As part of 3DownNation’s preview of the 2016 season, we’ll be examining the dream and nightmare scenarios for a number of CFL teams. Up first, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The dream scenario: Ticats finally win it all
By Josh Smith
“Congratulations to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, your Grey Cup champions.”
Those are the words Ticats fans have been longing to hear since back when Stone Cold Steve Austin was flipping birds, Limp Bizkit was a band people liked and no one had every heard of the Kardashians.
It’s been a long is what I am getting at.
But it is about time that the Grey Cup came back to Hamilton, and if things play out perfectly for the Ticats, that is exactly what will happen.
If the Ticats get stellar play out of Jeremiah Masoli while Zach Collaros continues to rehab his ACL injury, a close-to-full year from both C.J. Gable and Andy Fantuz, a return to close-to-MOP form from Chad Owens, continued excellence from the offensive line, a rejuvenated John Chick ready to prove doubters wrong, and some consistency in the secondary, then the Ticats can absolutely be there at the end raising Lord Grey’s silver chalice in Toronto at BMO Field in November.
The Grey Cup drought is now entering its 17th year. That’s a long time and fans in the Steel City are getting restless. After suffering heartbreak after heartbreak — the Grey Cup loss to the hometown Riders in 2013, Brandon Banks’ game-winning punt return called back in the 2014 Grey Cup, the loss of Collaros just as it seemed the Ticats were ready to become the league’s elite team, the 2nd-and-25 play that cost them the East Final in Ottawa last year — it is about time that the people of Hamilton and the fans of the Ticats got something to celebrate.
This is the year. Everything is going to break right for the black and gold and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will emerge at the end of the season as your 2016 Grey Cup champions.
The nightmare scenario: Zach’s not back
by Drew Edwards
One could argue that the nightmare scenario is already underway for the Ticats and it started on Sept. 19, 2015.
That’s the day quarterback Zach Collaros went down with a torn ACL in a game against the Edmonton Eskimos, ending his season. The Ticats were 8-3 at the time, first place in the East, and Collaros was the odds on favourite to win the CFL Most Outstanding Player Award.
And while the fallout from that injury was apparent last season – culminating with the soul-crushing, last-second defeat on a miracle play orchestrated by the Ottawa Redblacks – the fallout from Collaros’ injury threatens to derail 2016 as well.
The 27-year-old quarterback is currently on the six-game injured and there is no definitive timeline for his return. While his rehab is progressing well – he had his most recent check up this week – he’s still not practicing and any setback could keep him from the field indefinitely.
While Jeremiah Masoli played well in the last six quarters of the playoffs and back up Jeff Mathews has some CFL playing time, they are largely unknowns. If they can’t win a few games while Collaros is out, the season could be lost even if the Collaros returns faster than expected.
The Ticats have other question marks as well. Offensive coordinator Tommy Condell, who was popular with players, has left and head coach Kent Austin takes over most of the game planning and play-calling duties. On the defensive side, seven of the 12 starters are new in week one and the secondary has been rebuilt on the fly after a rash of injuries. Do John Chick and Chad Owens, two aging veterans being counted on to make significant contributions, still have what it takes?
The Ticats have plenty of talent and stability throughout the organization, from owner Bob Young on down. All indications are that franchise is on solid financial football and the future looks secure –neither of those things can be taken for granted, given the team’s past.
That said, not since Austin’s first season in 2013 have their been so many unknowns. Over the past three seasons, the Ticats have usually found a way to battle through any and all obstacles, from injuries to stadium delays to the devastating loss of Collaros. History says they be fine.
But if Masoli and Mathews struggle, or get hurt, and Collaros’ return is delayed – or even worse, he isn’t the same player – then the Ticats could find themselves in tough in a hurry. Hamilton fans have already lived through one nightmare – the sight of Collaros limping off the field last September – but there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to wake up from it just yet.