The reigning, defending, undisputed two-time East Division champions are once again forced to travel to start the season, this time due to the Pan Am Games taking place in Toronto and the surrounding area in July. The Ticats have not hosted a team in Week 1 of the CFL season since 2012, and the team will play their first of four straight on the road tonight in Calgary.
The Ticats and Stamps might be the two best teams in the league heading into the season. For the Ticats, continuity is key. The Tabbies bring back 42 of the 46 men who were on the Grey Cup roster and an astounding 22 of 24 starters are back from the team that lost in November. The Stampeders lost a few key players in the offseason, but if John Hufnagel has shown anything during his time at the helm of the Stampeders, it is that he knows how to reload his roster. Both teams enter the season with Grey Cup aspirations, but unfortunately for one of them, they will begin the season 0-1.
Here are some things worth keeping an eye on or remembering during tonight’s contest.
1. Revenge is of little importance
The word “revenge” has been thrown around a lot this week, with many wondering if the Ticats will use the loss in last year’s Grey Cup as motivation in this game. While there is surely at least a small chip on the Ticats’ collective shoulders heading into this one — especially after hearing some hard words from Stampeders receiver Marquay McDaniel — the idea that winning this game will make up for last season’s Grey Cup defeat is a silly one. It might provide a little extra motivation for the Ticats at the start, but this is a new season and last season is a thing of the past. While this should be an excellent game, what happened last year will have no bearing on how either team plays.
2. The future is of CFL quarterbacking is now
This game is going to showcase two of the best young quarterbacks in the game in Hamilton’s Zach Collaros and Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell. Both players come into the game looking to build on their successful first seasons as their team’s undisputed signal caller. This could be the next great QB battle and it is just in its nascent days. Both these players are a treat to watch and both should light up the stat sheet tonight at McMahon Stadium. The future of CFL quarterbacking looks extremely bright.
3. Calgary’s receivers vs. Hamilton’s defensive backs: who ya got?
One of tonight’s most interesting battles will be between Calgary’s plethora of talented receivers versus Hamilton’s somewhat inexperienced secondary. While the group the Ticats will trot out in the backend are not inexperienced in the games-played sense, this is the first time the unit of Courtney Stephen, Emanuel Davis, Johnny Sears, Jr., Ed Gainey and Craig Butler will play together. This quintet is talented, but there will always be growing pains for a unit whose players are not entirely familiar with one another. The one big question mark still remaining for the Ticats is their secondary and they get a stiff test early on with these Calgary receivers.
4. Next man up
The slew of injuries the Ticats have dealt with so far this season has not gone unreported, but with the team finally suiting up for a meaningful game, some players are going to have to step up. Hamilton’s top three tailbacks are all out for this one, so rookie Ray Holley will get a chance to prove he can play in this league. With Luke Tasker on the sideline, Bakari Grant and Terrell Sinkfield will see increased action. Sam Scott, who went from being cut last weekend to back on the roster in the span of 48 hours, will start in place of the injured Eric Norwood. The Ticats have a mantra of “next man up,” and we will see that in full effect tonight.
5. Snapping two decade-long streaks
While the Hamilton fans are hoping the team can get the season started off on the right foot, a couple of facts needed to be pointed out. The Ticats have not won their opening game of the season since 2004. In case anyone out there forgot, it is 2015. The Ticats also have not won at McMahon Stadium since that very same 2004 season. If the Ticats do want to begin the season 1-0, they will need to two decade-long losing streaks tonight.
6. Hufnagel’s Dominance
Another thing people need to take into account is John Hufnagel’s utter dominance of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Since 2008, when Hufnagel was hired as head coach of the Stampeders, his teams have won 15 of the 17 games, including playoffs, played between the two clubs, with the last Tiger-Cats win coming in Moncton in 2011 and their only other win coming at Ivor Wynne Stadium in 2009. The Stampeders currently have a seven-game winning streak against the Ticats, which is by far the longest any team has against them (Hamilton beat every other team in the CFL except Calgary at least once last season). If Hamilton is to finally find a way to start 1-0 for the first time in a decade, they will need to break not only a long losing streak in Calgary, but they will need to find a way to beat a John Hufnagel team for just the third time in his tenure as a CFL head coach.