Last Monday before kick-off. My best road bet of the week? This was a tough one. I was ready to go with the Raiders in Langley, but after talking with Howie Zaron in his countdown of the clubs I’m going with the Huskers to pull out their first win in three seasons in Kamloops.
With the season 6 days away, the BCFC teams are in fine tuning mode to get ready for their season openers Saturday. Some roster spots are firm, and were before camps opened based on the players. In other cases, there are likely still battles going on the practice field to see who is in place when the first snap is taken. Who is starting and who isn’t are just some of the questions facing the head coaches this week.
6 questions that may or may not be pondered in each city that are on my mind.
- Kamloops Broncos-Do they step up or step back?
This question might or might not be as much about how the Valley Huskers fair this season as the Broncos themselves. Kamloops finished with a 2-8 record in 2016, both wins in close scoring affairs against the Huskers. The Broncos were largely dominated in their 8 losses, but did put up a spirited effort in a final weekend 34-25 loss in Westshore to the eventual conference champion Rebels. It would have been easy for the players to mail that one in and the fact they didn’t shows promise coming into this season
The club sounded optimistic this off season due to a solid returning group of players, including the reigning CJFL rookie of the year, QB Colby Henkel. But a recent story in Kamloops this Week suggests they may have come up short in some areas of concern. The term “undersized” is never a good thing when it’s in reference to the offensive line, so there will be some challenges there this season from the sounds of it.
They may or may not be better than they were in 2016, but the Raiders, Sun, Rams and Rebels who finished ahead of them were all at least a few strides better. Closing the gap this season is no easy feat, additionally the pure speculation coming out of Chilliwack has that club vastly improved.
Will the Broncos be looking ahead or over their shoulders in 2017? We will have a pretty good idea Saturday night after the dust settles in their tilt with the Huskers.
- Valley Huskers-Can they run the ball in 2017?
Bad, abysmal, embarrassing…these are all words that could describe the Valley Huskers ground game last year. The Huskers managed just 446 yards along the ground in 2016, failing to crack 50 yards in 7 of their games and managing 100 just once. In that game, they got 100 on the nose.
In Noah Falconer, they have a talented passer who led the conference with 2398 yards, but they will need more than his arm if they are going to improve on a winless record this year. On a side note, their QB is a pure pocket passer as his 21 yards (1.9 AVG) on the ground last year will attest.
Huskers head coach Bob Reist sounds confident in what he has in his backfield with returnee Edwin Perrin and newcomers Keegan Vicklund and Garret Fedak. It’s hard to imagine the Huskers won’t run the ball with more success, as they didn’t try all that often last year actually. Any improvement at all will be welcomed by Mr. Falconer to take the heat off his arm.
- Langley Rams-Will they have a “go to” quarterback?
The Rams were an overtime loss away from advancing to the BCFC championship last year and by all accounts are expected to be in the mix again this season. Speculation is they have the pieces in place in all areas to challenge for, or be the favorite for the Cullen Cup this year. But, do they have the man in place, or even stability at the most important position on the field? That’s the question.
In the past 6 seasons the Rams have started 6 different quarterbacks on opening day. It’s no secret that that isn’t a recipe for success, although to their credit the club did manage conference titles in two of those seasons (2012 & 2014). Still, Rams head coach Khari Joseph will agree he would like to have someone in place he feels could put the offense on his back. That wasn’t the case last season as the club had 5 different passers take snaps during games.
This season Colby Peters, who shared the majority of the action with Tommy Robertson is back as is Rylan Matters, who joined the club late last season from the Calgary Colts (PFC). Time will tell if either of these pivots are a “put the offense on their back” kind of player. In a perfect world, offensive coordinator Shawn Olson, who had a pretty spectacular 4 year run with the club at the position in the 1990’s could just show his charges old game film and simply say “Do this.”
If either can come anywhere close to what Olson accomplished, the Rams offense is in good shape.
- Okanagan Sun-How big a linchpin in Shaun Robinson?
When the signing of Shaun Robinson was announced recently in the Capital News, it was a major event in two cities. Kelowna of course, as the club secured the services of a defensive player they feel is as good or better than any in the Canadian Junior Football League.
But the signing was felt on the island in the camp of the Westshore Rebels as well, and there it would have been a major blow as Robinson suited up for the club for the first three weeks of 2016 before returning home to Halifax. The Rebels didn’t add Robinson to its 65- man protected roster after last season, obviously not expecting him to return to the BCFC where he would have been their property.
It’s one thing to lose a player who might be the best defensive player in the conference, but to see him on an opposition roster is entirely another. There wasn’t a lot to choose between these two clubs last season, although most pundits would say the Rebels were not only a slightly better, but also the more physical club.
Does Robinson in Sun colours swing that pendulum to their favour?
- How does the club replace Nate Berg’s 930 yards?
The Raiders team as a group totalled 1371 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground last season. 2016 all-star Nate Berg, who has graduated from the team accounted for 930 of those yards and 9 of the touchdowns. Add quarterback Jake Laberge’s 306 yards and 3 TDS and a couple receivers running efforts and you have left a grand total of 92 yards on 26 carries over three other running backs. Not a lot of experience there, so it’s a question of do the raiders have a capable running back to step in?
They say they do in returnee Rhett Williams (5 carries/19 yards/1TD) and newcomers Calieal Dingwell out of Toronto and Zander Bailey, a rookie out of Terry Fox High School. Dingwell at 225 pounds and Williams (200 pounds) bring a different dimension than Bailey at 5’8, 165 pounds. It sounds like early on at least, it might be a running back by committee situation unless one of the three grabs the proverbial ball and runs with it.
- Westshore Rebels-How much will they miss Ashton Mackinnon?
This question could just as easily be “Will they miss Ashton Mackinnon?
The Rebels began the 2016 season with at least some level of rotation between quarterbacks Mackinnon and Scott Borden, which was maintained to a degree before Borden left the club after week 6. Borden had exceptional numbers in the two games he started and took the majority of the reps, but also struggled mightily at times.
Ashton Mackinnon was a polarizing figure in the BCFC last season. The 6’7 pivot provided an imposing beast of a man behind centre as he was named to the conference all-star team at quarterback. Still, there was some head scratching as his numbers arguably were very pedestrian as he finished 5th in the conference with just 1218 yards in the air. If you wondered about his credentials though you perhaps didn’t look at his entire body of work as his 458 rushing yards was good for 6th among all players. Mackinnon kept defences on their heels with his scrambling ability and how well he ran the option.
Mackinnon, for now at least is not a Rebel as he has informed his hometown club he is not putting on the cleats this year. That leaves Scott Borden, who is back with the club and in the drivers seat according to a recent story in the Times Colonist.
If we see the Scott Borden who is at his best the club won’t skip a beat. If not, it’s anyone’s guess how the offense compares to last season