Connor Hamlett

John Mackey Award announces 33-member midseason Watch List

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The John Mackey Award released its 33-name midseason Watch List on Monday and, considering the state of the position in college football, this may very well be the only 33 names that meet its criteria.

We all remember the Jace Amaro fiasco last year, where the Texas Tech tight end was first deemed not eligible for the award, then granted eligibility, only to be snubbed from the finalist list despite ranking sixth nationally with 106 catches, while North Carolina’s Eric Ebron ranked second among tight ends at 62. Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins took home the 2013 trophy.

Wake Forest’s Cam Serigne leads all tight ends with 29 catches for 282 yards and one touchdown. He ranks 78th nationally among all pass-catchers, and stands as the only tight end in the top 100.

Here is the full list, presented in alphabetical order:

– Rory Anderson – South Carolina
– Kennard Backman – UAB
– E.J. Bibbs – Iowa State
– Gerald Christian – Louisville
– Evan Engram – Ole Miss
– Billy Freeman – San Jose State
– David Grinnage – N.C. State
– Connor Hamlett – Oregon State
– Mitchell Henry – Western Kentucky
– Jeff Heuerman – Ohio State
– Bucky Hodges – Virginia Tech
– Austin Hooper – Stanford
– O.J. Howard – Alabama
– Jesse James – Penn State
– Malcolm Johnson – Missisippi State
– Ben Koyack – Notre Dame
– Tyler Kroft – Rutgers
– Jimmay Mundine – Kansas
– Nick O’Leary – Florida State
– Casey Pierce – Kent State
– Joel Ruiz – Georgia State
– Tyreese Russell – Eastern Michigan
– Wes Saxton – South Alabama
– Cam Serigne – Wake Forest
– Jean Sifrin – Massachusetts
– Justin Sinz – Purdue
– Jonnu Smith – Florida International
– Randall Telfer – USC
– Eric Tomlinson – UTEP
– C.J. Uzomah – Auburn
– Clive Walford – Miami (Fla.)
– Alex Welch – Miami (Ohio)
– Maxx Williams – Minnesota

Semifinalists will be announced Nov. 17, finalists a week after that, and the winner will be revealed at ESPN’s college football awards show on Dec. 11.

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Playoff Darkhorses

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The term “BCS busters” should be collectively erased from everyone’s memories.

It’s now time to figure out which teams have a glimmer of hope to rise from obscurity and claim a spot in the first College Football Playoff.

The Florida State Seminoles, Alabama Crimson Tide and Oregon Ducks are overwhelming favorites to participate in the inaugural playoff structure. But college football never quite works out like everyone expects.

Each team in the country is striving to be among the best. Only four will achieve this goal. Some have better odds than others. We here at CFT like to root for the underdog. As such, we’ll attempt to identify a team from each of the Power Five conference and one from the rest of the leagues that have an outside shot of playing with the big boys this season.

We advise not to bet on any of these teams, but they each have something that gives them a chance, albeit a slight one, to be a part of college football’s elite…

ACC: Virginia Tech Hokies
Any team that comes out of the ACC that isn’t the Florida State Seminoles should be considered a playoff darkhorse. The reasons the Hokies are primed to improve greatly from their 8-5 record last season are they are particularly talented and experienced along the offensive line and secondary. The enter left side of the Hokies’ offensive line, including center, is comprised of seniors. And right tackle Jonathan McLaughlin was named  second-team freshman All-American by College Football News. The Hokies’ ability to win in the trenches will improve the team’s running game from last year, particularly with sophomore running back Trey Edmunds ready to become the team’s workhorse. Plus, solid play from the offensive line will help Michael Brewer‘s transition after he transferred from Texas Tech. On the defensive side of the ball, the Hokies may have lost Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum to the NFL, but both of last year’s starting cornerbacks struggled with injuries. Sophomores Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller proved more than capable of stepping in and becoming play makers. Everyone will quickly learn whether or not the Hokies are a legitimate contender when they face a Braxton Miller-less Ohio State Buckeyes squad during the second week of the season. If Virginia Tech can go into the Horshoe and claim a major victory against the Buckeyes, the rest of the schedule is manageable, especially since it won’t face the Seminoles in regular season play.

