Fresno State senior Jared Rice for a second year in a row has landed a spot on the watch list for the John Mackey Award, which is presented annually to the outstanding tight end in college football.
It is the second major award watch list for the senior from Modesto, who is one of just four tight ends up for the Biletnikoff Award.
And, it only hints at the role Rice could play this season in a Bulldogs offense that is replacing quarterback Marcus McMaryion as well as wideouts KeeSean Johnson, Jamire Jordan and Michiah Quick; first, third and seventh on the team in receptions a year ago when Fresno State was winning a Mountain West Conference title in a 12-2 season.
Rice was No. 2 in receptions and receiving yards behind only Johnson, who ended his career as the Bulldogs’ all-time leader in both statistical categories.
Rice again could be an every-down threat for the Bulldogs and quarterback Jorge Reyna, creating mismatches with his length (Rice is 6-foot-5), speed and athleticism.
Rice last season caught 55 passes – 21 on first down, 25 on second down and nine on third down. He averaged 12.1 yards per catch and 31 of his receptions resulted in a first down for the Bulldogs, a higher percentage (56.4) than even Johnson (54.7).
The second-team All-Mountain West Conference selection also had three touchdowns.
The 55 receptions ranked fourth among FBS tight ends and his 664 receiving yards was sixth.
Boise State junior John Bates, Colorado State junior Cameron Butler, San Diego State senior Parker Houston and Colorado State sophomore Trey McBride also are on the Mackey Award watch list representing the Mountain West.
San Jose State tight end Josh Oliver, the first-team all-conference pick last season, was a senior and a third-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Mackey Award winner will be announced on Dec. 11 and presented with the Mackey Award during the Home Depot College Football Awards Show on Dec. 12.
The preseason watch lists continue to roll out next week with the Thorpe Award and Butkus Award lists on Monday, the Outland Trophy and Nagurski Award on Tuesday, the Lou Groza and Ray Guy awards on Wednesday, the Horning Award and Wuerffel Trophy on Thursday and the Walter Camp Award on Friday.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada