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Biletnikoff Award watch list highlighted by 2017 finalist David Sills

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You know how I know we’re getting closer to the start of a new season?  Yet another watch list.

The latest to release theirs is the Biletnikoff Award, with the honor going to the nation’s top receiver issuing a list consisting of 50 players from all nine FBS conferences as well as one independent (UMass).  Headlining this year’s preseason list is West Virginia’s David Sills, who was a finalist for the 2017 award claimed by Oklahoma State’s James Washington.  One other 2017 semifinalist is included as well, Ole Miss’ A.J. Brown.

A total of seven teams placed two receivers each on the watch list: Cal (Kanawai Noa, Vic Wharton III), Louisville (Dez Fitzpatrick, Jaylen Smith), Nebraska (Stanley Morgan Jr., JD Spielman), North Texas (Jalen Guyton, Michael Lawrence), Oklahoma (Marquise Brown, CeeDee Lamb), Toledo (Diontae Johnson, Cody Thompson) and West Virginia (Gary Jennings Jr., Sills).

Three conferences totaled seven players apiece, the ACC, Big 12 and MAC.  That trio is followed by five each from Conference USA and four apiece for the AAC, Pac-12 and Sun Belt.  The Big Ten and Mountain West each placed three.

Below is the complete list of 2018 Biletnikoff Award preseason watch listers:

JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford
Tyre Brady, Marshall
A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
Trevon Brown, East Carolina
Ryan Davis, Auburn
Greg Dortch, Wake Forest
Terren Encalade, Tulane
Dez Fitzpatrick, Louisville
James Gardner, Miami-Ohio
Jonathan Giles, LSU
Marcus Green, ULM
Jalen Guyton, North Texas
Emanuel Hall, Missouri
Justin Hall, Ball State
Kelvin Harmon, North Carolina State
N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
Penny Hart, Georgia State
Justin Hobbs, Tulsa
Andy Isabella, Massachusetts
Gary Jennings Jr., West Virginia
Anthony Johnson, Buffalo
Collin Johnson, Texas
Diontae Johnson, Toledo
KeeSean Johnson, Fresno State
CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
Michael Lawrence, North Texas
Ty Lee Middle, Tennessee
McLane Mannix, Nevada
Scott Miller, Bowling Green
Denzel Mims, Baylor
Stanley Morgan Jr., Nebraska
Kanawai Noa, California
James Proche, SMU
T.J. Rahming, Duke
Ahmmon Richards, Miami
Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
David Sills V, West Virginia
Steven Sims Jr., Kansas
Jaylen Smith, Louisville
Kwadarrius Smith, Akron
JD Spielman, Nebraska
Cody Thompson, Toledo
John Ursua, Hawaii
Teddy Veal, Louisiana Tech
Jamarius Way, South Alabama
Nick Westbrook, Indiana
Vic Wharton III, California
Malcolm Williams, Coastal Carolina
Olamide Zaccheaus, Virginia

Oregon wins out over Texas, USC for services of Wake Forest grad transfer WR Tabari Hines

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In the end, it’s a Pac-12 school that’s won out for the services of one of the most productive players available on the graduate transfer market.

After deciding to leave Wake Forest earlier this offseason, Tabari Hines took an official visit to Oregon and then, ultimately, did the same to Texas and USC as well. With that trio of Power Five schools in the running for his services, the wide receiver took to Twitter Monday to announce that he will be enrolling at UO and continuing his collegiate playing career with the Ducks.

As Hines is headed to Eugene as a grad transfer, he’ll be eligible to play immediately in 2018. The upcoming season will be his final year of eligibility.

This past season, Hines’ 53 receptions tied for the team lead, with his 683 receiving yards good for third on the Demon Deacons. His seven receiving touchdowns were also third on the team.

For his collegiate career thus far, Hines has totaled 123 catches for 1,496 yards and 13 touchdowns. In 2015, Hines set school freshman records for receptions (32) and receiving yards (366) in a single season. He’s started 14 games the past two seasons — six in 2017, eight the year before.

Wake Forest holds off Texas A&M in wild defense-optional Belk Bowl

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If there were ever a game that was decidedly DBYOD (Don’t Bring Your Own Defense), this was it.

Twice in the first half of the Belk Bowl, Wake Forest (8-5) took 17-point leads on Texas A&M (7-6).  Instead of packing it in, though, the Aggies ratcheted up the effort under interim head coach Jeff Banks to turn a potential rout into a wildly tight affair, although in the end it was the Demon Deacons that prevailed and head home with a hard-fought 55-52 win stuffed into its back pocket.

The two teams combined for 1,260 yards of offense — 646 for Wake, 614 for A&M.  The combined yardage set a Belk Bowl record, as did the combined points and total plays (190).

Despite the offensive numbers, it was a pair of defensive plays on the part of the Aggies that shifted the momentum and nearly led to a disastrous Demon Deacons loss.  One forced fumble late in the third quarter led to a Keith Ford touchdown that, at 42-41, gave A&M its first lead of the game since the middle of the first quarter.  On the Demon Deacons’ ensuing possession, another forced fumble was recovered and ultimately led to a 19-yard field goal early in the fourth.

