Of Fred Biletnikoff late in his Hall of Fame NFL career, his Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler wrote in an autobiography, "They said Freddy lost a step, but Freddy didn't have a step to lose."
Biletnikoff couldn't outrun your mother if she was wearing her best date night heels. A lit cigarette hung from his mouth in the pregame locker room and the Raiders knew it was time to hit the field when they heard Biletnikoff barf. Still, he spent 14 AFL-NFL seasons making some A-list defensive backs feel after the game the way he did before the game. Canny with subtle moves that got defenders moving this way while he went that way, Biletnikoff retired from the NFL after the 1978 season at No. 4 all-time in receptions (his AFL years were counted, of course). His status in pro football history outranks his status as a college player, though he was an All-America pick at Florida State and had his No. 25 retired. So, there's a little irony that it's college football that gives The Biletnikoff Award to the best wide receiver of the year.
And FIU's T.Y. Hilton has been named to the Biletnikoff Award's watch list.
It's not an exclusive club (see below), but for a program still saying nationally and locally, "Hey, over here!" it's happy preseason noise. Hilton's a secret only to the casual college football follower. He's on Athlon Sports preseason All-America team, as the third team all-purpose man. Most preseason guides rank Hilton as the Sun Belt's best NFL prospect. No matter that he'll be the focus of opposing defenses. Like most elite college athletes, he'll still put up great numbers if for no other reason than he's a much better athlete than those trying to stop him.
The Biletnikoff favorite has to be last year's winner, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, who rolled up a ridiculous 1,782 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns on 111 catches. Blackmon's closest competition might be over in Norman, Oklahoma, where OU's Ryan Broyles caught 131 passes for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns. But, who knows? The usual run of injuries, surprises, underachievements and someone barely on the watch list could be walking off with The Freddy.
Anyway, the rest of the watch list, in alphabetical order:
Arkansas' Joe Adams; West Virginia's Tavon Austin; SMU's Cole Beasley (he'll get big numbers in June Jones run-and-shoot); Indiana's Demario Belcher (an IU man for a major award? Brotha, please); UM's Travis Benjamin (if Jacory Harris doesn't create too many Jim Thorpe Award candidates); Auburn's Emory Blake; Southern Mississippi's Kelvin Bolden; TCU's Josh Boyce; Virginia Tech's Jarrett Boykin; Mississippi State's Chad Bumphis (wonder if his grandparents had turkey-loving dogs); Virginia's Kris Burd; Alabama's Duron Carter; Syracuse's Van Chew; Arkansas Greg Childs; Utah's Devonte Christopher; Oklahoma State's Josh Cooper; Arizona's Juron Criner; Michigan State's BJ Cunningham; Texas' Mike Davis; Northwestern's Jeremy Ebert (no Siskel from Illinois?); Houston's Patrick Edwards; Notre Dame's Michael Floyd; Arkansas State's Dwayne Frampton (be cool if he had the hair...); Texas A&M's Jeff Fuller; Wake Forest's Chris Givens; San Jose State's Noel Grigsby; Arkansas' Cobi Hamilton; Alabama's Darius Hanks; Rutgers' Mark Harrison; Miami of Ohio's Nick Harwell (Woody and Bo jointly roll over in their graves, Woody a little faster); Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins; South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery; Illinois' Al Jenkins; Tulsa's Damarius Johnson; SMU's Darius Johnson (see Beasley above); North Carolina's Dwight Jones; Cal's Marvin Jones; Bowling Green's Kamar Jorden; Washington's Jermaine Kearse; Georgia's Tavarres King; East Carolina's Lance Lewis; Nevada's Rishard Mathews; Alabama's Marquis Maze (all these WRs, you'd think Bama still had Stabler and Namath back there); Minnesota's DaJon McKnight; Iowa's Marvin McNutt; Missouri's TJ Moe; Penn State's Derrick Moye; Toledo's Eric Page; Kansas' Daymond Patterson; Hawaii's Royce Pollard; Ohio State's Devier Posey; Michigan's Roy Roundtree; Pitt's Mike Shanahan (can this one win anything big without an Elway?); Boise State's Tyler Shoemaker; UConn's Michael Smith; Oklahoma's Kenny Stills; Boston College's Bobby Swegert; Texas A&M's Ryan Swope; Texas Tech's Alex Torres; Duke's Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon; Oregon State's Markus Wheaton; Western Michigan's Jordon White; Central Michiga's Cody Wilson; Wahsington State's Marquess Wilson; Cincinnati's D.J. Woods; USC's Robert Woods; Arkansas' Jarius Wright; Baylor's Kendall Wright; Louisiana's Ladarius Green; Tulane's Ryan Grant; and LSU's Rueben Randall.
That's the list. Here's The Freddy Film.
There's an Ebert on this list from a Chicago-area school and you expect me to resist?