Big 12 Conference: Texas Tech Red Raiders
Kliff Kingbury
‘s first season as Texas Tech’s head coach developed into a perfect example of style over substance. The excitement of a 7-0 start faded into five straight losses to end the regular season. Despite being as highly ranked as 10th overall, the Red Raiders couldn’t match up physically against the likes of the Oklahoma Sooners, Baylor Bears and Texas Longhorns. As Kingsbury continues to build the program in Year 2, the Red Raiders should be far more consistent. It starts at the quarterback position in the team’s Air Raid offense. Davis Webb started six of the team’s final eight games, and he was awarded the starting job during spring practice. Kingsbury played three different quarterbacks last and never found any consistency. Webb’s growth as a player during his sophomore season will only help the offense become more successful. Each of the linemen in front of Webb is experienced, and the receivers are expected to produce. The defense will continue to be a concern, but Texas Tech will enter each game under the assumption they can outscore any opponent. If the Red Raiders can navigate the Big 12 Conference, they’re toughest non-conference opponent is the Arkansas Razorbacks, who finished 3-9 last season. The opportunity is there for Texas Tech to take the next step as a program and potentially enter the national conversation.

Big Ten Conference: Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes will enjoy and possibly benefit greatly from playing in the Big Ten Conference’s new western division. Overall, the Big Ten Conference is wide open after the Ohio State Buckeyes lost Miller for the season. But that won’t matter for Iowa since they’re not scheduled to play the Buckeyes this season. Iowa not only avoids Ohio State, it won’t play the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans or Penn State Nittany Lions. The Hawkeyes cross-divisional opponents this season are the Indiana Hoosiers and Maryland Terrapins. And the team’s toughest non-conference opponent is the Pittsburgh Panthers. If the Hawkeyes don’t trip up during a game they’re expected to win — like we’ve seen previously in Kirk Ferentz‘s tenure — Iowa could cruise into the final two games against the Wisconsin Badgers and Nebraska Cornhuskers with an undefeated record. The Hawkeyes are then capable and possess enough talent on both sides of the ball to beat the primary opposition in their division. The Hawkeyes will do what they always do; they’ll run the football behind arguably the best offensive linemen in college football, Brandon Scherff, and they’ll play fundamentally sound football on defense. Their style of play leaves very little margin for error, but the season sets up perfectly for the Hawkeyes to have a little more wiggle room than they usually do.

Pac-12 Conference: Oregon State Beavers
Good quarterback play will grant a team the benefit of the doubt. Sean Mannion may not be an interesting as Florida State’s Jameis Winston or as dynamic as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Mannion doesn’t even draw as much attention as UCLA’s Brett Hundley. Yet, Mannion is the country’s leading returning passer. Mannion threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns as a junior. The quarterback also has pieces around him. Last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner, Brandin Cooks, is now in the NFL, but the team still has a massive target at tight end in Connor Hamlett and its top two rushers, Terron Ward and Storm Woods, return. Another overlooked aspect of the Beavers is how experienced they are on defense. Nine of the team’s defensive starters are seniors. The final two starters are juniors. Some of those upperclassmen will be starting for the first time, but the ability to be in the system over a period of time learning the scheme gives them an advantage. The Beavers even benefit slightly from their schedule. The team’s non-conference schedule should be a cakewalk. Oregon State hosts the Oregon Ducks in this year’s “Civil War.” Trips to USC and Stanford are the biggest obstacles in front of the Beavers in their attempt to go to their first major bowl game since they defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Fiesta Bowl 13 years ago.

SEC: Ole Miss Rebels
The Florida Gators are a popular choice to be the surprise team emerging out of the SEC. However, the Rebels should be able to reap the benefits from head coach Hugh Freeze‘s ability to stockpile talent during the upcoming season. The Rebels will have to survive the SEC West, of course, which is no easy feat. The Rebels finished 2-4 in the division last season, and the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers remain the teams to beat. Ole Miss, however, is littered with top talents primed to make a leap as a group. Former No. 1 overall recruit Robert Ndemkiche enters his second season in the program. He’s surrounded by senior edge rushers C.J. Johnson and Carlos Thompson and just nose tackle Isaac Gross. Sophomore Tony Conner quickly established himself as an intimidating presence in the secondary during his freshman campaign. On offense, sophomore Laremy Tunsil is one of the most physically talented left tackles in the SEC. Laquon Treadwell was an elite wide receiver recruit and made an instant impact as a true freshman. And senior quarterback Bo Wallace will lead the way. As the talent on this team continues to mature, the gap between the Rebels and the rest of the SEC West is quickly closing. If that same talent takes a major leap in their play this year, the Rebels could go from pretender to legitimate contender.

Best of the rest: Marshall Thundering Herd
One thing established during the BCS era was an undefeated team from the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West Conference, Conference USA or MAC can work themselves into the national conversation. This year’s most likely candidate is Marshall. There are two reasons why the Thundering Herd can crash this year’s party. First, the team’s schedule is among the easiest in college football. The team should cruise to a 13-0 finish. Second, people love to see explosive offenses and elite quarterback play. Marshall head coach Doc Holliday has quietly built one of the most explosive offenses in college football.  The Thurndering Herd operates at a breakneck pace. Last season the team’s offense finished 12th in the country with an average of 500.4 yards per contest. And quarterback Rakeem Cato is absolutely electric. Over the past two seasons, Cato has thrown for 8,117 yards, 76 touchdowns. The combination of an undefeated record, explosive offense and a talented quarterback may be enough to insert Marshall into one of the playoff slots (even though it’s still highly unlikely).

