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CFL Preview - Montreal (0-0) at Calgary (0-0)



From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

DATE & TIME: Saturday, June 28, 3 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: After months of speculation, the Calgary Stampeders finally know who will be their starting quarterback when they take on the Montreal Alouettes in the 2014 season opener on Saturday afternoon at McMahon Stadium.

Head coach and general manager John Hufnagel made the decision on Monday to pencil in quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell at the top of his depth chart, although Hufnagel is less concerned with who starts than he is with which of his three signal-callers (Drew Tate and Bryant Moniz being the others) makes the most positive impact.

Moniz, a gunslinger from Hawaii who is new to the CFL, could factor in somewhere down the line, but for now it will be Mitchell and Tate who will be asked to shoulder the load on offense.

Aside from a disappointing ending, Calgary had the best of both worlds last season as it ranked first in the league in scoring offense (30.5 ppg) and was second-best in holding opponents down (22.9 ppg), which is more than enough reason for Hufnagel and his crew to have high hopes heading into the 2014 campaign. However, there have been some changes on the roster that will certainly shake things up a bit.

After two years as a key contributor to the offense, quarterback Kevin Glenn was taken by the Ottawa RedBlacks in the 2013 CFL Expansion Draft and then traded to the British Columbia Lions, which leaves Mitchell as the starter to kick off the new season. Mitchell had his moments in 2013, posting a quarterback rating of 111.2, but that was in limited duty. If nothing else, Mitchell knows the system and has shown that he can operate it sufficiently.

The good news for Calgary is the presence of two top-flight slot backs in Marquay McDaniel and Nik Lewis. One of seven players to finish with at least 1,000 receiving yards a year ago, McDaniel turned 76 catches into eight touchdowns.

Another huge positive for Calgary is the continued presence of running back Jon Cornish. After struggling for playing time in his first four years with the Stamps, Cornish has become one of the most productive players in the league, so much so that he was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player in 2013, and the Most Outstanding Canadian the last two seasons. Cornish ran for a career-high 1,813 yards and 12 TDs, not to mention reeling in 42 passes for 344 yards and two more majors last year.

The defense for the Stamps will again take its cues from lineman Charleston Hughes. Despite missing a couple of games in 2013, Hughes still finished with a league-best 18 sacks and forced three fumbles. The West nominee for the CFL's Most Outstanding Defensive Player, Hughes now has back-to-back seasons with double-digit sacks, which means opponents should be giving him even more attention this time around.

As for the Als, they are entering uncharted waters with regard to their offense. Dating back to 1998, Montreal always knew that Anthony Calvillo would be the man of record on the field. One of the most outstanding quarterbacks in the history of the game, the three-time CFL Most Outstanding Player set career marks for passing yards (79,816), touchdowns (455) and completions (5,892), along with a litany of other chart-topping numbers, before announcing his retirement in January.

At some point the ride had to end for Calvillo, but many hoped he would give it once last go-around after suffering a season-ending injury in 2013. Unfortunately, that isn't the case and it means the Als, who made the playoffs with a record of only 8-10 before bowing to Hamilton by a mere three points (19-16) in the East Division Semifinals last year, are now in search of a suitable successor.

The biggest name at that position currently is former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith from Ohio State. Smith, who bounced around the NFL and even made a stop in Omaha with the UFL's Nighthawks, signed on with Montreal last season and in getting his feet wet, threw for 884 yards and nine touchdowns, but finished with a rating of only 86.3.

Fellow quarterback Alex Brink last saw game action with Winnipeg in 2012 and while he threw for eight touchdowns that season and ran for another seven, he was his own worst enemy as he consistently put himself in a position to be injured. Tanner Marsh made a minor splash in 2013 when he stepped in for Calvillo, but the excitement was short-lived as he ended up tossing eight INTs against only three TDs.

Hopefully, the return of S.J. Green, the league's second-leading receiver last season, will make the transition to a new quarterback slightly smoother, but not likely. The slot back has cranked out three straight 1,000-yard seasons, and he tallied 13 TDs in 2013, but his numbers could easily shrink depending on how strong the passing attack becomes.

The most intriguing name on the Montreal roster this season has to be that of Chad Johnson, the one-time wideout who struck fear in the hearts of many defensive backs in the NFL. A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Johnson played himself out of the NFL with his questionable behavior both on and off the field. Johnson is not the first former superstar seeking redemption in the Great White North, but at 36 years of age you have to wonder what he has left in the tank.

Montreal's defense was third from the bottom in terms of points allowed last season, giving up 26.2 ppg, but the good news is that linebacker Chip Cox is back and ready to level the opposition, just as he did in 2013. Not only was Cox an all-star for the fourth time, he was also named the league's Most Outstanding Defensive Player after setting the team record for tackles and leading the CFL with 115 stops.

These two teams played just twice last year, suiting up in back-to-back weeks in July, with the Stamps picking up wins both times. Calgary first tallied a 22-14 triumph at Montreal on July 12, and then eight days later claimed a 38-27 decision.

With respect to the series record between the programs, reaching back to 1961 and taking into consideration only regular season bouts, Calgary is slightly ahead by a count of 35-32-1, capturing five of the last six meetings.

Both squads will be feeling their way around on offense this week, hoping to identify the right quarterback to give them a solid opportunity for success over the next several months, but it will be a work in progress, as will the opening 60 minutes this weekend.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Calgary 27, Montreal 18

06/25 10:54:56 ET