The CFL is again, minus its Most Excellent Participant

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The 2024 Canadian Soccer League season kicks off on Thursday evening because the Gray Cup champion Montreal Alouettes go to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for a rematch of final 12 months’s title recreation. Listed below are some issues to know for this CFL season:

The Bombers appear like the group to beat once more.

The story of the league over the previous 4 seasons has been Winnipeg’s transformation from a perennial also-ran to the CFL’s dominant franchise. The Blue Bombers gained back-to-back Gray Cups in 2019 and 2021 (the 2020 season was cancelled due to the pandemic) to finish a virtually three-decade-long championship drought, and so they’ve now performed in 4 straight title video games. Sure, they bought upset within the final two — by Toronto in 2022 and Montreal final 12 months — however the Bombers are 40-10 over the previous three common seasons, topping the West Division every time. They’re the (blue and) gold normal.

Winnipeg is as soon as once more the betting favorite to win the Gray Cup, thanks largely to journeyman-turned-star quarterback Zach Collaros. After arriving in a late-season commerce in 2019 — the second time that 12 months he was dealt — Collaros took over the Bombers’ beginning job and promptly led the franchise to its first championship in 29 years, which is an eternity in a nine-team league. Starting in 2021, he gained two consecutive CFL Most Excellent Participant awards whereas including one other Gray Cup. Collaros didn’t develop into the primary three-peat MOP since Doug Flutie, however he nonetheless threw for a career-high 4,252 yards final season whereas main the league in passing TDs (33) for the third 12 months in a row.

WATCH | Lions, B.C., put together to host 2024 Gray Cup:

B.C. gears up for November’s Gray Cup soccer event

As B.C. will get prepared for an additional busy sports activities 12 months. This largest one-time occasion would be the Gray Cup in November the place the 2 high groups within the CFL will battle it out. Earlier this week, we spoke with the CFL’s commissioner alongside the long-lasting trophy, because the B. C. Lions and the league introduced a giant act for the halftime present.

Collaros, 35, ceded a number of the highlight final 12 months to breakthrough operating again Brady Oliveira, voted the West nominee for MOP and the CFL’s Most Excellent Canadian after piling up greater than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and scoring a league-high 13 touchdowns for his hometown Blue Bombers.

Winnipeg’s high competitors within the West seems to be to be the B.C. Lions. They went 12-6 final season as new quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., led the league with 4,769 passing yards and positioned second with 31 TD throws — each profession highs for the now 31-year-old — earlier than the Lions misplaced to the Bombers within the West remaining.

Is Montreal the brand new Toronto?

In 2022, the Argonauts began the season 4-5 earlier than their ball-hawking defence helped them go 9-2 the remainder of the way in which (together with playoffs) and beat Winnipeg as a large underdog within the Gray Cup. Final 12 months, Montreal was floundering at 6-7 in mid-September earlier than engineering an much more beautiful turnaround. The Alouettes by no means misplaced once more, closing the common season with 5 straight wins earlier than stomping Hamilton within the first spherical of the playoffs after which stunning closely favoured Toronto 38-17 with 5 takeaways within the East remaining. Of their first journey to the Gray Cup since 2010, the 8½-point-underdog Als upset Winnipeg 28-24.

Some folks dismissed the 2022 Argos as a fluke, however in hindsight it is clear that one thing clicked for them late that 12 months. They adopted up their Gray Cup win by going 16-2 final season earlier than falling to Montreal within the playoffs.

The Alouettes hope to comply with their rivals’ lead (minus the post-season failure) as most of their championship core returns. That features Gray Cup MVP quarterback Cody Fajardo, big-play security Marc-Antoine Dequoy (the East finalist for Most Excellent Canadian) and younger Canadian receiver Tyson Philpot, who scored the go-ahead landing with 13 seconds left within the Gray Cup. Philpot may very well be poised for an even bigger position as Austin Mack, Montreal’s high receiver final 12 months, tries to make it within the NFL.

The reigning MOP is MIA.

After coming off the bench within the fourth quarter to spark Toronto’s comeback Gray Cup win in 2022, Chad Kelly blossomed right into a star in his first season as a starter. The nephew of Buffalo Payments legend Jim Kelly gained the Most Excellent Participant award after main the Argonauts to a league-best 16-2 document whereas throwing for 23 touchdowns and dashing for an additional eight. Final August, he signed a three-year contract extension for $1.865 million, making him the highest-paid participant within the league.

Kelly threw 4 interceptions and misplaced a fumble in Toronto’s brutal upset loss to Montreal within the East remaining, however extra massive issues have been anticipated from the 30-year-old in his second season because the Argos’ beginning quarterback.

As an alternative, Kelly will miss no less than the primary 9 video games of the common season for violating the CFL’s gender-based violence coverage. The suspension adopted an investigation right into a lawsuit introduced by a former Argos energy and conditioning coach towards Kelly for sexual harassment and the membership for wrongful dismissal. The lawsuit was reportedly settled yesterday, however Kelly should nonetheless underdo assessments and full counselling classes earlier than the league will enable him to play once more.

Within the meantime, backup Cameron Dukes will attempt to hold Toronto afloat. The 25-year-old served because the Argos’ short-yardage QB final season, scoring eight dashing touchdowns and passing for a pair extra.

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