For years, the CFL's Most Outstanding Player award has been largely the property of quarterbacks. The last time a non-quarterback won was in 2006, when B.C. slotbackGeroy Simon took home the honour; all five winners since have been quarterbacks, as have been four of the five runners-up. That trend's going to change this year, though, as Calgary Stampeders' running back Jon Cornish and Toronto Argonauts' receiver/kick returner Chad Owens were announced as the divisional finalists Wednesday. As in 2006, when Simon faced off against Winnipeg running back Charles Roberts, we're guaranteed to have a player other than a quarterback named the top player in the league this year.
Of course, this isn't surprising considering the odds, as only two of the eight team MVPs (B.C.'s Travis Lulay and Montreal's Anthony Calvillo) were quarterbacks this year, and both had seasons that while solid, were substantial steps down from the 2011 campaigns that saw them named MOP (Lulay) and runner-up (Calvillo). Their seasons were still two of the best quarterbacking performances in the league (Hamilton's Henry Burris might have had the best one of all, notching a league-high 5,367 yards and 43 touchdowns with a 64.7 per cent completion rate, but his 18 interceptions and the dominance of Tiger-Cats' receiver/returner Chris Williams meant he wasn't named team MVP), and they certainly weren't bad, but the case for Lulay, Calvillo (who wasn't picked as the East candidatefor the first time since 2007) or any other quarterback this year wasn't all that strong.
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What's perhaps most interesting is the diverse selection of players that were considered for MOP this year. Linebacker J.C. Sherritt was selected to represent Edmonton, and he was a deserving choice who set the league's single-season tackling record with 130 stops. Despite Burris' play, Hamilton voters went with Williams, ensuring that the Owens/Williams debate must have continued in the selections for the Terry Evanshen Trophy (the East Division candidate for MOP). In Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, the choices were running backs Chad Simpson and Kory Sheets. Overall, that's two quarterbacks, three running backs, two receiver/returners and a linebacker; an eclectic mix, and one that speaks well for voters' willingness to consider excellence at positions other than quarterback.
Who should triumph between Cornish and Owens? Well, it's difficult to compare players across such different positions, which is probably part of why this award often turns into a quarterback showcase. Cornish led the league in rushing yards, collecting 1,457 on 258 attempts (a solid 5.6 yards per carry average) and adding 11 touchdowns, while Owens led the league with 1,328 receiving yards and six touchdowns, but also led the CFL in combined return yards (2,510) and broke Pinball Clemons' league record for combined yardage. What it may come down to is what factors voters consider.
There are plenty of considerations outside these players' individual performances that could come into the voting. Cornish's team was better, which will undoubtedly be a factor for some voters, but shouldn't be. It's hardly Owens' fault that the Argonauts didn't get their other receivers going until late in the year, had some blocking issues, battled through injuries to Ricky Ray and traded away their best running back, as none of those elements have anything to do with his performance. Cornish will also probably get some votes for being Canadian, but he shouldn't; yes, it's terrific that a Canadian's at the level where he can be legitimately considered as the league's top player, but this award in particular shouldn't be about citizenship. If this is strictly limited to individual on-field accomplishments (as this corner would prefer), Owens is probably the choice thanks to his excellence in the return game as well as the receiving game, but you could make a case for Cornish too, as he was reasonably dominant in the ground game. Regardless of who wins, though, it's not going to be a quarterback, and it's nice to see dominant performances elsewhere recognized.