is no denying that Saskatchewan has a lot of fans nationwide, but so does every other team. I personally know Tiger-Cat fans in BC and PEI. I know of Cats fans who span the globe, be it in Taiwan or England (and these are just the ones I know personally, I am sure there are more). But the dirty little secret that Rider fans don't like to talk about is that all these fans around the country are not in Saskatchewan because they were forced to move to find work years ago. Saskatchewan is now a booming economy – and again, good for them – but that was not always the case. Many residents needed to move out-of-province in order to provide for their families. And they took their Rider pride with them.

But it is not just the arrogance, it is also the hypocrisy. The CFL has a salary cap, or more accurately a Salary Management System, and because it is not a hard cap, teams have exceeded the cap. In the seven years where data is available (the numbers from 2014 have not been released yet) there have been six violations of the SMS: one by Montreal, one by Winnipeg and four by Saskatchewan.

FOUR!

What also needs to be explained is that one of the teams who pushed hardest for some type of salary cap was...

The Saskatchewan Roughriders!

The Riders were so concerned that they couldn't compete financially that they essentially demanded that the league implement some type of salary cap to balance the competition league-wide and allow for more parity. They wanted to take away the competitive advantage from teams like the Eskimos, who routinely would just paid for all the best players, and make the league more equitable.

How the worm has turned.

Now that Saskatchewan is the financial workhouse of the league, you will often find Rider fans scoffing at the notion that they should have to play by the rules. And their four cap transgressions in seven seasons shows that their management is in lockstep with that idea. It is a horrible attitude and one that infuriates fans of the other eight teams.

So what you have is a team that cried poor and demanded some type of system that made it easier for them to compete becoming the one to basically say, "To hell with the rules, they don't apply to us because we're rich!"

And maybe the craziest thing is, they still think everyone loves them. They remind me of Red Sox fans. When the Sox were going through their 86-year championship drought, many opposing team fans quietly cheered for them. When they finally broke through and won it all in 2004, a lot of people were happy. But then the arrogance kicked it. For some insane reason, they thought everyone loved them because people cheered for them in '04. They thought everyone was a Red Sox fan. That by not being the Yankees, they were seen as the good guys. They were the scrappy underdog taking it to the big, bad Bronx Bombers. But the '04 run was a one-off. It was not the beginning of a growing of Red Sox Nation, it was simply people who felt sorry that they went over 80 years between championships cheering for them one time. And with the Red Sox trying to make themselves out to be the anti-Yankees, it made them look like hypocrites. The Red Sox are exactly like the Yankees. They spend obscene amounts of money to lure the best players to Boston in the hopes of maintaining their winning ways. They became the very thing they fought against all those years. Sound familiar?

I am already prepared for the backlash this will create. Normal, well-adjusted fans of the Riders will likely view this and go, "Yup, he's right. We do have a bunch of assholes in our fanbase." To those people, let it be known that I am not talking about you.

But to the other side – the one who will claim I am a hater or that I am jealous or some other such nonsense – bring it on. There is a comment section below that you are free to fire back at me. But do me one favour, don't be a coward. Put your name on it. You want to be the big, bad bully, then don't comment anonymously.

So have at me, Rider Nation. I'm not backing down.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Hamilton's Running Back Riches

The recent re-signing and contract extension of two of the Tiger-Cats' talented tailbacks – Nic Grigsby and C.J. Gable, respectively - naturally sparks the conversation of what Coach Austin will do with his spoil of running back riches.

Before we discuss the options and potential deployment within this critical roster position, let us take a look at what Austin has with Gable, Grigsby and Mossis Madu.


The All-Rounder










Although Gable had an injury interrupted 2014 campaign, when you look back at the two dozen games he has played during his time in Hamilton there is little doubt that the former USC Trojan is one of the most complete running backs in the league today. Balance is not only the key to Carl Junior’s nifty running style, but also his contribution to the offense with an almost equal 991 yards rushing and 901 yards receiving. Equally adept at totting the rock as well as swinging out of the formation as a receiver, C.J.’s best attribute however may be in his stout pass protection blocking skills and blitz pick-ups.

