It’s been a long road but after 15 weeks of COVID-19 uncertainty, shootouts and upsets, we have finally reached Conference Championship weekend in NCAA college football.
Despite the hurdle of a global pandemic that initially left many players wondering if they could even travel across the border, 2020 was a banner year for Canadians in the NCAA. This week’s schedule is a perfect example.
Six out of the nine conference title games will feature a Canadian player and in four of those contests that Canuck will be in the starting lineup. No matter what channel you turn to for your weekend viewing, you can count on big plays from this country’s native sons.
Last week was a solid one for my weekly picks as I hit on 17-of-22 Canadian games. That brings me to 182-for-248 on the year, a mark that won’t get me into a conference championship but does have me sitting pretty heading into Bowl season.
While there is some enticing Canadian matchups in the consolation games this week (Chase Brown vs. Jesse Luketa is must-watch), I figure our game of the week should be a title fight. With plenty to choose from, it was a tough selection but when in doubt, star power will always tip our eyes to the south.
SEC Championship Game: No. 1 Alabama (-17) vs No. 7 Florida
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Kickoff: Saturday, December 19 at 5:00 p.m. PST/ 8:00 p.m. EST
Where to View: CBS
It’s no secret at this point, win or lose on Saturday the Alabama Crimson Tide will be headed to the college football playoff for the sixth time in seven years, proving their one year hiatus at the hands of cinderella Louisiana State University was nothing but a fluke.
Nick Saban’s team is the best in college football right now but the grand spectacle of the SEC Championship still bears some weight. Until they suffered an embarrassing loss to a decimated LSU team last week, Florida was a playoff contender. That hope is all but gone, but the high powered Gators’ offence can match Alabama shot for shot and the potential for a shootout in primetime should have football fans everywhere salivating.
Although the SEC Championship will have the marquee, the reality is another trophy will be up for grabs Saturday night and given the ostensibly decided playoff, it might be more valuable. With Trevor Lawrence missing games due to contracting coronavirus, and Justin Fields playing in just fives games with Ohio State, the expectation is that the Heisman Trophy winner will be on the field in Atlanta and this game could decide the voting.
For Florida, the candidate is redshirt senior quarterback Kyle Trask, a player who has lit up college football with 40 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Some consider Trask the frontrunner, at least statistically, but the LSU loss put everything in question. Now, Trask will need to show off on the big stage and have his Heisman moment. That will be a tough task made easier by the talent around him.
Receiver Kadarius Toney leads the team in yardage but it is tight end Kyle Pitts who is the showstopper. Pitts has 11 touchdowns in just seven games and will be the first tight end off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft, drawing comparisons to Las Vegas Raiders star Darren Waller as a matchup nightmare. If Trask and Pitts get it going on Saturday, Alabama will be in jeopardy and the Heisman will head to Gainesville.
On the other side, the Crimson Tide have not one, but three legitimate Heisman hopefuls on offence. Quarterback Mac Jones has commanded the offence with ease since taking over this season and does more than manage the game, with over 3,000 yards passing, 27 touchdowns and only three picks.
While the award has skewed heavily towards quarterbacks in recent years, the latest push has been to honour some of Jones’ weaponry. Running back Najee Harris would be the throwback choice after he powered his way to 22 touchdowns but the flavour du jour seems to be top receiver DeVonta Smith, who will easily win the Biletnikoff Award with 83 catches for 1,327 yards and 15 touchdowns in ten games after initially starting as the number two target behind the injured Jaylen Waddle.
Whichever highlight reel player makes the best case for the award, they are just one component of an Alabama offensive arsenal that would make most nuclear powers blush.
Amidst it all sits Canadian John Metchie III, ascended to the vital number two role behind Smith. While all eyes are rightfully on the Heisman hopeful, Metchie has made his own case to take home the Cornish Trophy, the Canadian equivalent, hauling in 40 passes for 720 yards and six touchdowns of his own. Not long ago, if you had suggested a Canadian could be a deciding factor in the SEC Championship Game, guffaws might have erupted.
Now the Brampton native has positioned himself as the game’s biggest X-factor. If the Gators work to shut down Smith and their aerial attack takes touches away from Harris in the backfield, Metchie will be the one picking up the slack and he’s been at his most effective in the rare moments where Alabama has been tested this year. Saturday could be his finest moment yet.
The Gators also have a Canadian on the roster, though he is redshirting and unlikely to see action. Defensive tackle Lamar Goods of Fort McMurray, Alberta is the son of three-time CFL all-star Bennie Goods and will be a valuable piece of the Florida defence going forward. He’s got plenty of time to develop though, as the Gators have had a whopping 18 different players get to the quarterback this year.
I expect the Tide to roll here and keep on doing so throughout the playoff, but this should be their closest contest yet. The only decent offences Alabama has faced this year, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, both burned their secondary for more than 330 yards passing and neither had weapons anywhere near Florida’s. Of course neither team came close to winning either and picking anyone to cover against the Crimson Tide has been a bad idea. The Gators will be embarrassed and motivated enough for that to change this week, but not good enough to upset.
Pick straight-up: Alabama
Pick against the spread: Florida (+17)
Other Week 15 NCAA games featuring Canadians
MAC Championship Game: Ball State at Buffalo (-13.5)
CanCon: Dominic Johnson, REC, SR (Buf), Gabe Wallace, RT, SO (Buf), Cole Burniston, TE, SO (Buf), Deondre Doiron, OL, FR (Buf)
Nebraska (-6.5) at Rutgers
CanCon: Barron Miles JR, REC, FR (Neb), Wesley Bailey, DE, FR (Rut), Rene Konga, DL, FR (Rut)
Pac-12 Championship Game: Oregon at No. 13 USC (-3)
CanCon: Nick Wiebe, LB, SO (Ore)
No. 5 Texas A&M (-14) at Tennessee
CanCon: Josh Palmer, REC, SR (Tenn)
Pick: Texas A&M
Washington State at Utah (-10.5)
CanCon: Keegan Markgraf, LS, SR (Utah), Henry Kimmins, DB, FR (WAZZU)
Ole Miss (-2.5) at LSU
CanCon: Tavius Robinson, OLB, JR (Miss), Deane Leonard, CB, SR (Miss)
Pick: Ole Miss
ACC Championship Game: No. 3 Clemson (-10.5) at No. 2 Notre Dame
CanCon: Ajou Ajou, REC, FR (Clem)
Pick: Notre Dame
Minnesota at Wisconsin (-13)
CanCon: Benjamin St-Juste, CB, JR (Minn), Tyrell Lawrence, OL, FR (Minn)
Mountain West Championship Game: Boise State (-6.5) at No. 24 San Jose State
CanCon: Isaiah Bagnah, OLB, FR (BSt)
Pick: San Jose State
Illinois at Penn State (-15.5)
CanCon: Chase Brown, RB, SO (Ill), Sydney Brown, SS, JR (Ill), Jesse Luketa, WLB, JR (PSU), Jonathan Sutherland, SS, JR (PSU), Theo Johnson, TE, FR (PSU), Malick Meiga, REC, FR (PSU)
Pick: Penn State
Stanford at UCLA (-7)
CanCon: Kenny Mestidor, LB, FR (UCLA)
American Athletic Conference Championship Game: No. 23 Tulsa at No. 9 Cincinnati (-14.5)
CanCon: Bruno Labelle, TE, SR (Cin)