The NCAA college football clock is ticking down.
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps schedules in a constant state of flux, there remains just two weeks left to determine berths to the all-important conference championship game. A bevy of Canadians remain in the hunt for those honours and this week’s slate features some positively mouth-watering matchups with big time implications for seeding.
It’s also a crucial week for college football picks. Last week was a less than stellar 16-of-23 performance for me as a prognosticator, taking me below .750 to 147-of-201 on the year. Lucky for us, there is no win-loss requirements for bowls this year, so you can rest easy knowing I’ll be playing until the very last whistle.
Buffalo (-11.5) at Ohio
Location: Peden Stadium, Athens, OH
Kickoff: Saturday, December 5 at 12:30 p.m. PST/ 3:30 p.m. EST
Where to View: CBS Sports Network
College football is full of big plays and exciting matchups but when it comes to pure pound-for-pound entertainment, it’s hard to beat the Mid-American Conference.
While the showmanship of Wednesday night #MACtion is over now that we’ve entered December, this week presents a meaningful heavyweight tilt that could have critical championship implications.
The University of Buffalo currently leads the conference’s East Division with an undefeated 4-0 record and two games remaining, though a heap of one-loss teams are eagerly nipping at their heels.
Among them is the 2-1 Ohio Bobcats and an upset on Saturday could open the door for OU or another program to sneak into the MAC title game instead of the Bulls. That’s a particularly enticing proposition for an Ohio team that has yet to capture a championship during head coach Frank Solich’s remarkable 15 years at the helm.
To accomplish this task, Ohio will look to redshirt freshman quarterback Kurtis Rourke. The younger brother of former Bobcats star and two-time Cornish Trophy winner Nathan Rourke, now with the B.C. Lions, has assumed the starting mantle in Athens and has been brought along gingerly by the coaching staff.
While his sibling did his best work as a runner, the younger Rourke is a pivot in a different mould. Standing at six-foot-three and 211 pounds with room to grow into his frame, the new Air Canada is a prototypical pocket passer with much more arm talent than his predecessor.
For the most part, Ohio has kept him on an appropriate game-managing leash for a young player and has relied on star running back De’Montre Tuggle to get the job done on the ground, as he did in a 52-point performance against Bowling Green last week. Dual-threat Armani Rogers will even see some time at the position when a more explosive athlete is called for. However, Rourke has shown flashes of being able to uncork a cannon on the opposition and the Bobcats will need those big plays against the Bulls.
On the other side of the ball, Ohio also has a pair of young Canadians in defensive backs Peter Kemeni and Jett Elad. While the true freshman Kemeni saw his first defensive snaps in the blowout last week and will likely spend his time on special teams, Elad, the redshirt freshman, has become an integral part of the Bobcats’ defence. Playing as the rotational fifth defensive back, the Mississauga native has developed into a shutdown slot corner and playmaker.
Despite taking the field for roughly half the snaps of his teammates, Elad sits fifth on the team in tackles and leads the group in both interceptions and pass breakups with two apiece. It’s been an impressive and largely unanticipated breakout but Elad will play a key role whenever Buffalo takes to the air.
Unfortunately for him, that might not be too often. It’s no secret that the engine that powers the Bulls is running back Jaret Patterson. A pre-season All-American, Patterson has lived up to the hype by joining Ricky Williams as the only two players in FBS history with more than 300 yards rushing in two consecutive games.
Despite playing in less than half as many contests as his competition, the Buffalo workhorse sits fifth in the nation with 920 rushing yards and second with 16 touchdowns.
A good chunk of that success can be credited to a stellar Bulls offensive line, but there is also a Canadian element at work on the fringe as well. Senior receiver Dominic Johnson may dream of catching passes but the Windsor native spends a lot more time opening holes on the ground.
The six-foot-five, 220 pound former quarterback is a size mismatch as a blocker and has taken to his blocking receiver role well despite only converting to the position a year ago. Make no mistake however, Johnson is plenty capable of going up and getting it, spending his off-seasons as a crucial role player on the Bulls basketball team, and could be a timely red zone weapon if called upon.
While Johnson will be on the field most of the game, a couple of other Canucks will make cameos. Tight end Cole Burniston of Grimsby and guard Gabe Wallace of Salmon Arm are both sophomores buried on the depth chart, but they will take the field a handful of times when Buffalo goes with a jumbo look.
Buffalo also has London-born offensive lineman Deondre Doiron on the roster, though he looks set to redshirt this season. The Bulls defence features no Canadians, but does have one northern connection.
Rotational defensive tackle Jordan Avissey of Paris, France is one of a growing number of Europeans taking snaps in the NCAA but he first arrived in North America as a CEGEP recruit, playing for Thetford Mines in Quebec. While he doesn’t have the passport, he is an honorary product of the Canadian football system.
