The 2022 season is putting the ‘C’ back in CFL

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The most important takeaway from the four-week-old CFL season may be that it’s happening at all. For a while, as the players and league worked through a new collective bargaining agreement — at one point, the sides even had an attempted deal that was never ratified — the 2022 campaign appeared to be at risk.

Yet here we are, on track for a full 18-game season with the Gray Cup back in its rightful November slot. For the most part, the focus is back on football.

Here are two storylines worth following:

The Canadian takeover is upon us.

As part of labor negotiations, the CFL proposed eradicating the Canadian ratio, which historically required seven starters on each team to be citizens of the country, presumably in some sort of attempt to increase the talent pool by adding Americans. The union, made of many Canadians (each 46-man roster must have at least 21 Canadians), was obviously opposed — some would lose their jobs entirely, while the ‘C’ in CFL would essentially lose meaning beyond the three-down rule. The players ultimately won out as the ratio was increased to eight starters, one of whom can be a naturalized American with either five seasons in the league or three with the same team.

The one position that historically lacked Canadian representation is quarterback. In 2015, Brandon Bridge became the first Canadian QB to start a game in 19 years. Stampeders backup Andrew Buckley scored a rushing touchdown in the 2016 Gray Cup, becoming the first Canadian pivot to find the end zone in the championship game since Russ Jackson in 1969. Bridge and Buckley have both since retired after mostly non-impactful playing careers — as has every other Canadian QB since Jackson won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete in 1969 after his second straight title and called it a career.

But in 2022, the Canadian QB is back in vogue with a pair emerging out west. It makes sense — not only is the country producing more and more NFL players, but athletes in every sport are beginning to make their mark internationally, from the men’s and women’s soccer teams to Andrew Wiggins in the NBA Finals.

WATCH | Rourke leads undefeated Lions to latest victory:

Lions stay perfect with win over Redblacks as Rourke leads the way

BC defeats Ottawa 34-31 to start their season with three straight victories, Victoria-born Nathan Rourke throws for 359 yards.

Back in the CFL, Victoria’s Nathan Rourke is running lapse around the field already. His Lions own a 3-0 record and league-leading 137 points — 27 more than the second-place Roughriders, who have played one more game. Rourke played collegiately at Ohio University, winning top Canadian honors in 2017. In his rookie season last year, he started just two games, tossing three TDs to five interceptions. But in three starts this season, he’s thrown nine scores to just two picks, while adding 180 yards and three more TDs on the ground. Rourke is also second in the league in passing yards with 1,071, just four behind Tiger-Cats leader Dane Evans, who’s also played one more game. Rourke joined Jackson in Week 1 as the only Canadian QBs to record five TDs in a game, and he set the national single-game passing yards record at 436 in Week 3. The 24-year-old will face his biggest test yet on Saturday when the two-time defending champion Blue Bombers and their stingy defense visit BC

Tre Ford’s stats aren’t as eye-popping, but the Niagara Falls, Ont., native is just getting started after taking over behind center this week and leading the Edmonton Elks to their first win of the season. In the 29-25 decision over Hamilton, Ford tossed for 159 yards with one touchdown and one interception while adding 61 yards on just six carries. The former Waterloo Warrior wrapped his university career last season by becoming the first Black QB to win the Hec Crighton Award as U Sports’ most outstanding football player. Ford will aim to take a firm grasp on the starter’s job against rival Calgary on Thursday.

The West is the best.

On paper, the Bombers’ 23-22 win over the Argos last night, in which Toronto’s kicker missed a game-tying convert, was a classic between two division leaders. But pull back the curtain and you’ll see two franchises that might not even be in the same hemisphere.

It’s true that Toronto leads the East — it’s also true that through three games, the Argos have just one win and two touchdowns while being outscored 86-45. The franchise’s troubles go beyond the field, too: attendance issues continue, and MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum questioned Toronto, Montreal and BC’s place in the league in an interview with The Globe last month: “Quite unfortunately, these teams are not worth that much money. … What value creation are these franchises trading at? You’ve got to look at that and say, is that success?” It’s a question that could be applied to leading the East in 2022, too. The Alouettes are the only other team to even win a game.

You won’t be surprised to hear, then, that the West is 11-1 against the East in the early going. The Bombers lead the division at 4-0, followed by the Lions and Stampeders at 3-0 and the Roughriders at 3-1. Even the 1-3 Elks have hope in the form of Ford, and all three of Edmonton’s losses were in-division. The Lions have the most exciting player in the league with Rourke, and the Bombers appear not to have missed a step even after losing superstar running back Andrew Harris to Toronto in free agency.

It’s definitely too early to be talking about the playoffs, but we could be headed toward a divisional imbalance even the crossover system can’t account for, where the last-place West team may have a better record than one or both of the top- two teams in the East.

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