Gable is the every-down, all-purpose back that can continue to be the main feature of Hamilton’s offensive attack.

The Rusher











Nic Grigsby was well on his way to contending for Most Outstanding Rookie before his time in Bomber-land came to an abrupt end. While the former Arizona Wildcats’ 4.56 yards per carry is not exactly what you would consider award worthy, his nose for the first down line and end zone is a quality that the Tiger-Cats desperately needed last year. Nic was the best league-wide with 50 carries that moved the sticks as well as leading all running backs with 11 rushing touchdowns. To put that into perspective, a little more than once in every four carries does the former centre-fielder convert for a new set of downs.

Grigsby can be the Hammer in Hamilton’s running game and be that key ingredient needed to salt away and preserve victories late in games.

The Receiver










Mossis Madu definitely made his mark in his inaugural CFL season coming out of the backfield. The former Oklahoma Sooner had an impressive average of 11.32 yards per reception in his 14 games played in black and gold. But even more impressive was his 347 yards after catch which works out to 7.89 per reception or nearly 70% of his receiving yards gained after the ball settled into his soft hands.

Madu can be that matchup nightmare coming out of the backfield or out of the slot position that will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.

The Reality and Solution

The roster restrictions in the CFL make it difficult to have three international running backs dressed on gameday. Training camp competition and potential injuries could very well make that a moot problem, but barring that head coach and general manager Kent Austin is faced with a difficult juggling situation.

I believe Gable is, and should be, the feature running back in Hamilton’s offense. I will just leave it there and direct people to the comments section to debate should you wish.

That leaves Grigsby and Madu. The simple solution is to dress one while stashing the other on one of the injury reserve or practice rosters. I doubt either player will spend any extended time willingly on the practice roster and would assume that there would be more than a couple teams that would make a claim upon their services, so using the PR is not a viable solution.

The issue then comes down to paying a player like Mossis or Nic while not getting any production if they are being sheltered on the IR. If you put either on the six-game IR, their salary does not go to Maximum Salary Expenditure Cap calculation, but their availability is severely limited. However, if they are inventoried on the one-game IR, their salary does count to the cap. Either way, you are not getting on-field production from either of these talented players.

A unique solution that would allow Hamilton to keep all three on the game-day roster and capitalize upon their differing skills would be to utilize Mossis Madu in the slotback position. The Norman, Oklahoma native reminds me of a slightly bigger version of former Ti-Cat Marcus Thigpen, current Eskimo Kendial Lawrence and veteran Argo slotback Andre Durie. In fact, he played his third season with the Sooners as a slot receiver before returning to running back for his senior season.

The options and variances of using all three players are truly very enticing.
  • The Great Grigsby establishing the ground game and converting in critical situations when everyone knows you are going to run. Play-action pass opportunities arise when the opposing defense brings more defenders into the box.
  • Able Gable keeping defenses honest by delivering that balanced approach. Getting the ball into C.J.’s hands via run or pass or sticking his nose into a pass rusher giving quarterback Zach Collaros that extra steamboat to go downfield to one of the other Ti-Cat targets.
  • Magic Madu coming out of the backfield in a two-back set with Gable or directly as a slot receiver creating a matchup problem for the opposition. Mossis is too quick for a linebacker to cover and too big for a defensive back to tackle.
The Ti-Cats need to get all three players into the game-day lineup and maximize the capabilities of their talented trio of resourceful running backs.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Podskee Wee Wee, Episode 3

A lot has happened since the last time Mike and I picked up the mics. We get into the winners and losers of free agency, discuss specifically what the Ti-Cats have done, have a mutual love-in over the signings of C.J. Gable and Nic Grigsby, and answer some of your questions.

