The champions have all been crowned and the NCAA Bowls are now set for a holiday season unlike any other.
This will be our final regular lecture edition of Intro to Canadian Studies. We’ll be back in January with a full Bowl recap and final grades for the players but I’ll miss sitting down every week to share my thoughts on the top Canucks. It’s been a pleasure to bring everyone a weekly recap of Canadian NCAA action in this cold, dark and CFL-less year and I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.
With lots of national talent playing in some of the highest profile games of the year and plenty headed off to professional stardom, there is plenty to talk about this week as well. One last time, take out your notebooks and let’s recap the best and brightest from Week 16.
Top of the Class
1. REC John Metchie III, SO, Alabama Crimson Tide (Brampton, Ont.)
In my preview for the CanCon Game of the Week, I suggested that the balance of power in the SEC Championship could rest on the shoulders of Canadian John Metchie III. It was a product of mostly hopeful fantasy, a storyline to hype that I could only hope would come true. Ultimately, I wasn’t disappointed.
In what turned out to be exactly the one score shootout I predicted, Crimson Tide stars like quarterback Mac Jones, receiver DeVonta Smith and running back Najee Harris came to play. Their victory wouldn’t have been possible, however, without one highlight reel play from Metchie. You can call it any number if things. The hit heard around the world. The Canadian Kaboom. The Brampton Bomb.
Any way you slice it, when Metchie exploded through Florida cornerback Trey Dean after in the first quarter after an interception and popped the ball loose, he allowed Alabama to take an early lead that they would maintain throughout. It’s impossible to predict what would have happened had Dean held onto the ball but in a game as close as this, one less score for the Tide could have been the determining factor.
In addition to laying a hit bigger than anything his brother Royce could dream of as a starting safety for the Stampeders, Metchie was his usual productive self offensively as well. When all was said and done, the Brampton kid hauled in four catches for 62 yards while helping open space for Smith and Harris to dazzle.
While I don’t expect that hit will ever be quite replicated, I expect the production to continue throughout the College Football Playoff and all of Canada should be watching.
2. WLB Jesse Luketa, JR, Penn State Nittany Lions (Ottawa, Ont.)
If it wasn’t for Metchie’s highlight reel heroics, Ottawa’s Jesse Luketa would have easily topped this week’s podium. I’ve talked ad nauseam in this column about the Canadian linebacker’s ups and downs in his first season as starter, but his performance against Illinois and shutting down of fellow Canadian Chase Brown in the run game was his biggest statement yet.
A day after graduating early from Penn State (fellow Canadian Jonathan Sutherland also earned his cap and gown), Luketa added to his academic accomplishment with a football one. In a dominant outing from his team, Luketa made seven tackles and broke up a pass. He finished as his team’s highest graded defender according to Pro Football Focus, easily setting a career-high as a starter with a grade of 82.1. When his fellow citizen was carrying the ball, Luketa’s run defence grade was an elite 86.0.
Luketa has gotten markedly better as the season has gone on and Saturday was the peak. All it does is make me excited for what he has in store for us in his senior year.
3. TE Theo Johnson, FR, Penn State Nittany Lions (Windsor, Ont.)
From one Nittany Lion to another.
Last off-season, four-star tight end Theo Johnson was the highest rated recruit in the great white north and was one of the highlights of Penn State’s 2020 class. So far in his true freshman season, the Canadian has lived up to expectations and has carved out a nice role as the number three blocking tight end. On Saturday, with top tight end Pat Freiermuth out of the line-up, Johnson saw that role expand.
In the season finale, Johnson continued to contribute as a blocker, but had his best day as a pass catcher as well. The stellar freshman hauled in two catches for 42 yards, including one long catch that saw him hang on to the ball while being drilled by two defenders.
The performance earned him a PFF grade of 74.4, an impressive mark for a first-year player straight from Windsor. With Freiermuth headed for the NFL next year, this is a role Johnson can get used to for many years to come.
Notes on the Margins
REC Josh Palmer, SR, Tennessee Volunteers (Brampton, Ont.)
