CALGARY - The Calgary Stampeders can clinch first place in the CFL's West Division very early this season with a win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday.
The problem with making first in the division — the rallying cry for Saturday — is the chance of losing concentration and intensity in the remaining three games of the regular season.
Some Stampeders were emphasizing execution and wins, not byes and home playoff dates, on Tuesday.
"I think just playing to win this next game is what we should be focused on, not winning the division," running back Jon Cornish said.
"The following week, we should focus on winning that game. We have a bunch of difficult games coming up and we have to be focused on every single one of them."
Calgary (12-2) has two games remaining against Winnipeg (6-9) and one against Saskatchewan (9-6) before the regular-season finale against the B.C. Lions (8-7).
The Stampeders swept Edmonton (10-5) in their season series and would thus rank above the Eskimos in the event the two teams finished tied in the standings.
Division winners earn the right to host their respective division finals. They also get a week's rest while their opponents wear themselves out in semifinal playoff games.
In 2013, Calgary secured the West final in the second-last week en route to a 14-4 record. But the Stampeders were upset in the division final by the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who went on to win the Grey Cup in Regina.
It's a reminder that securing the division final is not the same thing as winning it, which is perhaps why the Stampeders were downplaying Saturday's stakes.
There is still a lot of football to be played and the Stampeders want to be playing it well heading into the post-season.
"We've got to finish," Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. "We're not looking forward to any other game. We're not trying to clinch first place.
"All we're thinking about is going out there and playing a good football game against Winnipeg. Last year we were 14-4 and we don't finish."
After missing three games with a sprained ankle and injured ligament in his left knee, Mitchell is expected to start for real this time.
Head coach John Hufnagel said during Week 15 that Mitchell was "ready to go" against the Roughriders only to announce a day later Drew Tate would get the ball.
"I still wish I could have played," Mitchell said. "I'm glad we got out there and won the game.
"Being a young guy in this position, and not having a broken leg that's holding you out of the game or a broken bone or tear that's holding you out of the game, it's hard to look your teammates in the eyes and tell them you're not playing because you don't feel 100 per cent.
"Nobody feels 100 per cent. I've been working hard to get back. I'm just glad I'm ready to go."
The Stampeders are coming off a bye week, so it's been over a month since Mitchell was tackled on a four-yard run by Toronto's Shea Emery and went down awkwardly on his leg in the fourth quarter. Calgary went 2-1 with Tate as the starter in Mitchell's absence.
Cornish didn't finish Calgary's 31-24 win over the Roughriders in Regina on Oct. 3 because of a tweaked knee, but the halfback says he's ready for Saturday's game in Winnipeg.
"I maybe could have played in a game had we not had the bye week, but I'm happy we had the bye week all things considered," Cornish said.
The CFL's Most Outstanding Player in 2013 and leading rusher the last two seasons is within striking distance of another rushing title despite seven missed games due to injury. With 817 yards, Cornish trails current leader Anthony Allen of Saskatchewan by just 32.
Defensive end Charleston Hughes, the CFL's outstanding defensive player in 2013, is nearing a return to action. Hughes will participate in his first full practice Wednesday since injuring his foot Sept. 13 versus the Argonauts.
Hufnagel couldn't say Tuesday whether the sack specialist will play in Winnipeg.
"It's tough having to sit around, man, because all you do is sit around and watch your teammates make plays," Hughes said. "I mean, you can only eat so much food and work out, right?"
Defensive lineman Corey Mace is expected back in the lineup Saturday. The Vancouver native has been out since Week 11 with an ankle injury and turf toe. Wide receiver Jeff Fuller's knee injury suffered in Regina is said to be season-ending.