Back in May, Brian Bennett wrote about the tight end position being a potential strength for the Big Ten in 2012. Last season wasn't a banner year for Big Ten tight ends, but the combination of returning players and new coaches (Bill O'Brien, Urban Meyer) who feature tight ends in their offenses suggests an uptick is on the way.
The John Mackey Award selection committee evidently agrees.
Six Big Ten tight ends appear on the preseason watch list for the Mackey Award released Tuesday. Only the SEC (7) has more candidates than the Big Ten.
Here's the B1G contingent:
Ted Bolser, Indiana, junior
C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa, junior
Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin, junior
Kyler Reed, Nebraska, senior
Dion Sims, Michigan State, junior
Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State, senior
Other than Pedersen -- and, in a strange way, Stoneburner (14 receptions, 7 TDs) -- none of these players had big numbers in 2011. But all six could have much bigger roles in their respective offenses this fall. Fiedorowicz, Sims, Pedersen and Stoneburner all play for teams lacking many proven weapons at wide receiver. New Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis has raved about Fiedorowicz, and while Stoneburner isn't with the Buckeyes now because of his June 2 arrest, he's expected back for the season and should have a bigger role.
Reed had a nice year in 2010, recording a team-high eight touchdown receptions, and while his numbers dipped last fall, he should be more comfortable in the offense this season. Fellow Huskers tight end Ben Cotton didn't make the watch list despite putting up similar numbers to Reed's in 2011.
Like Reed, Bolser had a bigger year in 2010 (27 catches, 405 yards, 5 TDs) than in 2011. But like Reed, Bolser will be in the second year of a new offensive system and should see his production increase.
One intriguing question is whether Penn State will have any tight ends in consideration by the end of the season. New Lions coach Bill O'Brien loved to feature the tight end position as New England Patriots offensive coordinator. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Illinois' Jon Davis or Evan Wilson work their way into contention.
The Mackey semifinalists will be announced Nov. 12 and the finalists on Nov. 19. The winner will be announced Dec. 6 at the Home Depot College Football Awards.
Minnesota's Matt Spaeth (2006) is the last Big Ten winner of the Mackey Award.