REGINA - It's not too difficult to see the Saskatchewan Roughriders celebrating their fourth Grey Cup championship Sunday night.
Not only are the Riders 5 1/2-point favourites over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the CFL title game at Mosiac Stadium, they have the added advantage of playing on their home field.
Saskatchewan also has an advantage over its East Division rival in terms of overall experience, and there's also the matter of playing football outdoors in the prairies in November.
The Riders were built to be here. This off-season, GM Brendan Taman bolstered the club's veteran leadership by acquiring slotback Geroy Simon from B.C. before dipping into free agency to land defensive back Dwight Anderson and defensive linemen Ricky Foley and John Chick. All four are previous Grey Cup champions.
Saskatchewan will also have the benefit of playing before more than 44,000 rabid Riders supporters Sunday who'll go out of their way to be as loud and disruptive as possible whenever Hamilton has the football. Most any CFL player will tell you being a visitor at Mosaic is anything but pleasant.
The Riders also have experience on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Darian Durant will make his third career Grey Cup appearance. Although the first two were losses, Durant has been solid so far in the CFL playoffs with five TD passes and no interceptions. In the West Division semifinal versus B.C., Durant used his legs to provide another element to Saskatchewan's offensive attack.
But it's running back Kory Sheets who should concern the Ticats. Sheets was the CFL's second-leading rusher with 1,598 yards and ran for 177 yards and a TD in Saskatchewan's 35-13 win over Calgary in the West Division final. In two meetings against Hamilton this year, Sheets ran for a combined 270 yards on 49 carries as the Riders swept the season series 2-0.
Granted those games were both in July, but consider how important the rushing attack is to Saskatchewan's offensive gameplan. The Riders were second in CFL rushing, averaging 128.8 yards per game, and with Sunday's weather forecast calling for a low temperature of minus-12 C with 15 kilometre an hour winds, the ability to run the football will become very important.
On the other side of the ball, the Riders boast a rugged, tenacious defence that was the CFL's toughest to score against. Saskatchewan allowed a league-low 22.1 points per game and last weekend against Calgary forced seven turnovers.
Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris is a big reason why the Ticats are in the Grey Cup for the first time since '99, passing for 371 yards and three TDs in the club's 36-24 East Division final win over the Toronto Argonauts indoors at Rogers Centre last weekend. Burris was masterful in rallying the Ticats after trailing 24-10 in the second half.
Yet not only will Burris have to battle the elements at Mosaic Stadium, but also a Riders defence that was third in the CFL in sacks with 57. Hamilton's offensive line led the league in sacks allowed with 65.
There's no denying the marvellous job Kent Austin has done in his first season as Hamilton's vice-president of football operations, general manager and head coach. Last year, the Ticats, under current Riders offensive co-ordinator George Cortez, posted a less than stellar 6-12 record.
Austin has gone to great lengths to increase Hamilton's talent base with an abundance of new faces, many of them first-year CFL players. The Ticats were expected to be better in 2013 but it's not a stretch to suggest by reaching the Grey Cup game they've over-achieved and exceeded expectations.
Hamilton's defence will face a tall order trying to contain a Saskatchewan offence that not only boasts a solid ground attack but a receiving corps with three 1,000-yard performers. The Riders' offensive line is one of the CFL's best.
The strength of Hamilton's offence is the passing game but consider Saskatchewan also led the CFL in interceptions (25) and fewest passing TDs (20). Experience, home field and Mother Nature all combine to give the Riders an edge.
Pick — Saskatchewan.