Will the Riders be CFL champions? Two of four pundits say “yup”

Rider Fan Forum | by Gregory Beatty

The Riders 12–6 finish might have been the rockiest 12–6 record in CFL history. Until their big win over B.C. on Oct. 27, the Green-and-White had actually been outscored 415 to 428. Nonetheless, the team did go seven and two in the second half to finish second, and will host the West semi-final against Winnipeg on Nov. 11.

To offer their two bits on what might lie ahead we’re joined by our Rider Fan Forum panel of Ivanka Trudeau, Cal Corduroy, Ron Mexico and Earl Camembert.

When we met before Labour Day, you were mostly ho-hum about the Riders. Earl forecast an 11–7 finish, while the rest of you were in the 9–9 or 10–8 range. What’s your hot take on the team’s second half?

IVANKA TRUDEAU I think this team found unique ways to win. In the past few years we would’ve lost a lot of those close games. But the team seemed to be able to count on one of their playmakers, such as Willie Jefferson, to come through with a turnover to get those tough victories. Some might say they were ugly wins, but I’ve been a Rider fan long enough to know to never critique a win!

CAL CORDUROY As much as Chris Jones rubs people the wrong way, he does know how to coach… especially defensively. Having said that, as “fair” as Zach Collaros has been this year, without him at QB the Riders can’t win it all. With him, they have a chance as long as (a) they don’t turn the ball over; (b) he stays healthy; and (c) they stay away from that “explosive” screen pass/punt oriented offence.  Nonetheless, considering some of the injuries they have this year, it’s pretty impressive they’ve done as well as they have.

RON MEXICO I’m eating crow. 12–6 is a good record, and so much nicer than the usual 9–9 or even 10–8. It’s the difference between mediocre and good… and not too far off really good. You can’t complain about the second best record in the league and a home playoff game.

EARL CAMEMBERT Although I was the best forecaster on the panel (no surprise there), I have to say I’m surprised that a team with as weak an offence as the Riders could win seven of nine (yes, that’s a Star Trek: Voyager reference I just dropped). It shows you can win with superior defence and special teams, which the Riders have. And that formula worked against West Division teams to boot, not just the East Division tomato cans.

The Riders won two of three against the 10–8 Bombers this season. In the East semi-final, it’s a battle of the feline franchises with 8–10 Hamilton hosting 9–9 B.C. Who do you like in those games?

IVANKA Playing Winnipeg will be tough since they’ve been playing very well lately. We do have the advantage of being at home. If Collaros can play, and the defence or special teams score at least one TD, I think the Riders will win. B.C. didn’t look good in their last two games, so I think the Ti-Cats will move on to the East final. But I would prefer the Lions to win out East and make it an all-West Grey Cup for the first time ever. When the last place team in the West (Edmonton, which finished 9–9) misses the play-offs with a better record than the East team that’s hosting the semi-final, I think it’s time to make one division for the CFL with the top two teams getting byes.

CAL The Riders can beat Winnipeg. Bomber QB Matt Nichols has not proven he can win the big game, and he’ll confirm that again in Regina. B.C. is a Jekyll/Hyde team… in Hamilton, I think they’ll crap the bed. Hamilton wins.

RON I look at the Riders-Bombers game like I look at Labour Day. The Riders don’t lose many of those games, and I don’t expect them to lose at home in the playoffs. Both B.C. and Hamilton looked pretty bad in their regular season finales. I’ll take Hamilton due to the travel demands on B.C.

EARL Winnipeg worries me. They seemed to come on after the Banjo Bowl. I think the Riders will win though because they’re at home, and their defence will be the difference. Even in the Labour Day game, Andrew Harris had 145 yards rushing and the Bombers still lost. I don’t think Winnipeg has the horses, and the Rider coaching is better.  Like I say, though, I’m not sure I would bet all of Corduroy’s money on it.

In the East, I like B.C. Hamilton lost their best player in Brandon Banks, plus they have no other receivers. That takes the bite out of their offence and is enough to give the Lions the nod.

The conference finals go in Ottawa and Calgary on Nov. 18. How do you see those games playing out?

IVANKA I think the Riders will beat Calgary in the West final to make it to the Grey Cup.  Although they looked good against B.C., Calgary has definitely been beatable lately. In the East, I think Ottawa will beat Hamilton. Ottawa has looked pretty strong all year.

CAL The Riders can beat the Stamps, but it will take an all-out effort — stop the run, pressure the QB, and open up the Rider offence. Ottawa beats Hamilton easily.

RON I’ll take the Riders over Calgary in a totally typical Stamps-Riders West final in Calgary in which the Stamps soil themselves and the stadium is half Rider fans. The Riders match up well against Calgary. I think they are Calgary’s equal. Ottawa should have their way with Hamilton. They are the class of the East and a very stable CFL franchise.

EARL In the East, B.C. having to play three time zones away from home for two weeks straight means they lose. There’s a reason a West crossover team has never made it to the Grey Cup. Ottawa is probably better than them anyway, plus they are tough at home.

TSN commentators seemed to think Calgary was back on track in the B.C. game, but let’s face it, B.C. was phoning it in. Calgary has nothing to brag about after that, plus I’m mindful of the fact they choke against the Riders in the playoffs all the time. They go down to the Riders in the West Final. They’ll lose to Winnipeg too if the Bombers get there.

The Grey Cup is in Edmonton on Nov. 25. Looking deep into your crystal ball, who do see standing on the podium with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie when the final whistle blows?

IVANKA Riders, of course! We have to BELIEVE!

CAL I don’t think I’ve ever predicted the Green and White winning the Grey Cup… until this year. Of course, they need to have all aspects of their game going, and when they do, they’ll be tough to beat — particularly because of their defence.  Defence wins championships. Chris Jones knows that.

RON I think Ottawa defeats Saskatchewan on a late TD pass to Tony Gabriel.

EARL Ottawa. They pounded the Riders both times they played them this year, and there just seems to be something about them that gives the Riders fits. The only thing that might have me lean the other way is if Saskatchewan gets to the Grey Cup it will be like a home game for them in that dive of a stadium in Edmonton. Maybe that makes the difference.