It's B.C.'s Grey Cup to lose

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

Six of the CFL's nine teams open the season with a legitimate shot to win the Grey Cup but the B.C. Lions are clearly the team to beat.

It's really that simple.

In a league in which every team is just one injury away from disaster, the Lions have a cushion no other team can boast: A backup quarterback. A legitimate insurance policy who can step in to lead seamlessly if the starter goes down.

Casey Printers did that last year, grabbing most outstanding player honours as Dave Dickenson's replacement.

Despite Printers' ability to disrupt camp with juvenile talk of being "disrespected" and "slighted" by Leos management and teammates, the Lions have too much firepower, experience and motivation to be stopped short of a hometown Cup win. Plus, last year's finalists have Wally Buono, a man who has had just enough time to build what should be another dynasty-like club out West.

Edmonton football fans will boast they, too, have two legitimate starters in Ricky Ray and Jason Maas. Problem being, both start the season banged up, leaving it up in the air as to who will take the opening snaps Friday against Ottawa (not that it matters against the 'Gades). A whopping 21 faces are new on the team, including some big names that will ensure the Lions are pushed all year.

Although there's mild debate, the Saskatchewan Roughriders should still challenge for double-digit wins despite the fact Henry Burris is now in Calgary, leaving still-unproven Nealon Greene to run -- emphasize the word run -- the Hoppers' offence.

This bunch won five of its last six games in 2004 and came one play short of a Grey Cup appearance (albeit under Burris' guidance).

How Greene responds to pressure and bounces back from a broken leg will tell all.

Thanks to new ownership, a new coaching staff and a handful of high-profile free- agent signings, the retooled Stamps have joined the list of Cup candidates.

Backed by a solid defence, how quickly Burris' Bunch can turn things around revolves around gelling as a unit, which is why the opening bye is a major blessing.

That leaves the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to finish last in the West, which should be easy.

The rebuilding Bombers start the year without a legitimate starting pivot, which means someone better step forward quickly or a solid receiving corps will have nothing to do.

Stamps linebacker Scott Coe, a Winnipeg native, believes it'll be a long year in his old hometown.

"Everybody in the West has a chance except Winnipeg," Coe said. "I don't think Winnipeg is going to be very good at all. They've definitely got some good athletes but they're rebuilding. Realistically, only Montreal and Toronto could emerge from the East."

As good as the Alouettes have been under Don Matthews, they're still an Anthony Calvillo-injury away from having their season end abruptly as it did last winter.

The Argos, like most clubs, are in much the same boat and there's little chance 41-year-old Damon Allen will escape the trainer's room for long. Boding well for the defending champs is the fact almost the entire roster is back from last year.

Hamilton owner Bob Young must be living too close to the smokestacks to believe the Tabbies can win with 40-year-old Danny McManus at the helm. In Ottawa, the Gliebermans will ensure the club embarrasses itself on and off the field. Four wins there would be a stretch.

The West will be tight, the East won't be.

The only thing that can stop the Lions is self-destruction.


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