Vanstone: 2019 was the year of flawed football forecasts
Seriously, what is the likelihood of 2020 foresight being exercised by this grizzled gargoyle of the media?
My putrid prognosticative pedigree from 2019 does not provide a foundation for optimism.
Even when I was right, I was wrong.
Consider my anticipated order of finish in the CFL’s West Division: 1. Calgary Stampeders; 2. Saskatchewan Roughriders; 3. Winnipeg Blue Bombers; 4. B.C. Lions; 5. Edmonton Eskimos.
The one correct prediction: 3. Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
So, naturally, I proceeded to pick Winnipeg to lose each of its three 2019 playoff games.
Winnipeg, we remind you with all due contrition, is the reigning Grey Cup champion.
Saskatchewan had earned top spot in the regular-season standings — for only the second time in the life span of Gainer the Gopher (b. 1977) — while posting a 13-5 record under Craig Dickenson, who was named the West’s coach of the year.
Dickenson was hired in January, not long after head coach, defensive co-ordinator, general manager and vice-president of football operations Chris Jones bolted for the Cleveland Browns. (Many prognosticators expected Cleveland to enjoy a banner year. At least somebody else can be wrong every once in a while.)
Not long after the departure of Jones, I wrote that Marc Trestman was the best candidate to serve as the Roughriders’ bench boss.
Under Dickenson, Saskatchewan posted its highest victory total in nearly 50 years.
Mind you, I did pick the Roughriders for second, when many other visionaries had them pegged for the lower echelon of the CFL.
But that forecast, while in the ballpark, was still inaccurate. I fully expected the Roughriders to defeat Winnipeg in the West final, won 20-13 by the visiting side at Mosaic Stadium on Nov. 17.
The victorious quarterback in that game — and in the Grey Cup one week later — was none other than Zach Collaros, who was repeatedly written off by this scribbler before and during the season.
Collaros began the 2019 campaign with Saskatchewan, only to suffer a concussion on the third play from scrimmage on opening day.
This expert then opined that the Roughriders’ season could very well be doomed due to the absence of an experienced starting quarterback.
Cody Fajardo to the rescue!
Not long after taking over for Collaros, Fajardo blossomed into a star — someone who quickly became a phenomenally popular passer.
In fact, he was among the league’s most effective pivots when it came to throwing deep. Guess who, based on fragmentary evidence, had questioned whether he was capable of making connections downfield?
Skepticism was also noted after the Roughriders signed Fajardo as a free agent in February — shortly after agreeing to a new deal with Collaros.
In light of Collaros’s injury history, the Roughriders were strenuously advised to add an insurance policy in the form of a veteran quarterback.
How about bringing Kevin Glenn back to Saskatchewan?
Roughriders general manager and vice-president of football operations Jeremy O’Day was wise enough to ignore my sage advice, which was thoughtfully offered free of charge (plus GST).
O’Day had an inkling that Fajardo, if given an opportunity, could be an effective starting quarterback.
Fajardo ended up being named the West’s most outstanding player and a CFL all-star.
The league’s dream team also included Shaq Evans, who was not effusively praised by this football maven until my evaluation error became painfully obvious.
Early in the 2018 season, Jones had the bright idea of moving the team’s most dangerous receiver, Duron Carter, to cornerback.
The change was made, at least in part, because the Roughriders’ brain trust believed that Evans had the makings of a star.
I humbly disagreed, to the point where I felt vindicated when Evans went the entire season without scoring a touchdown. He did catch 50 passes for a team-high 785 yards, mind you, but there were lapses in concentration.
But I was the one who ultimately dropped the ball.
As the 2019 season loomed, I assured the rapt readership that there was an emerging deep threat on the Roughriders’ roster — namely K.D. Cannon.
Otherwise devoid of column ideas, I could not resist the Cannon fodder. (That was an attempt at humour.)
Cannon, as it turned out, was an early-season departee.
Evans quickly became the favourite target of Fajardo, catching 72 passes for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns.
Congratulations to both players on superlative seasons.
And congratulations in advance to the 2020 Grey Cup champions — the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
(Rob Vanstone is the Regina Leader-Post’s sports editor.)