As always, you can subscribe on iTunes by clicking the button below. If you don't use iTunes, let me know which podcast directory you do use and I will see about trying to get it up on there.

And like last time, any reviews or ratings you leave on iTunes is greatly appreciated. Enjoy Episode 3 of Podskee Wee Wee.


Monday, 23 February 2015

Monday Mailbag, Vol. 2

No need for a long intro, let’s get to the questions.

What are your thoughts on the Ti-Cats forum? It used to be better, but there are a few users that rip on everyone, so they leave.

I used to be a frequent contributor to the forum, but my visits there have been few and far between for at least a couple of years. I found it to be too combative and rude. Differing opinions were not welcome and things took a turn for the nasty. I am not innocent by any means; I was known to be a bit of a jerk when posting. But I tried my best to be respectful of others, but sometimes it can be tough.

So instead of interacting via the Ti-Cats or CFL forum, I use Twitter. Many of the CFL discussions are great. Yes, things can get a bit testy from time to time, but I find it much more cordial than the forum. I chalk that up to less anonymity on Twitter. Sure, we can hide behind screennames, but I find that more people use their real name and photo, which gives a more personalized touch and makes it harder to just troll someone or act like a jackass.

Twitter is also where I met my two fantastic blog contributors, Mark and Eric, as well as where I had the pleasure of meeting my podcast partner, Mike. So if anyone is looking for a way out of the forum and into more civilized discussions, hit up Twitter. You won’t regret it.

Do you think the average Ontario fan would watch more games if they were free online (without TSN GO)?

Online streaming is the way of the future, and one might even say it is the present. The CFL finding a way to offer high quality streams online, either through TSN’s website or via other means like YouTube, would be massive. I am sure that the television contract the league signed with TSN gives them exclusive rights to air games, so finding a digital platform while that contract still exists would be tough.

As far as whether it would increase interest in Ontario, I don’t know. There will always be those that look down on the CFL – and those people don’t just reside in Ontario – and no matter what the CFL does, and that won’t change.

Another thing to factor in is time zones. I run a blog dedicated to the CFL, so to call me a hardcore fan is probably not an understatement, but unless the Ti-Cats are playing, I am not too keen on staying up until a west coast game finishes around 1 a.m. Would online streaming of games change that? I don’t think so.

If the goal is to make the CFL a leader in online streaming, then that’s great. If it is to get more Ontarians to watch games, I don’t think it will make much of a difference.

CFL.ca recently ran a poll that asked which East team had the best receiving corps. The runaway winner was the Ottawa RedBlacks. Thoughts?

My initial thought is that it’s wrong. The RedBlacks, while having a much improved receiving corps, is long on potential and short on actual results. Mo Price has all the tools to be a No. 1 receiver, but injuries have held him back. Greg Ellingson had a wonderful start to his CFL career, but then injuries slowed him down and allowed others, like Luke Tasker, to take his spot. Ernest Jackson has, if we are being honest, one great month at the right time, but who knows if he will build off that. And while everyone loves Brad Sinopoli, who is to say he will ever be anything more than what he already is. The RedBlacks already have a decent, though unspectacular national receiver in Matt Carter; is Sinopoli really that much of an upgrade over him?

So no, Ottawa definitely does not have the best group of receivers in the East. So you probably want to know who I think does. I think it comes down to two teams, Hamilton and Montreal, and I am going to say the Als.

While I like Hamilton’s group, I like Montreal’s just a little bit more. Hamilton does not possess a one-two punch like Montreal does with S.J. Green and the recently acquired Fred Stamps. Green is a bona fide No. 1 receiver and it can be argued that he is the best receiver in the game. Would someone say the same of Luke Tasker, who is essentially Hamilton’s top pass catcher? Probably not.

Hamilton does have the best national receiver, Andy Fantuz, and while Montreal’s duo of Sam Giguère and Éric Deslauriers isn’t as good combined as Fantuz is singularly, they do provide better depth than what Hamilton has behind Fantuz.

