Sports·THE BUZZER

It's football season in Canada too

Though it can get lost in the hype of a new NFL season, Canadian football season is in full swing at both the pro and university level. Here's a quick catchup on the three-down game.

CFL, U Sports might be crowing the same champs again

Zach Collaros and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have a Grey Cup three-peat in their sights. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

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The kickoff of a new NFL season, and all the hype that entails, means Canadian football can get a bit lost in the shuffle. But the intensity will soon ramp up in the CFL, which is entering the final third of its regular season, and the Canadian university season is also underway. Here's a quick catchup on what's happening in the three-down game, starting with the pros:

Winnipeg is still the team to beat. Talk about rags to riches: the franchise that went 29 years between Grey Cup victories is now in position for the first three-peat since Edmonton won its fifth in a row 40 years ago. The Blue Bombers' 54-20 thrashing of rival Saskatchewan in the Banjo Bowl on Saturday improved their record to a CFL-best 12-1 — comfortably ahead of B.C. (8-3) and Calgary (8-4) with five games remaining for Winnipeg. The Lions looked like a threat when they were 8-1, but they've lost both games since their star Canadian quarterback (and Most Outstanding Player front-runner) Nathan Rourke went down with a foot injury that will likely sideline him for the year. The Bombers still have work to do before the playoffs, and anything can happen in that single-elimination tournament, so the betting markets "only" give Winnipeg about a 50/50 shot of winning the Grey Cup again. But no other team's implied title chances are even as high as 20 per cent.

Zach Collaros remains outstanding. With B.C.'s Rourke out of the picture, the Winnipeg QB has a good chance to become the first repeat MOP winner since Montreal's Anthony Calvillo in 2009. Besides leading the Bombers to the CFL's best record, Collaros tops the league in passing touchdowns and ranks third in passing efficiency behind Rourke and Calgary's Jake Maier, who's played only three games as a starter since taking over for Bo Levi Mitchell last month. Collaros lost last year's CFL receiving-yards leader, Kenny Lawler, to Edmonton, but he's found a new favourite target in Dalton Schoen, who's made a league-high 10 TD catches.

The West is the best. Toronto (7-5) is the only East Division team without a losing record and the only one that hasn't been outscored on the season. And so the Argos and their modest plus-11 point differential have the inside track on a first-round bye, and a trip to the Grey Cup game in Regina, as they lead Montreal (5-7) by two games. It looks like Hamilton (3-9) will not be making a third consecutive trip to the Grey Cup game — or even making the playoffs. If those started today, the Ticats would get crossovered by Saskatchewan (6-7), which might have a backdoor route to the Grey Cup game on home turf.

Western is favoured for a Vanier Cup repeat. While Winnipeg eyes a third straight Grey Cup, Canada's other big football trophy might also be staying put. The Western Mustangs, who captured the eighth national championship in school history last fall, are off to a 3-0 start and topped the most recent U Sports rankings. Saskatchewan, which lost to Western in last year's Vanier Cup game, was second, followed by Montreal. McMaster got booted from the top 10 after the use of an ineligible player caused them to forfeit their opening two wins. If Western makes it back to the Vanier Cup, they'll be on home turf: the London, Ont., school will host the national title game for the first time this fall. Read more about what's coming up in the Canadian university sports scene here.

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