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Nation’s top tight ends named to Mackey Award watch list

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A grand total of 38 tight ends from around the country have been named to the John Mackey Award watch list. This is a refreshing total to lay eyes on when most watch lists seem to include about half of the nation’s players at a certain position by default.

The John Mackey Award is presented annually to the nation’s top tight end. It is named after Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, who played his college football at Syracuse. Semifinalists for the award will be announced on November 17 and finalists will be announced on November 24. The Mackey Award will be awarded on December 10 in Baltimore.

The Mackey Award was first awarded in 2000. In the 14 years the award has existed, no school has had more than one Mackey Award winner. Last year’s Mackey Award winner was Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Florida State’s Nick O’Leary was a finalist for the award last season and is listed on the watch list this season.

Here is this year’s Mackey Award Watch List:

Rory Anderson, Sr, South Carolina
Kennard Backman, Sr, UAB
Blake Bell, Sr, Oklahoma
EJ Bibbs, Sr, Iowa State
Pharof Brown, Jr, Oregon
Kyle Carter, Jr, Penn State
Kivon Cartwright, Sr, Colorado State
Gerald Christian, Sr, Louisville
Braxton Deaver, Sr, Duke
Thomas Duarte, So, UCLA
Luke Eakes, Sr, Northern Illinois
Evan Engram, So, Ole Miss
Billy Freeman, So, San Jose State
Darion Griswold, Jr, Arkansas State
Connor Hamlett, Sr, Oregon State
Hunter Henry, So, Arkansas
Mitchell Henry, Sr, Western Kentucky
Jeff Heuerman, Sr, Ohio State
Wyatt Houston, So, Utah State
OJ Howard, So, Alabama
Jesse James, Jr, Penn State
Malcolm Johnson, Sr, Mississippi State
Ben Koyack, Sr, Notre Dame
Tyler Kroft, Jr, Rutgers
Devin Mahina, Sr, BYU
Taylor McNamara, So, Oklahoma
Jimmy Mundine, Sr, Kansas
Johnny Mundt, So, Oregon
De’Marieya Nelson, Sr, Arizona State
Nick O’Leary, Sr, Florida State
Casey Pierce, Sr, Kent State
Sean Price, Jr, USF
Jay Rome, Jr, Georgia
Tyreese Russell, Sr, Eastern Michigan
Wes Saxton, Sr, South Alabama
Randall Telfer, Sr, USC
Eric Tomlinson, Sr, UTEP
CJ Uzomah, Sr, Auburn

The Rimington Trophy watch list (best center) was also released today. On Monday the watch lists for the Maxwell Award, Bednarik Award and Hornung Award were released.

Arizona State emerges from INT-filled game with win over Oregon State

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No. 19 Arizona State took advantage of four Sean Mannion interceptions and survived two picks of its own to beat Oregon State, 30-17, in Tempe on Saturday night.

With the win, ASU improves to 8-2 and 6-1 in conference, while the Beavers fall to 6-4 and 4-3.

The Sun Devils raced out to a 20-0 lead thanks to three rushing touchdowns, two by Marion Grice and one by D.J. Foster. Until Trevor Romaine’s 22-yard field goal to end the first half, the Beavers had just 95 yards of total offense, two crucial turnovers and no points.

Things didn’t get much better in the second half for OSU. The Beavers’ first two possessions in the third quarter resulted in a pick and 28 net yards and the game seemed out of reach for OSU.  However, the Beavers did cut the lead to 20-10 late in the quarter thanks to a 96-yard drive that culminated in a six-yard touchdown pass from Mannion to Caleb Smith. Another drive resulted in a 48-yard field goal attempt by Romaine that was blocked. ASU then drove 56 yards for a field goal to make it 23-10 in favor of the Sun Devils with 5:16 to play.

That’s when Mannion threw his fourth pick, but this time it was returned 23 yards for a touchdown by Robert Nelson and the game was basically on ice. Mannion later hit Connor Hamlett for a 29-yard score, but it was not enough for the Beavers.

Grice finished with a game-high 118 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. Mannion got his yards — 320 of them and two touchdowns — but he also threw the four picks.

Arizona State’s fifth-straight win sets up a huge game against UCLA next week for control of the Pac-12 South. If ASU beats the Bruins, it will clinch the division title and punch its ticket to the Pac-12 title game against, most likely, Oregon on Dec. 7 in Eugene.  Good luck!