2013 Preseason Award Projections: Biletnikoff Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2013 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and this coming fall’s stars could be the headline players next April for the 2014 NFL Draft. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.

The Biletnikoff Award is given to top the wide receiver in college football. Last year’s winner was USC wide receiver Marqise Lee.

Biletnikoff Award Winner:

Sammy Watkins, Clemson

Many are expecting Lee to repeat, but I’m going with Watkins. There are a few reasons why. One, Watkins has a better quarterback to work with in Tajh Boyd. Both receivers will see lots of double-teams, but Clemson’s ACC schedule looks easier than USC’s slate in the Pac-12. Also, Watkins is extremely motivated to have a big season after a disappointing 2012 campaign.

Watkins was instantly one of the best offensive weapons in college football in 2011. The explosive freshman looked like the second coming of Percy Harvin with the way he torched defenses with his rare speed. Watkins had a coming out party in his third collegiate game when he caught 10 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns against Auburn. Watkins had seven receptions, 141 yards and two scores a week later versus Florida State. He also had big games against Boston College, Georgia Tech and Maryland. The freshman totaled 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011. He also ran the ball 32 times for 231 yards. On special teams, the versatile receiver averaged 25 yards per kick return with one score.

Last season was a disappointing year for Watkins. He was arrested for drugs in May 2012 and that landed him a two-game suspension to start his sophomore year. After that Watkins was unable to reestablish his place in the offense as DeAndre Hopkins emerged as Clemson’s No. 1 receiver. Watkins dealt with a lot of nagging injuries and he was never able to get into a productive groove. The sophomore caught 57 passes for 708 yards and three touchdowns in 2012.

The 6-foot-1, 203-pounder is in the running as the most explosive receiver in college football with Lee. I think Watkins is going to have a huge season with Boyd and he is a heavy favorite to win the Biletnikoff.

Biletnikoff Runner-Up:

Marqise Lee, USC

A year ago, I predicted that Lee’s teammate Robert Woods would win the Biletnikoff Award. I had the right team, yet the wrong receiver. Lee has made his presence felt since his first day at USC. In a team that had recruited a lot of elite talent at wide receiver, he jas stood out as the best of the best.

Lee was already extremely impressive as freshman. He had the luxury of USC quarterback Matt Barkley having the best season of his collegiate career and Barkley did a good job of working the ball to Lee. The freshman’s starting spot across was across from standout receiver Robert Woods, and the duo combined for massive production in 2011. Lee hauled in 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns in a fabulous debut.

Lee took over as the No. 1 receiver for Barkley last year and turned in such a prolific season that he was a serious candidate for the Heisman Trophy. The sophomore put up astounding totals with 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. Lee also returned kicks and averaged 28.5 yards per return with a 100-yard touchdown in the season opener. He was truly magnificent in 2012 and won the Biletnikoff Award.

The 6-foot, 190-pound Lee definitely has the talent to win the Biletnikoff in back-to-back seasons like Justin Blackmon did, but Lee has some factors working against him. First of all, USC is going to have to break in a new quarterback. Barkley is in the NFL and the Trojans have an open competition for the starting spot. Cody Kessler was the most impressive quarterback in the spring, but Kiffin said there isn’t a front-runner for the starting spot between Kessler, Max Wittek or Max Browne. Wittek was unimpressive filling in late in 2012 after Barkley went out with a shoulder injury.

The Trojans also have to replace Woods with a starting receiver on the other side from Lee. That shouldn’t be too difficult as the team has a talented sophomore in Nelson Agholor. Still, defenses are going to send double and triple coverage Lee’s direction. He’s going to need Agholor or another receiver to emerge as a threat to help loosen up the extra attention that is sure to come his way.

I think Lee is going to have a good season, but I think Watkins has more working in his favor to win the Biletnikoff.

Biletnikoff Dark Horse:

Mike Evans, Texas A&M

This was a tough call, but as the No. 1 receiver in a pass-happy offense, I think Evans has the possibility of a massive season. The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder had an awesome freshman season last year and overtook Ryan Swope to be the No. 1 receiver for Johnny Manziel. Evans caught 82 passes for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns. The Aggies should lean on him even more with Swope in the NFL.

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has had a lot of prolific passing attacks with the difference teams he has coached. Sumlin has a star quarterback in Johnny Manziel to make his offense run, and the Aggies have a good running attack to keep defenses on their toes. Plus, they a solid offensive line to give Manziel the time to get the ball to Evans.

The Biletnikoff Award hasn’t been shy about naming sophomores its winner. Evans and Alabama’s Amari Cooper could be the top underclassmen who challenge to be the top wide receiver in the nation.

Honorable Mentions: Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief, Rutgers wide receiver Brandon Coleman, Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson, LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry, Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, Notre Dame wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, North Carolina wide receiver Quinshad Davis, Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs, Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, UCLA wide receiver Shaq Evans, Tulane wide receiver Ryan Grant, BYU wide receiver Cody Hoffman, Oregon wide receiver Josh Huff, Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker, Marshall wide receiver Tommy Shuler, Pittsburgh wide receiver Devin Street, Florida wide receiver Andre Debose, TCU wide receiver Brandon Carter, Baylor wide receiver Tevin Reese, Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon.

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