A one-yard touchdown run by Cade Carney four minutes later gave the lead back to Wake at 48-45 with 9:06 left in the game; Nick Starkel‘s touchdown pass a little over three minutes later pushed the lead back in favor of A&M at 52-48.

Once again it was Wake’s turn for a comeback, with a 13-play, 69-yard drive capped by Matt Colburn‘s one-yard touchdown run with just north of two minutes left proving to be the winning score.  A&M had one final chance to either tie it and send it into overtime or win it outright, but its last drive — and a questionable no-call on what appeared to be defensive pass interference — ended just shy of midfield as they turned the ball over on downs.

John Wolford passed for 400 yards and four touchdowns, all in the first half, as part of the win.  On the ground, Colburn led all rushers with 150 yards on 21 carries.

Wolford, incidentally, continued his stunning turnaround regular season into the postseason.  Prior to 2017, Wolford had thrown more interceptions (35) than touchdowns (30) in three years; this season, including today’s game, he’s thrown 29 touchdowns against just six picks.

Aggies wide receiver Christian Kirk, playing in what’s expected to be his last game at the collegiate level, caught a career-high 13 passes for 182 yards and a Belk Bowl-record three touchdown catches.  The triggerman of A&M’s offense, the freshman Starkel, passed for a career-high 499 yards in a losing effort.

With the win, Wake won back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2007-08.

Wake Forest scores 31 straight en route to first-half lead on Texas A&M in Belk Bowl

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A few of minutes into its Belk Bowl matchup with Texas A&M, things were looking bleak for Wake Forest.  After 30 minutes of play, the roles were decidedly reversed as the Demon Deacons have taken a 38-28 lead into the halftime locker room in what’s the highest-scoring half in the game’s history.

After a little more than two minutes had run off the first-quarter clock, A&M, playing in its first game since Kevin Sumlin was fired and Jimbo Fisher was hired, had taken the lead on a block punt that was recovered for a touchdown, the school’s first block punt since 2005.  Less than two minutes later, and after an Aggie got his hand on a second punt, Trayveon Williams scored from a yard out to push the lead to 14-0.

The following 13 or so minutes belonged to Wake, though, as the Demon Deacons scored the next 31 points to take a double-digit lead of their own early in the second quarter.  Senior John Wolford extended his stunning turnaround regular season into the postseason as he passed for four first-half touchdowns.  Prior to 2017, Wolford had thrown more interceptions (35) than touchdowns (30); this season, including today’s game, he’s thrown 29 touchdowns against just six picks.

Not to be outdone by A&M, Wake scored its own special teams touchdown, with Jessie Bates‘ 59-yard punt return stretching the lead to 31-14 with just over 12 minutes remaining in the second quarter.  That unit was not-so-special for Wake for most of the game, however, as, in addition to the two blocked punts, they had a field goal blocked as well.

And A&M’s interim head coach?  Special teams coordinator Jeff Banks.

That blocked field goal in the middle of the second quarter gave the Aggies a modicum of momentum as they turned that special teams play into a score two plays later, Nick Starkel hitting Christian Kirk, likely playing his last game for the Aggies, on a 52-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 31-21 with 7:31 left in the half.  Wolford’s fourth scoring toss, this one 37 yards to tight end Cam Serigne with 4:33 remaining, pushed the lead back out to 17.

The momentum shifted back to A&M right before halftime, however, as Starkel hit Kirk for a second touchdown with 18 seconds left to pull them back to within 10 at 38-28.

The Demon Deacons racked up 385 yards of offense — Wolford had 256 passing against A&M’s depleted secondary — to 306 for the Aggies.  Matt Colburn chipped in with 87 yards on the ground on 10 carries, with a long run of 66.

This marks the sixth time this season that A&M’s defense has given up 35 points or more in a game.

Kirk, meanwhile, already has a season-high 133 yards receiving on six catches.  Starkel has thrown for 313 yards in just two quarters worth of work; the freshman’s season- and career-high, 416 yards, is well within reach with 30 minutes to play.

Wake is looking to win back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2007-08, while A&M is trying to snap a three-game bowl losing streak.  If the Aggies can mount a second-half comeback, they will hit eight wins for the fourth consecutive season.

After scorching Louisville, Wake Forest loses WR Greg Dortch to season-ending injury

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Wake Forest wide receiver Greg Dortch was unstoppable against Louisville this weekend, but his season has come to an end with a month to play.

According to a released statement from Wake Forest, Dortch suffered an abdominal injury that will require surgery. That procedure will cost him the remainder of the season. Based on the wording in the statement, it would seem any possibility of a return for the bowl season is not expected.

The injury news comes after Dortch set the school record with four touchdown receptions against Louisville. He caught 10 passes for 167 yards in the big win or the Demon Deacons.

With Dortch out of the offense for now, Wake Forest will likely give junior Tabri Hines the extra snaps on the field. The good news is Dortch will return to wake Forest eventually. He is just a freshman, so he has a couple more years with the program to give the offense a star wide receiver to count on.

Wake Forest plays at Notre Dame this weekend. Without Dortch, pulling the upset in South Bend will be trickier than expected.