So while I know I will probably take some crap for not picking Hamilton, I think it is pretty clear that Montreal’s group is, at least on paper, the best in the East.

Who are your picks for 2015 East and West MOPs?

Wow! It’s only February and people are already asking for predictions. Well, no time like the present to make a fool of one’s self. In the West, give me Bo Levi Mitchell and in the East, give me Ricky Ray.

Mitchell will have some stiff competition from within (teammate Jon Cornish) and from the outside (Mike Reilly). But I think that Mitchell is ready to ascend up the quarterback ladder and be placed amongst the very best in the game. Last year’s division finals featured a combined one playoff game started by the four starting quarterbacks (Mitchell, Reilly, Montreal’s Jonathan Crompton and Hamilton’s Zach Collaros), so the future is now for the young guns at the game’s most pivotal position. With that, Mitchell will continue to grow and add to his trophy case that already features a Grey Cup ring and Grey Cup MVP award.

In the East, until someone can knock him off his perch, Ricky Ray is the odds-on favourite to take home the MOP nom for the third consecutive year. Ray was far from stellar in either of the last two seasons (an injury-shortened 2013 and a decent, though unspectacular 2014), but had the benefit both years of their really being not much competition for the nomination. I can see the case being similar for this year. Collaros could be in the mix if he plays 15-18 games in 2015, but I don’t really see anyone from Ottawa or Montreal challenging Ray. So picking now, I’ll give the East to Ray.

Would it be beneficial to have a player onside (besides the punter) for all punts?

This is a tough one to answer. The benefits of doing so are tremendous if executed properly (as seen in Hamilton’s season-finale win over Montreal last year), but doing it every time you punt might be overkill.

Much like halfback options or wide receiver passes, I think plays like these need to be used as conservatively as possible. When the winds are swirling and gusting, I say go for it, but on a calm July day, maybe it is best to keep this one holstered for another time.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Building a Grey Cup Champion

If you were a head coach of a CFL team heading into the 2015 season, what would you want your team to be best at, league-wide? What is that one factor that you will have painted on the locker room walls and emphasized at every opportunity?

If my goal is to make it to “The Peg” this coming November 29 and ultimately win the 103rd Grey Cup, that one factor, that one phrase and statement that I will scream from the mountain top would be simple:

Lead The League In Turnover Ratio!

Of the last 10 Grey Cup champions, six led the league in turnover ratio. That is an incredibly high percentage. Interestingly, though not surprisingly, that is also the exact same percentage last 10 division-final-winning hosts. Those are pretty good odds and ones that I would be more than willing to take if you ask me.


Outside of leading the turnover battle over the course of the season, another quality that I would want to instill in my team is being stout against the run. Teams that led the league in lowest yards-per-rushing-attempt have made it to the big game 60 per cent of the time and claimed the trophy five times in the last decade.

Overall, where did the last 10 Grey Cup champions rank during regular season when it comes to many of the most important statistical factors on the gridiron?


Upon collecting and analyzing the data, I did find a few things to be a little surprising.
  1. Leading the league in rushing the football does not appear to be very important.
  2. Protecting your quarterback is slightly more important than getting to theirs.
  3. Points scored upon you are more important than the points you score.
  4. Leading the league in Touchdowns is more important than total points scored.
  5. Putting up the most offensive yardage is not a recipe for success.
As far as overall rankings, who are the best and worst Grey Cup Champions over the last 10 years? Well, the 2009 Montreal Alouettes ranked first across the league in eight of 13 categories and second or third in four others. The worst statistically ranked team to hoist the Grey Cup in the last decade goes to the 2012 Toronto Argonauts, who only ranked first in the area of turnover ratio while ranking, on average, in the lower third of the league in all others.

So, what do you want your team to be best at during the 2015 CFL regular season?

I Turn It Over To You!