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Awards season is here, meaning best players might not be considered

Leading the best defense in the nation doesn't mean Max Bullough is up for awards. (USATSI)
Leading the best defense in the nation doesn't mean Max Bullough is up for awards. (USATSI)

Arguably the best tight end in college football isn't eligible to win the national award for the best tight end in college football.

That, and other oddities, once again remind us it is awards season. It is an unfair, quirky and -- at times unregulated -- process that salutes college football's best.

In the case of tight end, the best at this point is by far and away Texas Tech's Jace Amaro. Amaro is sixth nationally in receptions per game (10th in yards) having emerged as the most reliable target in rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury's amazing offense. More importantly, he is the only tight end listed by the NCAA in the top 64 in receiving.

But the John Mackey Award for best tight end only goes to those who line up as traditional tight ends.

“Traditional” is defined by the Mackey folks as a “true tight end' in the style of John Mackey, “play[ing] on the interior line with blocking responsibilities and possess[ing] the potential to play tight end on the professional level.”

Mackey, an NFL Hall of Famer, wanted it that way. The policy has continued almost 2 ½ years after his death.

Nevermind that “traditional” tight ends haven't played the way Mackey preferred since cave men rode dinosaurs (or something like that). The Mackey mindset ignores modern football since about, oh, about Kellen Winslow with the Chargers in the 1980s.

In fact, I would bet that at least half of the nation's 126 FBS teams split out tight ends. A lot of them on every play, like Texas Tech.

The game has changed but apparently the Mackey won't – in perpetuity. It's also troubling that a college award is being evaluated on a player's pro potential.

This shortsightedness isn't a new thing. The Mackey ignored Tulsa's Garrett Mills the year he set the NCAA record for catches by … a tight end. I know this because I was incredulous when I wrote about it. The Mackey remained firm despite the NCAA putting out a release acknowledging Mills's tight end achievement.

College football might be the only sport that doesn't wait until its season is half over to honor its best players. Davey O'Brien (best quarterback) semifinalists were due earlier this month. Since then Johnny Manziel has thrown for five touchdowns against Mississippi State and Jameis Winston's life has changed. Yes, both players are semifinalists but the point is much happens in the last month of the season, good and bad.

The Lou Groza Award (best kicker) released its list of semifinalists almost two weeks ago despite there being 23 kickers nationally who have one or no misses this season. With four weeks to go in the season, the nation's leaders in field goals per game – Niklas Sade of North Carolina State and Ryan Bustin of Texas Tech – are averaging all of 2.1 per contest.

Little secret: In the up tempo era, field goals have actually become less important. Washington State's Mike Leach loathes them. The three Groza finalists will be released later this month with two weeks left in the season. That will eliminate a large number of those perfect kickers and completely discount the value of the position.

There is every possibility that – after the Groza deadline -- some semi-anonymous kicker could nail five or six in a conference championship game to push his team into a BCS bowl. That'd be a season-defining moment enough for me. The Groza, though, would risk becoming like one of those beefy security guys guarding the velvet rope.

“Sorry, pal. Your name doesn't seem to be on the list.”

Ugh.

There are other examples. The Doak Walker (best running back) one year failed to consider the nation's leading rusher up the road at nearby North Texas. It more than complicated matters that rival SMU helped administrate the award.

The shame is that college football doesn't want to wait until the end of the season to honor its best players. Most of it has to do with getting on TV. The big awards show in December has made media slaves of everyone.

Voters, coaches, SIDs, especially the players who – see above – get shafted. Wasn't the point to honor the best players over an entire season, not the best players who fit a tight TV deadline before the season is completed?

But there's that deadline so Big Bad Cable Daddy has to know who's on the list long before the season is done. In its haste to meet that deadline, the Butkus Award (best linebacker) has no one from Michigan State on it. I'm no expert but the Butkus might want to drop a call to Mark Dantonio to get his input. All the Spartans' coach has done is assemble the nation's best defense – by far.

He might suggest a look at Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, arguably the Big Ten's top linebacking duo.

There are similar shortcomings by the folks who run the Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player). No players from the nation's best defense can win the award for the nation's best defensive player.

Double ugh.

There is a simple solution. Wait. Until. The. End. Of. The. Season. At least, wait until the end of the regular season. The Heisman does a laudable job. Final ballots are due the Monday after the conference championship games.

But the Stiff Arm is the rarity.

In a perfect world, the major awards wouldn't be decided until after the bowl games in January. How many break out – or break down – performances have we witnessed in the postseason?

This is relevant because of college football's small sample size. The Groza and others will be ignoring more than 20 percent of the season for some teams.

Fair? Of course not. But TV rules, fairness be damned.

It's sad that each year the awards that salute the best college football players, in the end, don't. They can't. Not with games still to play, heroes still to be made.

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