The CFL preseason officially gets underway Wednesday with the Toronto Argonauts facing the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (7 p.m. Eastern, TSN) and the B.C. Lions hosting the Saskatchewan Roughriders (10 p.m. Eastern, TSN), and although there's plenty of hype about displaced Alberta quarterbacks Ricky Ray and Henry Burris facing off in the first game, the late-game pivot battle between B.C.'s Travis Lulay and Saskatchewan's Darian Durant may be just as intriguing. At first glance, the two quarterbacks seem to be in very different places; Lulay's coming off a Grey Cup win, a Most Outstanding Player award and a contract extension, while there were enough questions about Durant's play last season that the team had to reaffirm their commitment to starting him this year. With a little historical perspective, though, their careers are much more similar than they initially appear, and that can be seen as either boding well for a potential Durant resurgence or suggesting a possible downturn for Lulay.
Sure, many may not initially think of Durant-Lulay comparisons, but they're there, and they're notable. Both saw limited action early on in their CFL careers; Durant didn't start a game until his third season, 2008 (he'd start four games that year), while Lulay didn't start until his second season, 2010 (he'd go on to start nine games that year). Both were then anointed as starters following those years of limited action, and, despite some rocky moments, they both led their teams to the Grey Cup game that season (2009 and 2011, respectively). They even did it in similar ways; both threw for considerable yards (4,815 for 2011 Lulay, 4,348 for 2009 Durant) and touchdowns (32 and 24 respectively) without sky-high completion percentages (58.7 per cent, 60.4 per cent), both frequently used their feet (Durant ran 60 times for 501 yards and three touchdowns, Lulay 62 times for 396 yards and three touchdowns), and both spread the ball around to a talented cast of receivers.
Durant's 2010 was perhaps even more impressive: he threw for a league-leading 5,542 yards with 25 touchdowns and a completion percentage of 60.7 per cent, ran 80 times for 618 yards and seven touchdowns and led his team back to the Grey Cup game. Of course, there are some areas where Lulay clearly outshone Durant, too, most notably in only throwing eight 2011 interceptions to the 21 and 22 Durant threw in 2009 and 2010 respectively, and his team came out with the Grey Cup, while Durant's Riders were beaten in back-to-back years by Anthony Calvillo and the Alouettes (although it's hardly fair to blame Durant for the 13th man in 2009). Still, if you take those three seasons statistically and remove the names and team results, you find that they're similar years. You also might just conclude that Durant's 2010 could be the best of the bunch.
What does that mean? Well, that depends on your perspective. For someone optimistic about the Lions, maybe that means this year will be even better for Lulay. For a Lions' pessimist, maybe it suggests Lulay's stats are likely to take a downturn à la 2011 Durant (3,653 yards, 18 touchdowns, but a 61.1 per cent completion percentage). For someone wearing green-coloured glasses, maybe the conclusion is that Riders' fans should be as excited about Durant as Lions' fans are about Lulay (it's worth adding Durant's only one year older, too; he'll be 30 in August, while Lulay will turn 29 in September). From this corner, the overarching interpretation is that these guys can both be pretty effective quarterbacks if in the right offence and surrounded with the right teammates. That's a relatively common thought about Lulay these days, but it used to be frequently expressed about Durant as well. Perhaps Saskatchewan's pivot deserves some of the hype his quarterbacking adversary tonight is receiving.