When the ball is kicked off for this Thursday's game between the nearly perfect Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Edmonton Eskimos, we can say that we're pretty much half-way through the grind of the 2008 CFL season.
And what a season it has been.
The reigning Grey Cup Champion Roughriders have surprised many critics in the CFL world. Many thought that the breakdown of the Riders offense, with the departure of Kerry Joseph along with other key players in the Riders march to their 2007 Grey Cup victory, would sink the Saskatchewan team to the cellar of the West Division.
So far, the Riders have exceeded expectations far and above anything anyone could have imagined. With two solid QB's making a difference in Darian Durant and Marcus Crandell, the Riders have marched to a 6-1 record through seven weeks and look to put another in the win column against Danny Maciocia's 4-3 Edmonton Eskimos.
In Eskimo land, the state of head coach Danny Maciocia has been in constant rumour-mill. Will he stay after this season or will he go? After a rookie season that earned him a 2005 Grey Cup, Maciocia has failed to even make the playoffs since, including ending the Eskimos 20+ year-long playoff streak.
Can Ricky Ray help out his bench boss? With a 66.3% completion percentage so far this season for 2389 yards, with 12 TDs and 6 INTs, Ray has been trying to elevate his game to get the Esks back to the post-season and into the CFL limelight once again.
Meanwhile, south of the Oil capital, the Calgary Stampeders are making noise in the West themselves. QB Henry Burris has been on fire all season long with a 68.5% completion rate so far with 13 TDs and 8 INTs for 2159 yards. The Stampeders are one of the highest scoring teams in the CFL and are dangerous on every drive.
The Stamps 4-3 record shows no indication at all about how explosive their offense can be on any given night. And with a receiving core stabled around seasoned veteran Jermaine Copeland and Kenyon Rambo, the Stamps are a certain threat to go to this year's Grey Cup playoffs.
BC has made some noise in the West too. Despite losing Dave Dickenson to the Stamps, the Lions have moved on from that era of their franchise and into the Jarious Jackson era of Lions football. Wally Buono has his Lions clawing their way through the West standings to a respectable 4-3 record log-jammed with both Calgary and Edmonton.
BC's defense seems to be the weakness, with the offense only scoring five more points than their defense is stopping. If the Lions are to make any noise in the West late into the season, their defense has to stop the ball and force turnovers and interceptions.
East of the packed West Division, the East has never looked so bleak in comparison. The well-oiled machine known as the Montreal Alouettes has been revived from the ashes and Anthony Calvillo is playing the best football of his life at age 37.
The Als offense is the highest scoring offense with 268 points so far this season. And their defense isn't too shabby either, allowing only 192 points, the least among East Division teams and third fewest in the CFL. Calvillo's 20 TDs leads the league and along with his 67.8%, he is in the running for player of the year if he can keep up the magic with receivers such as Ben Cahoon and Kerry Watkins.
In Toronto, a new coach can make all the difference. Or maybe acquiring last year's player of the year can too. Both helps and it certainly shows in Toronto. Despite a 3-5 record, the Argos are second in the East and are looking good. Kerry Joseph's rise to take over the starting QB position has many questioning whether former starting QB Michael Bishop will end up elsewhere. But where? Hamilton? Winnipeg?
Despite being the new QB in town, Joseph still has to show up and produce as he did last year. So far, he has only 4 TDs and 6 INTs with a 56.2% completion rate for 1735 yards. If Joseph can pick up his game, the Argos will be in the running right alongside Calvillo's Alouettes.
In Hamilton, it's the same old story. Charlie Taaffe's time in Hamilton may be numbered if he can't get the once great TiCats out of the East basement for once. The TiCats last winning season came in 2004 when they bowed out to Toronto in the East Semis after a 9-8 season. Since then, the TiCats have won a combined 14 games from 2005 until Week 8 this season.
For Hamilton, it is all about consistency and it just isn't there. After a huge win over the Argos, the TiCats had a great opportunity to climb higher in the standings when the visited the struggling Winnipeg Blue Bombers, yet lost the game and now are still being chased by the revived Bombers. Whether it be Casey Printers or Richie Williams at the helm as QB, the TiCats need to start winning and doing it every week.
In Winnipeg, the bye week came on a sweet high note. With only one win in the first six weeks, the Bombers finally scrapped out a win against the TiCats in Week 7 to go to 2-6 going into the CFL's second half. After controversy in the QB slot, Kevin Glenn was replaced by Ryan Dinwiddie, only to come back into the starting role and lead the Bombers to their second win.
Yet, in Winnipeg, the Bombers have two reliable QBs going into the second half. Dinwiddie and Glenn are both capable of playing in the CFL and the Bombers boast one of the most deadly 1-2 QB punches in the league. With Charlie Roberts revived last week and Milt Stegall returning to form, the Bombers should be fun to watch in the second half.