A 'season' to believe

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

Danny Maciocia has had his three games grace.

The Eskimos head coach pleaded for patience at the start of the season with all the changes he had to make. But ready or not ...

Starting tonight, like it or not, Maciocia's football team gets to the guts of it.

It's often been said the CFL season doesn't really start until Labour Day.

But the way the Edmonton schedule works this year, it could almost be over by then if the Eskimos are not-quite-ready-for-prime-time players.

Prime time comes early this season.

Six of the next seven games the Eskimos play are either against Saskatchewan or Calgary.

Tonight is the first of a home-and-home pair against the Roughriders and three games against Gang Green in a span of five. There's one against Calgary in there and, as always, the Labour Day double dip against the Stampeders.

Ricky Ray says sometimes you just can't ignore the obvious.

RAY UNDEFEATED

"It's a big stretch for us," said the quarterback who has never lost a regular-season or playoff game to Saskatchewan.

"If we do well during this stretch, it could set the season up for us."

Ray takes it further than that.

"It could define the season."

The downside is going back down that road the team travelled last season and missing the playoffs for the first time in 35 years.

"We don't want to chase the season again and be playing catch up. You want to get off to a good start because if you end up with a lot of must-win situations at the end, that really takes a toll on the team.

"Obviously you want to peak at the end of the season and the playoffs. But you have to get there first," said the QB who has won the Grey Cup on every odd numbered year he's been in the league so far.

"Every game is a big game but this is a very important game because it's the only one of the three against Saskatchewan during this stretch that we play at home."

Maciocia says the CFL schedule creates some crazy scenarios.

"If there's one thing I've learned in this league, it's that every year there is something unusual about the schedule," he said.

"This year it's six of seven against Saskatchewan and Calgary.

"In a way, it's not a bad deal. We aren't going to have to break down film of many teams in the next little while," he laughed.

Edmonton actually has four games against Saskatchewan this year, the Riders returning here on the second last weekend of the regular season.

You have to go back to 1999 to find the last time that happened. Edmonton won three of the four to finish third with an even worse record than they had missing the playoffs last year.

When you play four games against a team in the same division, you always have to think about point differential in case each team ends up with two wins in the series.

"With three games, it's a non-issue," said Maciocia. "But with four games, you have to think about going for a touchdown instead of a field goal late in the game."

WEIRD YEAR SO FAR

With both Saskatchewan and Calgary, it's tough to get a handle on which way they're going to go.

"It's been weird," said Ray. "Calgary looked pretty good in their first game and not so good in their next two.

"Regina looked really good in their first two and not so good in that last one."

For all three clubs it's going to be more about what they look like in the next ones. Especially, with six of the next seven potentially defining their season.

Are Maciocia's men ready?

"I think so," he said.

Then on with the show. This is it.


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