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CFL Preview - Edmonton (0-0) at British Columbia (0-0)



From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

DATE & TIME: Saturday, June 28, 6 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: Following one of the worst campaigns in recent memory, the Edmonton Eskimos try to start off the 2014 CFL season on a positive note as they clash with the British Columbia Lions at BC Place in Vancouver on Saturday.

With a mere four wins in 18 opportunities, the Eskimos were the only team in the West Division that failed to make the playoffs. While the worst record in the league overall in 2013 was reserved for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (3-15), half of Edmonton's victories came against those same Bombers in back-to-back weeks in September.

The Eskimos, who actually won three road games a year ago, are hoping that their offense can get back on track after scoring only 23.4 ppg (second-to- last). New head coach Chris Jones, a former assistant with the Toronto Argonauts, is putting his faith in quarterback Mike Reilly to get them back on track.

Riley, who finished second in the league with 4,207 yards passing a season ago, but had an efficiency rating of only 86.9 because he tallied 18 interceptions, against 24 touchdowns, was just rewarded with a three-year contract extension on Monday, which will keep him grounded in Edmonton until 2016 presumably. Not only does Riley provide a solid base for the passing attack, he is also a threat to tuck the ball and run after finishing fifth in the league with 709 rushing yards on 84 attempts.

The signal-caller will rely heavily on slot back Fred Stamps, who led the league a season ago with 1,259 yards through the air and scored 11 touchdowns on 68 catches. Stamps has now put together five straight seasons with at least 1,150 yards receiving, making him one of the top threats in the CFL.

Adarius Bowman (44 rec., 697 yards, 5 TDs) and Nate Coehoorn (49 rec., 646 yards) are also solid options when Stamps cannot get free.

The Esks are heading into the season amid some controversy though, having released running back Hugh Charles who was second on the unit and sixth in the league with 605 yards on 112 carries a year ago.

The Lions are a team that matched Saskatchewan for the second-best record in the West Division last season at 11-7, but even after closing out the regular season with consecutive victories against this same Edmonton squad and Calgary, the club was one-and-done in the playoffs, bowing to the Roughriders (29-25), the team that would eventually take the 101st Grey Cup.

Head coach Mike Benevides and the rest of British Columbia was not happy with how the 2013 season finished out, but the executives with the program thought enough of their on-field leader to offer him a contract extension on Tuesday, one that will have Benevides on the sidelines through 2016.

British Columbia was in the middle of the CFL pack when it came to scoring offense last season, putting up 28.0 ppg, but with an average yield of 25.6 ppg there wasn't much room for error. A star performer for the Lions during their championship run in 2011, quarterback Travis Lulay is ready to lead the team once again.

Lulay had put up back-to-back seasons with at least 4,200 passing yards, but he took a few steps backward in 2013 with only 2,841 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air. Granted, that yardage total had him finishing fifth in the league, but that was partly due to the fact that there were so many key injuries to quarterbacks.

Keeping Lulay on his toes will be Kevin Glenn, who played for the Calgary Stampeders the last two years but then found himself on the new Ottawa RedBlacks roster before being acquired in a draft day trade in May. Glenn missed a number of games last season, yet still recorded the best pass efficiency rating (100.5) of his career. If nothing else, the competition for playing time and the experience that Glenn brings to the table should make things interesting.

One major change for the Lions is the loss of Nick Moore, the league's third- best receiver in 2013 with 1,105 yards on 73 catches. Granted, he only landed in the end zone six times but at least Moore, who is now with Winnipeg, could stretch the field. Emmanuel Arceneaux is back after producing 885 yards and six TDs on 51 receptions, but without another reliable option in the passing game his numbers could suffer.

A former first-round pick of the Lions, the sixth overall in 2011, Marco Iannuzzi might be ready for more responsibility. The wideout doesn't have too many big plays to his credit in three previous campaigns, but that could all change in 2014 if he is fed the ball enough.

Already a known commodity in BC, slot back Shawn Gore set the bar rather high for himself last season with eight of his 47 receptions resulting in touchdowns. He averaged just 11.7 yards per catch, but clearly he is someone the team has shown confidence in when the ball nears the goal line.

Matching Gore for the team lead in scoring, outside of kicking points of course, was running back Andrew Harris who is coming off a couple of very successful years. Harris posted four 100-yard rushing games and scored three touchdowns in a single meeting against Edmonton barely a month into last season, skewing his final numbers slightly, but still the threat is there coming out of the backfield.

As for the BC defense, all eyes will be on cornerback Cord Parks to see if he can come anywhere close to his dominating rookie campaign in 2013 when he led the West Division with six interceptions and 121 return yards, en route to being named a West Division All-Star. Parks, who debuted with an interception return for a touchdown against Calgary, also logged three fumble recoveries, one of those being returned for a score as well.

In terms of an all-time history between these clubs, one taking into account only regular season meetings dating back to 1954, Edmonton is on top by a count of 103-76-4. However, BC has triumphed in five consecutive meetings and eight of the last nine, thanks in part to a 43-29 final in Week 18 last season.

Earlier in the 2013 campaign, the Lions also picked up a 17-3 win on the road at Edmonton and a 31-21 victory at home in a span of just seven days.

With the loss of Charles as a rushing option, Reilly may feel the pressure to fill in the gap and that could spell trouble for a quarterback who already makes it a habit of running the ball a bit too much.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: British Columbia 28, Edmonton 19

06/25 10:55:30 ET

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