While Metchie gains all the headlines this week, it’s worth sending a goodbye the way of another exceptional Canadian receiver who paved the way for him in the SEC.
He didn’t know it at the time but a COVID-19 outbreak on the Volunteers means that Josh Palmer played his last game in creamsicle orange on Saturday. It was a typical game for the Canadian to end on, catching three passes for 55 yards in a loss to Texas A&M and earning a solid PFF grade of 70.3.
Palmer hasn’t always had the best supporting cast around him at Tennessee and he certainly hasn’t this year, but Palmer has been consistently productive for four years in football’s best conference. He’s headed to the Senior Bowl and from there, a likely selection in the NFL draft.
For all the Canadian talent coming down the NCAA pipeline and getting into schools that once seemed impossible pipe dreams, Palmer was one of the first to break the barrier. His next step should be just as groundbreaking.
CB Benjamin St-Juste, JR, Minnesota Golden Gophers (Montreal, Que.)
Speaking of bright NFL futures, Montreal’s Benjamin St-Juste also played his last game for the Golden Gophers and then declared for the NFL Draft, hoping to become the first Canadian corner selected by an NFL team since Edmonton-born, California-raised Jason David went in the fourth round in 2004.
St-Juste capped his incredible career with four tackles and a big pass break-up in a close loss to Wisconsin and their is little doubt in my mind that he is pro bound. More importantly however, St-Juste should be an inspiration to all young Canadian athletes.
After facing early hurdles at the University of Michigan, the Montrealer will now leave school with two degrees and as an established student leader who has been the voice of Big Ten athletes on many issues. Regardless of how his NFL career works out, St-Juste is someone everyone in this country can be proud of.
REC Dominic Johnson, SR, Buffalo Bulls (Windsor, Ont.)
This is a bit awkward but for the first time two brothers make my list with performances on opposite ends of the spectrum. While the young upstart Theo Johnson made the podium in his season finale, his older brother Dominic had a night to forget as his undefeated team was upset in the Mid-American Conference Championship.
It wasn’t a putrid outing by any means and on a week with a bigger slate of games I probably find someone else to criticize, but Dominic Johnson saw his role reduced in his biggest game of the season. Usually Buffalo’s starter out wide, Johnson only took 15 snaps against Ball State and was entirely unused in the passing game as the Bulls tried to climb out of a hole, recording a PFF grade of just 56.6.
The loss capped a full season in which the converted quarterback was mostly used as a blocker and didn’t get to show off much in the way of pass catching skill. As CFL teams evaluate him for the upcoming CFL draft, they’ll have to decide if his size can be used as a primary receiver or if he will become an H-back. It’s leaning towards the latter.
RT Gabe Wallace, SO, Buffalo: Three offensive snaps
TE Cole Burniston, SO, Buffalo: Special teams only
LB Nick Wiebe, SO, Oregon: Special teams only
REC Ajou Ajou, FR, Clemson: Four offensive snaps
OLB Isaiah Bagnah, FR, Boise State: 79 defensive snaps, five tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one hurry
TE Bruno Labelle, SR, Cincinnati: 45 offensive snaps, one reception, 14 yards
LS Keegan Markgraf, SR, Utah: Special teams only
CB Deane Leonard, SR, Ole Miss: 25 defensive snaps, three tackles, one pass deflection
OLB Tavius Robinson, JR, Ole Miss: 33 defensive snaps, one tackle
RB Chase Brown, SO, Illinois: 36 offensive snaps, 11 carries, 30 yards, one touchdown, two receptions, 34 yards
SS Jonathan Sutherland, JR, Penn State: 30 defensive snaps, one tackle
Rostered but not dressed: REC Barron Miles Jr, FR, Nebraska / REC Malick Meiga, FR, Penn State / DT Lamar Goods, FR, Florida / LB Kenny Mestidor, FR, UCLA / SS Sydney Brown, JR, Illinois / DL Wesley Bailey, FR, Rutgers / DL Rene Konga, FR, Rutgers / OL Deondre Doiron, FR, Buffalo / DB Henry Kimmins, FR, Washington State