The B.C. Lions are a good team – and have a shot this fall to rank among the best in the CFL over the past two decades.
After the team lost five in a row to open the 2011 campaign, the Lions have won 80 per cent of their games – going 24-6, including the West Division championship and the Grey Cup last November, and an 11-4 start to this season.
Since the early 1990s, there have been five mini-dynasties. The best was the Toronto Argonauts in 1996-97, who won 85 per cent of their games, 34-6, with two Grey Cup titles. The Calgary Stampeders (under now-Lions general manager Wally Buono) had a four-year run of 64-17 (79 per cent) in the early-to-mid 1990s, but only seized one title. The Montreal Alouettes, in 2009-10, won two Grey Cups, and went 31-9 (78 per cent).
With three games left in the 2012 regular season, the Lions top the CFL in many statistical categories – some of them quite revealing of how much the team has, to date, been the class of the league.
The team's defence has been its consistent strength, giving up the fewest yards and points. It is No. 1 against the run and the pass, and benefits from an offence that holds the ball longer than any team (33 minutes 8 seconds, meaning the defence faces eight less plays than its average rival).
B.C.'s offence also has notable ball control, with just 18 turnovers (11 interceptions, five fumbles, two on downs). The next closest team is Montreal with 26.
The offence has not fully delivered on its explosive potential. But in the past two games, the Travis Lulay-led attack has shown depth and resiliency. Missing his best receivers, Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce III, Lulay delivered two wins, hitting nine different receivers in one game and eight in the other.
In the absence of Simon and Bruce, running back Andrew Harris has surged. He leads the league in yards from scrimmage (1,665). If he reaches 2,000, he'd be only the 14th man to hit that mark since 1950.
Last week, Harris set the yards-from-scrimmage record for a Canadian, a mark that stood since 1967 (Terry Evanshen, 1,662) and became the Lions' top receiver by yardage and receptions.
With Simon and Bruce pushing this week to be back in action at home against the Edmonton Eskimos (7-8), Harris might be pressed to maintain his lead among Lions receivers. But if Harris does it – at 25, in his first full year as a CFL starter – it would be the first time a player led a team in rushing and receiving since 1970, when Dave Fleming did for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Helped by Harris – and quarterback Lulay's 477 yards rushing, 11th in the league – the Lions offence leads the league in yards gained. Only three teams in the past 20 years have led the CFL in both yards gained and fewest conceded at the end of the season: Calgary in 2010, Montreal in 2009, and Toronto in 1997.
The Lions could have a multiyear run, like Calgary under Buono in the 1990s. There is a lot of young talent, in or approaching their prime, such as key defensive fixtures Adam Bighill and Khalif Mitchell.
A question could be Lulay's tenure: The Oregon-born quarterback is on a one-year deal, and might want to take another shot at the NFL. (He spent 2006-08 in the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints organizations, but did not crack either roster.)
First, comes Friday night at home against Edmonton. A win gives the Lions the West Division title and home-field advantage.
It is a significant thing, especially given the Lions' 12-1 record in the 13 months since the refurbished B.C. Place Stadium was reopened.
The only loss? The Eskimos in mid-July.
CFL mini-dynasties of past 20 years (years-Team– win/loss record– winning percentage– number of grey cups won)
1996-97 Toronto 34-6 0.850 2 1992-93-94-95 Calgary 64-17 0.790 1 2009-10 Montreal 31-9 0.775 2 1994-95 Baltimore 32-10 0.762 1 2006-07 B.C. 29-9-1 0.744 1 Single-year success:
6 teams – 11 times – have won 14 games in a year in the past 20 seasons Montreal 2009 15 BC 2007 14 Montreal 2004 14 Winnipeg 2001 14 Toronto 1997 15 Toronto 1996 15 Baltimore 1995 15 Calgary 1995 15 Calgary 1994 15 Calgary 1993 15 Winnipeg 1992 14