The Pac-12′s Potential 2013 Biletnikoff Award Winners
The Pac-12's Best Returning Receivers Recognized on Preseason Biletnikoff Award Watch List
Seven of the Pac-12’s top wide receivers are earning national notice, landing on the 2013 Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watch List, announced this week. The Biletnikoff Award recognizes the top receiver (of any kind) in college football.
The obvious standout of the group is the reigning winner, USC junior receiver Marqise Lee, but he’ll have some tough competition in his bid for back-to-back awards.
One of the biggest threats might be on his own squad in the form of sophomore Nelson Agholor, who played behind Lee and Robert Woods in 2012. As a true freshman, Agholor hinted he might be the real deal, and many feel he could usurp Lee the way Lee surpassed Woods last season.
Agholor is one of a few fresh faces on the watch list, but there are some familiar names as well. Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks was half of one of the nation’s best receiving duos in 2012. A semifinalist for the Biletnikoff a season ago, he could make an even bigger push for postseason honors this fall.
The California and Oregon schools dominate this preseason's list. USC, California, UCLA, Oregon and Oregon State account for six of the conference’s seven contenders, and even the odd man out, Colorado’s Paul Richardson, has West Coast ties.
Richardson grew up in Los Angeles and played high school football at Serra High School with USC’s Lee and Woods. He hasn’t played in a game in more than a year after tearing his ACL in early April 2012.
Can he recover and make a push for the award or will it stay in Lee’s skilled hands? Or will changes at quarterback and offensive coordinator around the conference help someone else emerge as the Pac-12’s top receiver in 2013?
Click through for a preview of the Pac-12's top returning receivers in 2013.
Chris Harper, California
One of the youngsters on the list, Harper might be a season or two away from being a serious contender for top honors in the conference, let alone the nation. He played his way onto Phil Steele's third-team preseason All Pac-12 list with a stellar true freshman season.
Harper appeared in all 12 games last season, eventually earning a starting spot and finishing second on the team with 41 catches for 544 yards and two touchdowns. He'll have the potential for much more under new head coach Sonny Dykes, but with Cal still searching for a quarterback and adjusting to new systems, Harper's best season could still be a year away.
Nelson Agholor, USC
One of the youngest on the list as well as one of the most talented, sophomore Nelson Agholor is USC's next star receiver. Agholor's predecessors, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, both burst into the starting lineup as true freshmen. Agholor, stuck behind two of the best receivers in USC history, made the most of the little playing time he got in 2012, finishing with 19 catches for 340 yards and two touchdowns. He was one of the few bright spots in the Trojans' ugly loss to Oregon with six catches for 162 yards and a touchdown. Agholor won't have a veteran quarterback throwing to him this season, but he'll be an asset to the new starter for at least two more years.
Shaq Evans, UCLA
Evans' career has taken some twists and turns but he finally established himself as one of the Bruins' solid playmakers last season. He sat out in 2010 after transferring from Notre Dame and gradually saw more playing time in 2011. Last year was his best, at least so far: Evans started every game and led the team with 60 catches for 877 yards. He was an Honorable Mention All Pac-12 selection after the 2012 season, but with the other young talent in the conference, it'll be hard for him to surpass that. Landing on the Biletnikoff preseason watch list is a good start to his redshirt senior season, but he'll have to put up serious numbers just to steal media attention from his quarterback, Brett Hundley.
Josh Huff, Oregon
Some players made it onto the list based on past production. Playing in Oregon's offense, Josh Huff hasn't necessarily had the same opportunities as receivers in some other offenses, but he makes the list because he has the potential to be a big player for the Ducks. Huff's 32 catches for 493 yards in 2012 aren't mind-boggling stats, but he led the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns (7). He's dealt with injuries and legal issues during his career, but with all that behind him, and a new coach who might want to throw the ball downfield more this season, Huff might get one more shot to show the nation what he can do.
Paul Richardson, Colorado
If Richardson is even a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, it will be one of the comeback stories of the year. The Colorado receiver hasn't played since injuring his ACL in April 2012, and while he initially hoped to play in 2012, he made the smart choice to play it safe. He missed the team's terrible 1-11 season and will return to a program with a new coaching staff and a new feeling of optimism.
As a sophomore back in 2011, he was a late addition to the Biletnikoff watch list. He missed four games with a different knee injury but still set a school record for single-game receiving yards with 284 yards against Cal. He has yet to play a full season, but if he stays healthy, he has enormous potential and could be a key part of the Colorado offense, as well as one of the better receivers in the Pac-12.
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Cooks isn't the most recognizable name on the list, but he's one of its top talents. The Beavers' co-captain is back on the Biletnikoff Award Committee's radar after being named a semifinalist in 2012. In two seasons, he has 1,542 receiving yards, but most of that came during his monster sophomore season, when he gained 1,151 yards on 67 catches. If he matches that number this season or sticks around for his senior year, he could become just the third receiver in school history to have more than 3,000 career receiving yards.
Marqise Lee, USC
Lee is the reigning Biletnikoff winner, but without Matt Barkley throwing to him and Robert Woods attracting some defenders away from him, can he repeat? Yes and no -- he has the talent and the ability, but the pieces around him might make it a little more difficult in 2013.
Then again, it would be difficult to match Lee's 2012 season even with the same returning cast. He was second in the nation in receptions (118) and receiving yards (1,721), he was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, and he was a unanimous All-American.
Remember all those who scoffed when coach Lane Kiffin said Lee could be the best receiver USC has ever had? In just two seasons, he's well on his way; Lee owns or shares 22 school records and five Pac-12 records. He's already twelve games with more than 100 receiving yards, and he'll likely hit 200 career catches and 3,000 career receiving yards by mid-September. (He enters the year with 191 catches for 2,864 yards.)
It's hard to be a repeat winner, but it's equally tough to imagine someone turning in better freshman and sophomore years. The Biletnikoff is up for grabs, but as Pac-12 opponents know, Lee has quite the knack for jumping up to make the catch.