The pressure is on for the 2013 Saskatchewan Roughriders; and it comes in two distinct forms.
First and most obvious, to have a great season; one that generates sold out stadiums and propels them to the Grey Cup.
Second is to win the Grey Cup at home; just like the BC Lions did in 2011 and the Toronto Argonauts in 2012. Throughout CFL history hosting a Grey Cup used to be a detriment to the host team, proven by the fact that so few of them won the game.
Obviously that hasn't been the case recently. In both the Lions' and Argos' wins, the atmosphere was what I remember most. There were between 55,000 and 65,000 people, all in a good mood - as you know, the Grey Cup is a party with a football game, not necessarily the other way around!
The same atmosphere can be created at Mosaic Stadium, Taylor Field. And if the Roughriders can make it to the Grey Cup, I will say this: it will be even more of a home field advantage then what the Argonauts and Lions experienced in 2012 and 2011.
The Riders did only finish 8-10 last season, but at the risk of sounding too optimistic, it was a good 8-10. I thought Cory Chamblin did a good job as a first year head coach, they found a running back in Kory Sheets, and defensively the only team that allowed fewer points was BC.
The Riders were also second in total yards against, second in passing yards against, and third in rushing yards against.
Offensively, they had the second fewest two and outs and were second best in the red zone. After those positive points there is a lot to improve upon.
Priority one is pass offence (seventh in the league). I thought the turning point of the season was the injury to Jock Sanders. He has an acceleration/power balance that was a difference maker last year; the Riders need him for all 18 games this year.
So far this year the best person in the organization is not a player, but rather General Manager Brendan Taman. He is on a roll in terms of finding and signing effective personnel. From Brendon LaBatte to Xavier Fulton, Geroy Simon to Sam Hurl; Taman has used both the draft and free agency very effectively.
The defensive line for the Riders could be special this year; Tearrius George and Keith Shologan at tackles, and new defensive ends Ricky Foley and the returning John Chick.
Rey Williams will also make a difference at linebacker with leadership and commitment to winning.
The way the season ended was nothing short of heart-breaking for Rider faithful. They had Calgary beat but one combination of hesitation and a poor angle and it was the Stampeders with a six-point win instead of a one-point loss.
It is easy to make a solid argument for any of the four teams to finish first in the West: Edmonton has a true quarterback in Mike Reilly, BC dominated in 10 of the top statistical categories in the league last year; Calgary will return with the a team that finished 12-6 and made it to the Grey Cup; and the Riders, in Chamblin's second year, have better personnel at defensive end and a proven running back. And yes, they also have the best fans in the country; it makes a difference.
I like Toronto to win the East and the team that stays the hungriest over the next 21 weeks will win the West. Could that be Saskatchewan?