When thinking about the best way to describe what the 2013 season will be like for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the one word that comes to mind is 'awkward.' Make no doubt about it, playing your home games at the University of Guelph means you have little or no home field advantage.
This is not a criticism of the athletic facilities at Guelph; I had four Argonauts training camps there and know its ability to host a CFL team for a season; it will work out well, but it is not the same as playing in your home city. It doesn't mean you can't win it just means you have to focus better.
Hamilton is a two-thirds team. Their offence was productive last year: they were first in points scored at 29 per game, first in passing yards at 298 per game, and second in net offence with 298 yards per game. But they also has the highest number of two and outs in the league, so sustaining drives was a major problem.
Special teams were also a strength last year and, depending of course on whether or not Chris Williams plays in 2013, it should again be a strength. Hamilton was first in punt return yards and third in kick-off return yards.
Now, defensively they had problems. Whether it was pass rush, pass coverage, or co-ordination, there is truly nowhere to go but up this season. In the eight most relevant defensive categories the Ticats were dead last in six, and seventh in another. It was an issue in almost every game, but I repeat: nowhere to go but up!
The third issue will be the transition at head coach from George Cortez to Kent Austin. It's hard not to be excessively optimistic about Austin. He has won the Grey Cup twice as a player and twice more as a head coach.
And he has a quarterback that ages slowly in Henry Burris! If the Ticats can get a couple more good years out of Henry that will buy them enough time to find or develop the next Henry.
It many ways the present Ticats are a success story over recent years. I remember not that long ago conversation that there would be no Ticats to succeed with. Now, with a new stadium on the way – it should be completed on time – to generate revenue, turning a profit appears closer than ever.
Luca Congi hit 40 of 35 field goals on the year; the Ticats were 1- 8 on the road. This team almost leaves you in wonderment with its extremes, both successes and failures. There were certain aspects of Ticat football that were great, only to be followed by ones that were extremely bad.
The season's low though was the season-ending loss in Toronto to a fourth-string quarterback (Zack Collaros). I also remember the misshandled field goal attempt that led to a loss against Calgary.
If Hamilton can bring those extremes of excellence and disaster closer to the middle, than they have as good a chance as any team.
One major point of optimism though: Burris threw for 5,367 yards and 43 touchdowns last year, and as a collective offence the Hamilton produced 538 points. Sometimes it is easier to recreate success the second time than it is the first time. If he does again in 2013, you never know!