Just because Jace Amaro’s not in the running to win the John Mackey Award doesn’t mean the Texas Tech junior is shut out of the conversation for a major national football position prize.
Next week, members of the Biletnikoff Award national selection committee start marking their ballots to determine the 10 semifinalists for the nation’s top receiver, and there’s nothing to disqualify Amaro from consideration.
He was added to the watch list in mid-September, and his 79 receptions for 1,035 yards both rank top-10 in the nation.
“Our award is for the best receiver in college sports, so it would cover anyone that caught a forward pass,” said Ritchie Pickron, chairman of the Tallahassee (Fla.) Quarterback Club Foundation that founded and sponsors the Biletnikoff. “So that would include tight ends, running backs, anybody that catches a pass.”
The Red Raiders use the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Amaro a little bit as a conventional tight end in a three-point stance and a lot as a standup inside receiver. The relatively small percentage of time he spends at the former contributed to his not being considered for the John Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top tight end.
No tight end — or Amaro-sized inside receiver — has ever won the Biletnikoff, but Pickron said it would be fine if Amaro did.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We’d be tickled pink if we ended up having somebody that was not a wide receiver, but was a tight end or somebody like that, that would win the award. It’s not something I believe any of our writers have a prejudice against.”
The Biletnikoff Award was established in 1994. No tight end has ever made the list of three finalists, but Amaro could make a compelling case to be among the 10 semifinalists. He ranks sixth in the FBS in catches per game (8.8) and ninth in receiving yards per game (115.0).
The numbers aren’t skewed by a few outsized performances against weak competition. In the last eight games, Amaro has caught eight passes twice, nine passes five times and hit career highs of 15 catches for 174 yards last week against Oklahoma State, which came in ranked No. 7 in pass-efficiency defense.
“Coach (Kliff) Kingsbury’s done a great job of getting me the ball in space and allowing me to play as well as I can,” Amaro said. “And yeah, I feel like I’ve played well enough this season to be a candidate and be a top candidate for that award.”
Tech fans were incensed when the Mackey Award midseason watch list, released Oct. 15, did not have Amaro on it.
CBSSports.com senior columnist Dennis Dodd, a member of the Biletnikoff Award national selection committee, said Amaro faces a “hard, but not impossible” task to win the Biletnikoff.
“I think he could get to the semifinalist or finalist (list),” Dodd said. “I think the great injustice is that he won’t even be considered for the (Mackey) award to be the best player at his position. That’s idiotic.”
Even as awareness of Amaro has grown week to week among opponents, no one’s devised a defensive plan to stop him. His eight-game streak of at least eight catches and 86 yards is moving him into Michael Crabtree territory. The former Tech star had a nine-game streak of at least eight catches in 2007, the first of two seasons in which he won the Biletnikoff.
Tech co-offensive coordinator Eric Morris played in the same receiving corps with Crabtree and now is Amaro’s position coach.
“The beauty of it is we can put him in so many different positions,” Morris said. “We can put his hand in the ground, and they have to respect the run and the pass. I think it’s a little bit harder for what we do to scheme against a tight end, because we can move him to so many multiple positions, and we spread the ball around to multiple receivers.
“Every week, you see more and more (defensive tactics). Even on film, you see (defenders) pointing him out, where he’s at, and adjusting the defense to him. But just his sheer size, he overpowers guys. That’s what gives him the ability to catch the ball in traffic and with people on him and draped on his back.”
None of Tech’s last four Big 12 opponents — Iowa State, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State — has held Amaro under 115 receiving yards.
Maybe some have wanted to throw up their hands in disbelief.
“One of the Iowa State safeties told me I was playing like Jimmy Graham, in the middle of the game,” Amaro said, referring to the New Orleans Saints’ 6-7, 265-pound tight end who has 10 touchdowns this season. “That was kind of one of those things where you don’t really know how to respond back.
“I guess it’s a compliment, because he’s a great player, too, and I guess he recognized that I was playing well that game.”
The Biletnikoff Award national selection committee consists of nearly 200 sports media, past winners and eight other “eminent receivers,” most of them former NFL standouts.
The 10 semifinalists will be announced Nov. 18, two days after the Red Raiders play their next-to-last regular-season game against Baylor. After another week of voting, the three finalists will be revealed Nov. 25.
“I don’t know what all the rules and stipulations are for the Mackey Award versus the Biletnikoff,” Morris said, “but he’s definitely made a name for himself, and he’s definitely deserving of being talked about for one of those awards, if not both.”
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