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Opinion: Riders are good, but don't plan the parade route yet

Corey Mace, left, pictured with Jeremy O’Day, has made a big difference as head coach. File photo

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are 4-0 to start the CFL season.

The last time they started 4-0 was in 2013. I don't think I need to tell you what happened that year. Even people who are new to the province know what the Riders did in 2013. Some learn about the 2013 Riders immediately after they memorize their address, their phone number and the location of the closest grocery store.

(If there was a handbook on everything you need to know about Saskatchewan, there would be a chapter dedicated to the Riders' Grey Cup win at home in 2013. You'd also have a chapter on the 114-year history of the Riders and another on the other three Grey Cup wins. But 2013 would get its own chapter).

So, you can forgive Rider fans for having visions of 2013 dancing in their heads after this year's 4-0 start. Forget the fact that the Riders started 3-1 last year, only to lose their last seven games and finish 6-12; or that they were 4-1 two years ago, only to finish, you guessed it, 6-12 after losing their last seven games.

I can confidently say this year is going to be different for the Green and White. There's a new coach this year in Corey Mace. They're better on the offensive line (granted, they couldn't be any worse than the human turnstiles that dotted the line the last two years).

The strong start just feels more sustainable, even if one win was against the Edmonton Elks and two were against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, neither of whom are exactly powerhouses this year. The win over the Toronto Argonauts was impressive, especially when you consider the Riders did it with a back-up quarterback making his first CFL start.

We'll see how the Riders do when they visit the B.C. Lions on July 13 and visit the defending Grey Cup champions, the Montreal Alouettes, on July 25. Those game will be the true early litmus tests for the Riders, the games to show how much work really needs to be done.

I've long poked fun at Rider fans for suffering from premature evaluation. They get too excited over a win and too down over a loss. All teams have those fans, but it's definitely an issue for some Rider fans. Granted, it's an 18-game season so there isn't as much margin of error as in, say, Major League Baseball, which plays a 162-game season.

If the Riders win a couple games in a row, even if it's against lesser teams, many of their faithful will start planning a Grey Cup parade route. If they lose a couple games in a row, then it's time to fire the coaches and start a complete rebuild. (I heard both sentiments in 2013).

Do I think the Riders are a better team this year than the past couple of seasons? Absolutely. They finally have an offensive line that looks credible. They look like a team that can win the battles on the lines on a nightly basis. And while quarterback Trevor Harris is currently hurt, at least he won't have to run for his life on a nightly basis when he returns.

With the talent the Riders have on the offensive side on the ball, and with Mario Alford (?) returning kicks, they have a team that is entertaining to watch. People can shell out their hard-earned money for Rider tickets for reasons other than just "let's go to support the team."

And Mace has made a big difference as coach. His predecessor, Craig Dickenson, is a really good coach, but you could tell by the end of last year that his time with the club was coming to a merciful end.

The CFL's West Division isn't exactly a powerhouse this year, either. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' run of success appears to be coming to an end. The Calgary Stampeders are no longer a powerhouse. And the Elks have a knack for costly mistakes at the worst possible time.

A home playoff game and an appearance in the West Division Final are realistic expectations.

As in any other sport, sometimes it takes time to build a winner. Yes, we've seen teams go from non-playoff squads to the Grey Cup game, and even a Grey Cup championship, in a year. But most of the time, you have to suffer that playoff defeat in the division semifinal or the final before getting into the championship game the following year. Winning a postseason game for just the second time since 2017 would be an important step forward for the Riders core this year.

So don't get too down on the team if the Riders aren't playing in the Grey Cup on Nov. 17 in Vancouver.