The bigger question for the offense is how well receivers like Ken-Yon Rambo and Romby Bryant will respond. Rambo, who spent some time in the NFL early in his career, isn't getting any younger so he'll need to step up his efforts in order to remain a key part of the offense for the Stampeders moving forward. Bryant, someone who has never missed a CFL game due to injury, registered a modest 51 catches and five touchdowns a year ago. He will need to elevate his play to continue to get looks down the field.
Edmonton, AB (Sportsbook Betting Lines) - As one of the two teams that failed to make the playoffs in 2011, the Toronto Argonauts are the club with the most to prove in the East Division of the CFL as they kick off the 2012 campaign this weekend against the Edmonton Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium. A mere 6-12 a year ago, the Argos had the weakest defense in the league, allowing opponents to connect on 67.0 percent of their pass attempts for a massive 421.7 ypg and a league-high 27.7 ppg. Perhaps it wouldn't have been as bad if the offense had been able to keep up, but the group was second-to-last in points scored (22.1 ppg) and its time of possession (26:22 per game) was the least among all eight clubs.
Toronto won only twice through the first 11 games of last year, a trend that rookie head coach Scott Milanovich hopes he can prevent from happening this time around as he and quarterback Ricky Ray begin a new era of Argos football.
Hoping to make the transition a bit smoother now that the games count, Chad Owens should be a more integral part of the Toronto offense moving forward given the type of numbers he has put up in the last couple of years. Owens was again a stat machine for the Argos in 2011, easily leading the league in combined yards with a staggering 3,345. To put that in perspective, only two other players were able to crack the 2,000-yard barrier and the highest among them was just 2,019.
Now in his second season at the helm of the Edmonton Eskimos, head coach Kavis Reed may just have a bigger job before him in 2012 than he did when he broke in a year ago.
For a team that finished 11-7 in the regular season and bowed to eventual Grey Cup Champion British Columbia in the playoffs, making a major switch at the quarterback position was somewhat of a surprise.
Making the transition to Jyles a bit easier will be slotback Adarius Bowman, who matched Fred Stamps with 1,153 receiving yards in 2011. Stamps has now put up three straight years with at least 1,100 receiving yards and is consistently a big-play threat.
Edmonton won the most recent meeting between these two squads last October, claiming a 31-24 triumph on the road. The victory was the third straight for the club over the Argos and the fifth in the last six matchups.
Vancouver, BC (Sportsbook Betting Lines) - A rematch of the 99th Grey Cup takes center stage during the first week of the CFL's 2012 regular season, as the British Columbia Lions entertain the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at B.C. Place Stadium. The Lions, who began the 2011 campaign with five consecutive defeats and six setbacks in the first seven outings, could have easily packed it in and cruised through the second half of the season, but instead head coach Wally Buono lit a fire under his players and eventually led them to an eight-game win streak and victories in 12 of their final 13 contests, the last of those being a 34-23 triumph in the title game in their own building.
A lot has changed for the Lions since then, chief among them being Buono's move from the sidelines back behind a desk with the organization and turning the head coaching duties over to Mike Benevides.
What the Lions really need is for someone to emerge as an efficient running back to take some of the pressure off Lulay's shoulders. Andrew Harris could fill that role, having led the team in rushing with 458 yards on 96 carries a season ago, but the fact that he had more fumbles (three) than touchdowns (one) is something that cannot be completely overlooked.
Simon might not be the receiver in the cross hairs for the Lions every week if someone like Arland Bruce were capable of maintaining a consistent level of production. An enigmatic player to say the least, Bruce is a talent who should be shredding defenses on a regular basis, but you can never be sure what is going on in his head which might be why he has been bouncing from one team to the next for the last few years.
Work left to do: Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas State
Texas joins Texas A&M and Kansas as locks after getting league win No. 11. Texas Tech greatly helped its own hopes and crippled OK State's with the two-point win Saturday. Is K-State the last reasonable hopeful? Could be an elimination match in Stillwater on Tuesday, at least for the Cowboys.
Work left to do:
Texas Tech [18-11 (7-7), RPI: 44, SOS: 12] A critical two-point win over OK State leaves the Red Raiders with Baylor and at Iowa State left. Get both and the Red Raiders likely are good to go. Get one and there could be some interesting comparisons with a K-State team that could finish two or three games "ahead" of them in the standings but doesn't have any of the quality wins Texas Tech has. Not a lot in nonconference play (against Arkansas in Little Rock being the best win, by far) to lean on.
Oklahoma State [18-9 (5-8), RPI: 50, SOS: 35] Still without a road win, the Cowboys now need to win two on the road just to get to .500 in conference play. It's hard to recall a team (OK, other than Clemson) falling so precipitously from lock status to almost certainly out of the NCAAs at this point. There are wins to be had in the last three, including a very big home game against K-State on Tuesday, but this team is reeling. Can you tell the pressure to win is getting to them with the way the final possession played out at Texas Tech? There are some good nonconference performances to lean on, specifically beating Missouri State and Syracuse on neutral floors and Pitt in OK City, but if the Pokes don't right this very, very soon, that won't be enough.
Kansas State [20-9 (9-5), RPI: 56, SOS: 96] It pays to be in the Big 12 North. The nine league wins are Colorado (twice), Missouri (twice), Iowa State (twice), Baylor, Nebraska and (a good one against) Texas. That helps explain the middling computer profile. The win over USC is nice, but the nonconference leaves a lot to be desired. The game at OK State in Stillwater on Tuesday is huge, as it could KO the Cowboys and leave K-State with a home date against Oklahoma with which to work.