This should be the year the Saskatchewan Roughriders win the Grey Cup.
At least that's my fearless prediction, based on practical reasons and, above all else, an educated guess.
The smart money might be on the Montreal Alouettes or the Edmonton Eskimos renewing their Grey Cup rivalry for the third year in a row, but more than a few wise guys are putting some greenbacks on the Green Riders.
And if anyone mentions I picked the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to win the Cup last year, I'll deny it.
Alas, here are some reasons to like the Roughriders:
- General manager Roy Shivers and coach Danny Barrett are entering their fifth season together and the Roughriders have shown steady improvement -- both in the win column and in terms of player development. The players know Barrett's system while Shivers has been able to plug holes left by the annual departure of key, young talent to the National Football League.
- The Roughriders have a stockpile of quarterbacks. Nealon Greene, who began his career with the Argos in 1998, has been around long enough to be considered one of the better triggermen in the CFL, notwithstanding the indifference of the Riders fans toward him. The backup quarterback is Henry Burris, who is resurrecting his career after two years of mostly inactivity in the National Football League. Third-stringer Rocky Butler has had some playing time, too.
A fourth quarterback, Kevin Glenn, was peddled in the off-season to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers via Toronto. Some people considered Glenn good enough to be a starter for some teams, based on his play in the West Division final last year.
- The Roughriders have a sour taste in their mouths from last year's loss to Edmonton in the West final. After falling behind 30-2, the Riders rallied, closing the disadvantage to 30-23. A subsequent recovery of an onside kick was negated by a controversial penalty. Saskatchewan re-kicked, but the ball went out of bounds and the Riders never regained possession. That heartbreaking loss should be the inspiration to fire up the team all season.
- An unusual trend in recent years has seen the team from the city which was host of the previous season's Grey Cup winning the championship in the subsequent season. Edmonton's victory in 2003 happened the year after it played host to the Cup and lost to Montreal, which was host of the event the year before.
The trend started in 1999, when the B.C. Lions played host to the Cup and won it the following year in Calgary. The Stampeders won the Cup the next year in Montreal. If that quirky trend continues, Saskatchewan is in line to win the Cup this year.
When you put it all together, there are lots of reasons to like Saskatchewan. Count me among the newest members of the Rider Nation. Yes, at the risk of upsetting the Argos and their legion of followers, I'm going Green -- or should it be Greene? -- this year.