In the CFL, the success or failure of most teams can usually be traced back to their situation at the quarterback position.
For example, future Hall of Famer Anthony Calvillo led the Montreal Alouettes to another Grey Cup championship. As a matter of fact, the Alouettes have failed to reach the Grey Cup just three times in the last 11 seasons and Calvillo was hurt in each of those campaigns. If he's healthy (and we all hope he recovers fully from his upcoming surgery), the Alouettes win.
Darian Durant led the league in passing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and came up just short in the final game for the second year in a row. What appeared to be a question mark after Kerry Joseph was traded following the 2007 Grey Cup win now appears to be a strength of the franchise for years to come.
Henry Burris was named the league's Most Outstanding Player after guiding the Calgary Stampeders to the West Division title. Since Burris returned to Calgary in 2005, the Stampeders have not missed the playoffs, winning the Grey Cup in 2008. As a bonus, Drew Tate asserted himself well in a supporting role this season.
Kevin Glenn was rejuvenated in Hamilton but it was not enough to get the Tiger-Cats into the Eastern Final. Glenn brought the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to the brink of the Grey Cup in 2007 and may be able to capture a title in Steeltown. Quinton Porter will likely have to wait his turn again.
All four of these starting quarterbacks are expected back with their respective teams in 2011 and should continue to enjoy a great deal of success.
By the same token, teams that did not have success this season had their struggles behind centre and may have some serious questions to answer before next year.
Let's take a look at those teams that may have a different look at quarterback when training camp rolls around in June.
The Argonauts entered the season with a huge question mark at quarterback and they may be in the same dilemma heading into 2011. Cleo Lemon struggled in the early going, didn't show many signs of improvement during the season and was ineffective in the playoffs.
Head coach Jim Barker seemed adamant that he was sticking with Lemon through thick and thin, meaning back-up Dalton Bell and third-stringer Ken Dorsey didn't see much playing time. In the Eastern Final, Lemon completed 11 of 21 passes for 169 yards before Barker replaced him midway through the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. That didn't show much confidence in back-up Dalton Bell, who was brought in from Saskatchewan, but made just one meaningful start during the regular season. Even Barker seems to admit there could be a new face behind centre for the Argonauts next season.
"It was a year for us to learn about him," Barker told the Toronto Sun. "We will take the off-season, evaluate where things are at and go forward from there. I imagine there will be a competition. He is the starting quarterback now, and as the off-season rolls, that is going to change as we go through and evaluate and look at the season as a whole."
The news appears much better in Vancouver, where the Lions watched the maturation of Travis Lulay from newbie to starter in the space of one campaign. When the season started, Casey Printers was annointed the starter after Buck Pierce signed with Winnipeg as a free agent. Printers' performance at the tail end of 2009 meant hard-luck Jarious Jackson would start another season as the back-up, despite putting up solid numbers as a fill-in for the oft-injured Pierce.
But the Lions got off to a terrible start and things began to unravel quickly. Printers was hurt early in the season but Lulay failed to take advantage of the opportunity, throwing five interceptions in three games as the starter. In Week 7, Jackson assumed the starter's role and promptly threw two interceptions in a big loss to the Roughriders, paving the way for Printers' return from injury. But after an embarrassing overtime loss to the Blue Bombers in October, Printers was released outright and Lulay made the most of his second chance. He rallied to the Lions to three straight wins down the stretch to earn a playoff berth and then almost upset the Roughriders in the Western Semi-Final. As a result, the Lions appear to have found their next starter.
"Lulay has a great deal of potential and is very poised for a young quarterback," said CFL on TSN analyst Chris Schultz. "He protects the football better than Casey Printers did and he's not afraid to throw the ball away and sacrifice his statistics. He runs the offence the way (head coach) Wally Buono wants to run it."
Perennial standout Ricky Ray struggled behind a weak offensive line and got banged up in the process. Jared Zabransky showed signs of progress filling in for the embattled Ray but ended the season on a sour note, throwing four picks against Winnipeg. Despite their troubles, it should be status quo in the Alberta capital with Ray leading the way and Zabransky getting another year of watching and learning.
"There isn't a team in the CFL that wouldn't want Ricky Ray on their roster," said Schultz. "His toughness is under-rated and his athletic ability continues to improve. He is a natural leader and has won a Grey Cup."
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
It could be a different story in Winnipeg, where the Blue Bombers may have a healthy battle for the starting position at training camp. Former Lion Pierce was brought in as a free agent to solidify a position that had been in turmoil since Kevin Glenn left in 2008. But the injury bug followed Pierce to Winnipeg and after numerous setbacks, he was sidelined for the year in September with an elbow injury. Back-up Steven Jyles, who was also signed as a free agent in the off-season, stepped in and played well when Pierce got hurt but wins were hard to come by.
"No one guy stood up and took the position but the thing is, we think there's some talent at the position," said Bombers coach Paul LaPolice earlier in the season. "It would be a much easier scenario if a guy played 18 games and was 'the guy.'"
Whenever you finish with a losing record, changes are sure to be made but will they be made at the quarterback position? Pierce is a proven, if not injury-prone, CFL quarterback. Jyles is a year younger than Pierce with a lot less experience as a starter but has a history with LaPolice when the two were in Saskatchewan. Alex Brink, Joey Elliott and Zac Champion also have CFL experience.