Toronto, ON (Sports Network) - Winners of the 100th Grey Cup, the Toronto Argonauts get to work on winning a second straight championship as they kick off their 2013 campaign against the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Rogers Centre this evening.
Catch all the action live on TSN and TSN Mobile TV beginning at 7pm et/4pm pt and you can listen to the game on TSN Radio 1050.
Toronto, which sputtered a bit in the second half of the 2012 campaign, losing three straight and five of six during one stretch, thrilled the hometown fans in late November when it delivered a 35-22 win over Calgary in the title tilt. The championship was the first for the Argos since 2004 when they topped British Columbia, 27-19, in Ottawa.
The Argonauts logged a regular-season record of just 9-9 a year ago and won back-to-back games only three times, numbers that clearly dispel the myth that a team has to be good all year long in order to be around at the end and hoist the Grey Cup.
Although there were several bumps in the road en route to the title, Scott Milanovich took it all in stride as he was named the 2012 CFL Coach of the Year in his first season at the helm with the Argos.
As for the Tiger-Cats, they won a total of six games a season ago, three of those coming in consecutive weeks in July. Because of the dismal display, head coach George Cortez was dismissed after just a single season with the Ticats, a position that is currently being filled by Kent Austin, a former CFL quarterback in his own right between 1987-1996.
Hamilton, which will be a temporary resident of Guelph Alumni Stadium for this year while the team's new stadium is set to be completed in time for the 2014 campaign, was actually the highest-scoring team in the league a year ago with 29.9 ppg, but even so the wins were hard to come by. Victories were scarce because the defensive pressure was lacking, as the squad surrendered a massing 32.0 ppg, most in the league as well.
Only once did the Ticats limit an opponent to single digits on the scoreboard in 2012, holding Edmonton to a mere eight points in a 43-point blowout in the middle of September.
A big part of the problem for Hamilton was turnovers. The team was second-to- last in turnover margin with minus-11, having double-digit giveaways of their own in all three phases (interceptions, fumbles and downs).
A key to reducing miscues on offense will be the decision making of quarterback Henry Burris. A constant in the league since 1997 when he broke in with Calgary, Burris needs just 3,399 passing yards to reach 50,000 for his career, a number that should be easily within reach (barring injury) since he threw for a career-high 5,367 yards a year ago.
Burris, who led the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns (43), unfortunately also tossed a league-high 18 interceptions as well, but that comes with the territory when you throw the ball more than 600 times.
What Burris and the Ticats need is more production from Chevon Walker, second on the team and seventh in the league in rushing last year with 656 yards, leading to 4 touchdowns. The good news for Walker is that he won't have to wait his turn behind Avon Cobourne, the former West Virginia star no longer on the roster after being released in February.
Unfortunately, a major distraction for Hamilton could be the absence of wide receiver/returner Chris Williams who was third in the league last season in combined yards with 2,681 and scored a staggering five touchdowns on punt returns alone and six on returns overall to set a new CFL record.
Williams, who scored a club-record 17 majors a year ago and was named the league's outstanding special teams player, has been suspended by the Ticats because he did not show up for training camp. Wanting to give the NFL a shot, Williams still has a valid contract with the Ticats for this season and may never see the field in 2013 if the issues are not resolved.
While Hamilton has trouble getting one of its stars back in action, Toronto made sure to avoid any confusion with their top performer as they recently signed Chad Owens to a two-year contract extension. The CFL's reigning Most Outstanding Player, led the league in both receiving yardage (1,328) and kick return yards (2,418) in 2012, setting the single-season record for combined yards in the process.
Rated as the top overall player in the league heading into the season, Owens now has 3 straight seasons with more than 3,000 combined yards, setting the bar quite high for himself moving forward.
Not to be overlooked on offense for the defending champs is quarterback Ricky Ray who had some struggles early on with his new team, but came alive when it counted most and responded with 4,069 passing yards and 20 TDs.
Another top-notch performer for the Argos is Chad Kackert who led the team in rushing with 638 yards on 100 carries. Kackert scored five times on the ground, but as a unit Toronto had just 11 rushing majors, second-fewest in the league and an area that needs to be improved for sure.
During the 2012 campaign these teams matched up a total of four times, with Hamilton capturing a 36-27 victory in the third week, but then the Argos putting together a three-game run with a back-to-back victories in early September, and finally a 43-40 decision at home in the final week of the regular season.
The teams are slated to compete against each other two more times during the regular season, clashing in consecutive weeks in October.