The two sides involved in Sunday's B.C. - Saskatchewan clash (7 p.m. Eastern, TSN/ESPN3) make for a substantial contrast. The hometown Lions are the oldest team in the league by quite some distance, while the Roughriders tried a veteran-heavy approach in 2011 and failed with it, and they've now shifted to more of the CFL's standard focus on youth. So far, both teams' plans haven't worked out too badly; B.C.'s sitting at 4-2 heading into Sunday's action, while Saskatchewan's 3-3. Is either philosophy necessarily superior, though?
First, it's worth examining just how much the Lions' roster stands out from the rest of the league. That's crucial to whether B.C.'s veterans can keep up their strong play, or if the Lions are going to take a downward turn the way the Roughriders did last season. Here's what Lowell Ullrich of The Province found during his look at teams' ages:
At the start of the regular season, just 16 per cent of the 368 players who were on opening-day rosters were 30 years of age or over. By far the most advanced group is Wally Buono's B.C. Lions, with 30 per cent of his roster being thirty something at the start of the regular season.
Thus, the Lions have almost double the amount of thirty-something players as your average CFL team, which is significant. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, though; plenty of players have thrived after that age, as shown by the all-star teams, and there's some data to suggest that it takes players a while to adapt to the CFL, so youth itself isn't necessarily a huge advantage. Moreover, not all thirty-plus players are created equal, and there's evidence that suggests B.C. is doing well on a couple of fronts there.
For one thing, four of the Lions' key thirty-plus players (DB Byron Parker, DT Eric Taylor, DB Lin-J Shell and LB Anton McKenzie) are 30 or 31, which is a far cry from the upper thirties. For another, even older players like K Paul McCallum (42), SB Geroy Simon (36), C Angus Reid (35), WR Arland Bruce (34), DB Korey Banks (33) and T Ben Archibald (33) have still proven remarkably effective recently, and B.C. has some of the best older players in the league; of the top-10 thirty-plus guys Ullrich lists, three are Lions (Simon, Banks, McCallum) and they're tough to argue with. It's also interesting that while the Lions may be older-than-average at many positions, they're far younger than average with both their starting quarterback (Travis Lulay is 28) and their starting running back (Andrew Harris is 25). Running back in particular is one position where most teams are really trying to get younger, and B.C. is ahead of the curve there.
The Riders' youth movement has worked out pretty well so far, too. It's notable how dramatically their roster has changed from 2011, where their veteran-focused approach was one of the most notable things about the team. Now, looking through their roster, they don't have a single player born in the 1970s, so everyone is 32 or younger. It's not just age, either, as Saskatchewan has some notable young stars, including 2010 top CFL draft pick LB/DE Shomari Williams (27), 2012 top draft pick G Ben Heenan (22), impressive SB Weston Dressler (26), vital offseason acquisition G Brendon LaBatte (26) and new star running back Kory Sheets (26).
In fact, that may be the key here. While B.C.'s gone veteran-heavy and the Riders have opted for youth, both teams have managed to land plenty of star power that fits their various philosophies. Saskatchewan's young players may give them a better core going forward, but the Lions' veterans are still producing at a high level and will certainly give them a shot to win this year. Sunday's game may mark a clash of team-building philosophies, but the teams' success to this point suggest that either approach can work if you land the right players.