3DownNation’s CanCon Game of the Week: Syracuse at No. 18 North Carolina

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Canadian content.

Its protection is one of the legislative achievements that continues to forge our national identity. It’s why, despite increasing Americanization, Canadians have their own favourite shows, favourite songs, and favourite bands that never rise to the same popularity south of the border, if they are even recognized at all. If you are a fan of the CFL, it is a concept that probably matters to you a lot.

Canadian football fans are hurting for Canadian content in the sport right now. The CFL has been cancelled for the 2020 season. U Sports is on a COVID-19-imposed hiatus with the exception of the RSEQ, which is still struggling to execute a return-to-play plan. The CJFL is also off for the year, while high school and community programs across the country are facing a wide array of hurdles.

In an effort to fill the Canadian content void, 3DownNation will be devoting extra time this year to highlight the accomplishments of our native sons in both the NFL and NCAA. Today, we introduce one of those projects.

Every week, we will choose the 3DownNation CanCon Game of the Week from the upcoming slate of NCAA football action. If you can only tune into one football game that weekend, this is the one we think you should choose for its quantity, quality or the prominence of Canadian talent. For those who enjoy a friendly wager, we will also include the odds and our picks for every NCAA game featuring Canadians.

This is Week 2 in the NCAA, but last week saw only one Canadian playing in a shortened schedule. Texas State’s Samuel Obiang played very well in his NCAA debut, recording a QB hit and one stuff in 23 reps as a backup nose tackle, but doesn’t yet merit an article of his own. With a full contingent of Canadian’s set to take the field this week, we are launching our full coverage with one of the most Canuck-heavy contests this season.

Syracuse at No. 18 North Carolina (-22.5)
Location: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Kickoff: Saturday, September 12 at 12PM EST/9AM PST
Where to View: TSN 2

With Canadian content staples like UConn and Buffalo currently sitting out the 2020 fall football season, the Syracuse Orange have proudly assumed the mantle of the most Canadian team in NCAA football.

The Orange boast an incredible six Canadians on their roster, although they won’t all be on the field Saturday. On Tuesday, word leaked that Brampton’s Tyrell Richards had elected to opt out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. Though the junior outside linebacker has been a vocal critic of NCAA coronavirus protocols and playing sports during the Black Lives Matter movement, he has since tweeted, then deleted, a post claiming the report was erroneous.

The Syracuse Daily Orange revealed Wednesday that Richards was arrested for allegedly driving while under the influence of drugs on August 8 and is currently facing team discipline for the incident. Richards was named Syracuse’s most outstanding special teams player in 2019 and was the projected starter at strong-side linebacker, but the full truth behind why he isn’t listed on the Syracuse depth chart is unclear. Receiver Damien Alford of Montreal also isn’t listed on the initial depth chart, as the team likely plans to redshirt the big-bodied freshman.

Two of the remaining Canadians will have key roles. On defence, sophomore Geoff Cantin-Arku of Levis, Quebec has won the starting middle linebacker job and will face the unenviable task of shutting down a two-headed North Carolina rushing attack. Dual-threat speedster Michael Carter and bruising Javonte Williams combined for 1,936 rushing yards last season. When Williams comes hurtling up the middle, it will be the CEGEP Garneau alum who meets him in the hole.

Offensively, a traditionally porous Syracuse offensive line has renewed hope in the form of starting right tackle Matthew Bergeron. Taking over the starting job for the final five games of 2019, Bergeron performed well enough to be named the second-team Freshman All-American right tackle by Pro Football Focus, a data company that grades out every player’s performance on every snap of every game played.

The Victoriaville native accomplished this as a true freshman coming from RSEQ Division Two CEGEP de Thetford, becoming the first player from that school to ever receive an NCAA Division I scholarship offer. He’ll become very familiar with UNC’s top returning pass rusher, Tomon Fox, and a new look defensive line, while also staying aware of former UNC starting quarterback Chazz Surratt, who changed positions last year to become an All-ACC middle linebacker and can blitz from anywhere.

Also along the offensive line, senior Patrick Davis from Gatineau is listed as the team’s lone backup at both guard spots following an injury to starter Dakota Davis. The 2021 CFL Draft prospect has never played meaningful minutes for the Orange, but now finds himself just one injury away from action. Defensive back Ben Labrosse will also continue the recent tradition of Quebecois true freshman making an impact for the team, as the Greenfield Park native is listed as the backup rover and will likely see plenty of special teams action.

Heavily-favoured North Carolina has an important Canadian connection of its own. Ottawa’s Patrice Rene is a true rarity as a cornerback from north of the border starting for a Power 5 program. Rene went into 2019 as the fifth-ranked prospect for the 2020 CFL Draft and with the lowest allowed catch rate of any returning ACC corner, he was primed for a breakout season to get onto the NFL’s radar. Instead, he tore his ACL in Week 2 and missed out entirely.

After being granted a medical redshirt, Rene is no longer top dog in the Tar Heel secondary, but he will see plenty of playing time in a rotation with Clemson transfer Kyler McMichael, with whom he’s listed interchangeably on the depth chart. Alongside star sophomore Storm Duck, nickelback Trey Morrison and safeties Myles Wolfolk and Don Chapman, Rene forms a unit poised to feast Saturday. Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito will likely be passing from behind and will be without the services of his top two running backs, both of whom opted out on Tuesday.

Despite their high-quality Canadian content, Syracuse is overmatched on paper going into their season opener, however, the Orange are known to punch above their weight class. Ultimately, sophomore Sam Howell, who was the ACC’s best quarterback not named Trevor Lawrence as a freshman, makes this UNC’s game to lose. Howell has more than enough talent to beat out DeVito if it becomes a battle of gunslingers, especially with receiving weapons Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome at his disposal. Still, don’t expect it to be the blowout oddsmakers are predicting.

The last time these two teams met the game went into triple overtime with DeVito coming off the bench as a freshman to beat UNC 40-37 in 2018. These are different teams but with ranked UNC having to take multiple hiatuses from practice due to COVID-19 outbreaks on campus, there is no telling what sort craziness could ensue Saturday.

Pick straight-up: North Carolina
Pick against the spread: Syracuse (+22.5)

Other Week 2 NCAA games featuring Canadians

Eastern Kentucky at West Virginia
CanCon: Alonzo Addae, DB, SR (WV), Akheem Mesidor, DL, FR (WV)
Pick: West Virginia

UTSA at Texas State (-8)
CanCon: Samuel Obiang, DL, SO (TexSt)
Pick: UTSA

Austin Peay at Pittsburgh
CanCon: Jared Wayne, WR, SO (Pitt), Liam Dick, OL, FR (Pitt)
Pick: Pittsburgh

No. 1 Clemson (-33) at Wake Forest
CanCon: Ajou Ajou, WR, FR (Clem)
Pick: Clemson

Houston Baptist at Texas Tech
CanCon: Edouard Paradis, OL, JR (HB)
Pick: Texas Tech

Coastal Carolina at Kansas (-7)
CanCon: Enock Makonzo, LB, JR (CC), Wilt Gabe II, DB, SO (CC)
Pick: Kansas

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.