Fewer than 50 players are in the running for the 2017 Biletnikoff Award, which goes annually to the best pass catcher in the nation.
That one is from Fresno State, one of the NCAA’s more offensively challenged teams a year ago, should be no surprise.
KeeSean Johnson, named this week as one of 45 on the award’s preseason watch list, headlines a Bulldogs receiving corps that should be a strength for a team looking to bounce back from a 1-11 season.
Johnson had 66 catches for 773 yards and six touchdowns in 2016 despite Fresno State finishing last in the conference in passing rating.
One sign that he could reach another level came in the spring, when he checked in for camp checked in at 204 pounds, up from 190 a year ago without compromising any quickness.
“People should be on the watch out for No. 3,” sophomore quarterback Chason Virgil said during camp, “that’s all I’m saying.”
Fresno State has one of the best sets of wideouts in the Mountain West Conference with 125 returning receptions in a group that includes Johnson (66), junior Jamire Jordan (45) and senior Delvon Hardaway (10).
Senior Da’Mari Scott, who caught 24 passes in 2015 before redshirting last season after an academic snafu, is another interesting piece as is 6-foot-4 junior Nanami Parker, a walk-on from American River College who arrived in time to enroll and impress during the spring practices.
Johnson is the third Bulldogs player to earn preseason award consideration.
Senior Aaron Mitchell was named to the 70-man watch list for the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the top center.
Kody Kroening, also a senior, is on the Lou Groza list as one of the nation’s top kickers after making it to the semifinal round last season. Thirty players were named this preseason.