Alabama head coach Saban praises contributions of Canadian receiver John Metchie III

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He's been overshadowed by Heisman Trophy candidates DeVonta Smith and Mac Jones, but Canadian John Metchie III's contribution to the Alabama Crimson Tide's unbeaten season hasn't been lost on head coach Nick Saban.

Smith (98 catches, 1,511 yards, 19 total TDs) and Jones (3,739 passing yards, 32 TDs, four interceptions) are two of the four finalists for American college football's top individual honour — quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence of Clemson and Kyle Trask of Florida are the others. Smith and Jones finished 1-2 in voting for The Associated Press college football player of the year award.

In his first season as a starter for top-ranked Alabama (11-0), Metchie III stands second in receiving behind Smith with 44 catches for 782 yards (17.8-yard average) and six TDs. The six-foot, 195-pound sophomore from Brampton, Ont., had four receptions for 62 yards in the Tide's 52-46 SEC title win over Florida, but drew rave reviews for his play during a Gators interception return.

As Florida defender Trey Dean III was returning the pick, he was levelled by Metchie III and fumbled. Smith recovered and on the next play had a 31-yard TD grab that put Alabama ahead 14-7 in the first quarter.

The Tide face No. 4 Notre Dame (10-1) in the Rose Bowl in Arlington, Texas on Friday. The winner meets either No. 2 Clemson (10-1) or No. 3 Ohio State (6-0) in the national championship contest Jan. 11 in Miami.

The Tigers and Buckeyes will also square off Friday in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

Metchie III's play has highlighted what's been a stellar 2020 NCAA campaign for Canadians, especially with both the CFL and U Sports having not played due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I think any time somebody sets a great example for young people, wherever they're from, and they do it in a first-class way like John Metchie does for us I think that's a positive for college football," Saban told reporters during a videoconference. "I think it's a positive for young people and I think it's an inspiration for anybody who has goals and aspirations of maybe being able to play at the collegiate level or in the NFL or whatever.

"Jonathan Metchie has been a very, very positive contributor to our team. He's tough, he plays hurt, he plays physical, he gets open, he makes catches, he makes plays and he never complains. This guy is the epitome of what you look for in a wide receiver and he certainly hasn't disappointed us in terms of how he's developed here, how he's worked here and what he's developed into."

Ajou Ajou of Brooks, Alta., a six-foot-three 215-pound freshman receiver, is expected to dress for Clemson.

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COWBOYS VICTORIOUS: If Amen Ogbongbemiga's college football career is indeed over, at least he's going out a winner.

Ogbongbemiga had four tackles (three solo) as No. 21 Oklahoma State (8-3) earned a 37-34 win over No. 18 Miami in the Cheez-It Bowl on Tuesday night.

Ogbongbemiga, a six-foot-one, 235-pound redshirt senior from Calgary, finished the year second on the team in tackles with 80 (50 solo, five for a loss) and added 2.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two recoveries. Ogbongbemiga is eligible for both the 2021 NFL and CFL drafts but could opt to remain in school another year as per the NCAA's COVID-19 exemption.

In October, Ogbongbemiga was ranked No. 2 on the CFL Scouting Bureau's top-20 prospects for the 2021 draft.

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BULLS WIN: The Buffalo Bulls ended their solid 2020 season with a 17-10 win over Marshall in the Camellia Bowl on Christmas Day.

Buffalo was coming off a 38-28 loss to Ball State in the MAC title game. The Bulls had four Canadians on their roster: Dominic Johnson, a six-foot-five, 225-pound senior receiver from Windsor, Ont.; Cole Burniston, a six-foot-three, 245-pound sophomore tight end from Grimsby, Ont.; Deondre Doiron, a six-foot-four, 285-pond freshman offensive lineman from London, Ont.; and Gabe Wallace, a six-foot-six, 315-pound sophomore offensive lineman from Salmon Arm, B.C.

Johnson can now set his sights on the basketball court. He's also listed on the roster of the Bulls' hoops squad.

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FIRST LOSS: The Liberty Flames did something in the Cure Bowl that no other team could this year: Beat Coastal Carolina.

The No. 23 Flames defeated the No. 9 Chanticleers 37-34 in overtime on Boxing Day to secure a second straight Cure Bowl win. The two teams were scheduled to meet earlier this year, but that game was cancelled due to COVID-19 cases.

Coastal Carolina finished with an 11-1 record while Liberty improved to 10-1.

John Kourtis, a six-foot-four, 315-pound redshirt sophomore centre from Toronto, was on Liberty's roster, The team's co-offensive co-ordinator and quarterback coach is Kent Austin, a former CFL player, head coach and GM, most recently with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Canadian Enock Makonzo had 10 tackles (six solo. 1.5 for a loss) for Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl. On the season, the five-foot-11, 195-pound junior linebacker/defensive back from Lachine, Que., had 76 tackles (47 solo, 10.5 for a loss) with two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Wilt Gabe II, a six-foot-three, 230-pound sophomore defensive lineman from Montreal, was also on the Chanticleers roster.

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STAYING PUT: Canadian cornerback Alonzo Addae will return to West Virginia next season.

The five-foot-11, 189-pound redshirt senior from Pickering, Ont., made the announcement via Twitter. Addae was eligible for both the 2021 NFL and CFL drafts, but will remain at school as per the NCAA's COVID-19 pandemic exemption.

Addae has 61 tackles (33 solo, 0.5 for a loss) with a forced fumble and two interceptions this season. West Virginia (5-4) concludes its season Thursday facing Army (9-2) in the Liberty Bowl.

The Mountaineers defence also features defensive lineman Ahkeem Mesidor, a six-foot-two, 268-pound freshman from Ottawa. Mesidor has a team-high five sacks this season.

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BOWL CANCELLATION: The Iowa Hawkeyes, and Canadian offensive lineman Alaric Jackson, were poised to face Missouri in the Music City Bowl on Wednesday. But the game was cancelled after the Tigers withdrew due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in their program.

Iowa (6-2) was chasing a seventh straight win.

Jackson's season isn't over. The six-foot-six, 315-pound senior offensive lineman from Windsor, Ont. — who was a first team All-Big 10 selection - has accepted an invitation to participate in next month's Senior Bowl.

He's the second Canadian to do so. Josh Palmer of Brampton, Ont., a senior receiver from Tennessee, has also committed to take part.

Palmer, a six-foot-two, 210-pound senior, finished the season with a team-high 33 catches for 475 yards and four TDs.

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SHRINE BOWL: Defensive back Nelson Lokombo of the Saskatchewan Huskies and offensive lineman Pier-Olivier Lestage of the Montreal Carabins were both selected to the 2021 East-West Shrine Bowl.

The contest was slated for Jan. 23 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, but has been cancelled due to the pandemic. However, organizers are still announcing their selections to recognize outstanding senior seasons.

Neither Lokombo, a five-foot-11, 194-pound native of Abbotsford, B.C., nor the six-foot-three, 295-pound Lestage, of Sainte-Eustache, Que., played football this year as U Sports cancelled its 2020 season. Lokombo and Lestage were ranked No. 14 and No. 11, respectively, in October in the CFL scouting bureau's top-20 prospects list for the 2021 draft.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 31, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press