For all its Canadian content, this pivotal MAC contest will ultimately come down to whether or not Ohio can slow Patterson enough to allow their own formidable ground game to be effective against a stout Bulls defence. That sounds like a tall order and don’t be surprised if Rourke finally breaks out while trying to keep this competitive. I’ll pick Buffalo to win but my faith in the Oakville product has me picking Ohio to cover.
Pick straight-up: Buffalo
Pick against the spread: Ohio (+11.5)
Other Week 14 NCAA games featuring Canadians
Louisiana Tech at North Texas
CanCon: Gabe Siemieniec, PK, SR (LATech)
Result: 42-31 Louisiana Tech
No. 15 Oklahoma State (-1) at TCU
CanCon: Amen Ogbongbemiga, MLB, SR (OkSt), Chuba Hubbard, RB, JR (OkSt)
Western Carolina at No. 17 North Carolina (-50)
CanCon: Patrice Rene, CB, SR (UNC)
Pick: North Carolina
Toledo (-8) at Northern Illinois
CanCon: Geri Theodore, DE, FR (Tol), Woodly Appolon, FS, JR (NIU)
Nebraska at Purdue (-1)
CanCon: Barron Miles Jr, REC, FR (Neb)
Penn State (-11.5) at Rutgers
CanCon: Jesse Luketa, WLB, JR (PSU), Jonathan Sutherland, FS, JR (PSU), Theo Johnson, TE, FR (PSU), Malick Meiga, REC, FR (PSU)
Pick: Penn State
Ball State at Central Michigan (-1)
CanCon: Mohamed Diallo, DE, SR (CMU), Cade Cote, DL, FR (CMU)
Pick: Central Michigan
Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan (-13.5)
CanCon: Sidy Sow, LG, JR (EMU), Jake Julien, P, SR (EMU), Jack Taylor, OL, FR (W.Mich)
Pick: Western Michigan
Syracuse at No. 2 Notre Dame (-33.5)
CanCon: Matthew Bergeron, LT, SO (Syr), Geoff Cantin-Arku, MLB, SO (Syr), Tyrell Richards, SLB, JR (Syr), Ben Labrosse, FS, FR (Syr), Damian Alford, REC, FR (Syr), Patrick Davis, OL, SR (Syr)
Pick: Notre Dame
No. 6 Florida (-17.5) at Tennessee
CanCon: Josh Palmer, REC, SR (Tenn), Lamar Goods, DT, FR (Flo)
West Virginia at No. 9 Iowa State (-6.5)
CanCon: Alonzo Addae, FS, SR (WV), Akheem Mesidor, DE, FR (WV)
Pick: Iowa State
No. 12 Indiana at No. 16 Wisconsin (-14)
CanCon: DK Bonhomme, OLB, SO (Ind)
No. 19 Iowa (-13.5) at Illinois
CanCon: Alaric Jackson, LT, SR (Iowa), Sydney Brown, SS, JR (Ill), Chase Brown, RB, SO (Ill)
Boston College at Virginia (-4)
CanCon: Terrell Jana, REC, SR (Vir), Ezechiel Tieide, REC, SO (BC)
Pick: Boston College
Georgia Tech at NC State (-6.5)
CanCon: Daniel Joseph, DE, SR (NCSt)
Pick: NC State
No. 13 BYU (-10) at No. 18 Coastal Carolina
CanCon: Enock Makonzo, WLB, JR (CC), Wilt Gabe, DE, SO (CC)
San Jose State (-2.5) at Hawai’i
CanCon: Nick Mardner, REC, SO (HI)
No. 23 Oregon (-9) at Cal
CanCon: Nick Wiebe, LB, SO (Ore)
Colorado State at San Diego State (-7.5)
CanCon: Daniel Okpoko, DT, SO (SDSU)
Pick: San Diego State
Colorado (-7.5) at Arizona
CanCon: Cameron Fietz, QB, JR (Ari), Paris Shand, DE, FR (Ari), Leif Magnuson, OL, FR (Ari)
No. 3 Clemson (-22.5) at Virginia Tech
CanCon: Ajou Ajou, REC, FR (Clem)
No. 1 Alabama (-29.5) at LSU
CanCon: John Metchie III, REC, SO (Ala)
UCLA at Arizona State (-3)
CanCon: Kenny Mestidor, LB, FR (UCLA
Fresno State at Nevada (-6.5)
CanCon: Dontae Bull, LT, JR (FrSt), Alex Dumais, DT, SO (FrSt)
Oregon State at Utah (-11)
CanCon: Keegan Markgraf, LS, SR (Utah)
Pick: Oregon State
Washington State at No. 20 USC (-12)
CanCon: Henry Kimmins, DB, FR (WashSt)