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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Dede Westbrook Building a Bid for the Biletnikoff

After a blistering three-game stretch to start Big 12 play, Dede Westbrook has grabbed the nation’s attention and is on the watch list to award college football’s best wide receiver.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the 2016 season, Dede Westbrook was nowhere to be found on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, college football’s most prestigious honor for a wide receiver. He has since been added after exploding for 574 yards and eight touchdowns on 26 receptions through the last three games — a pace so staggering it’s captured the attention of fans and pundits across the country. The senior speedster, seemingly back to full health after being hampered by a hamstring injury through September, sits among the nation’s best with 43 receptions, 728 yards and eight touchdowns through six games. The field burner is now among elite company following his stellar three-game stretch.

Coming into today’s game, Dede the Great ranked 21st nationally in receiving yards but is knocking on the top five after a nine-catch, 184-yard, three-touchdown outburst against the Big 12’s best defensive unit in the Kansas State Wildcats. Sooner fans know without doubt the JUCO transfer from Cameron, Texas, has speed for days. But with a healthy hammy and an offseason spent fine-tuning his route-running skills, Westbrook has fully emerged as the next great Oklahoma wide receiver in the tradition of former greats Mark Clayton, Ryan Broyles and Sterling Shepard.

Powered by a flourishing run game that is the cornerstone of the Oklahoma attack, it has been a healthy Westbrook’s singular talent and dynamic field-stretching ability that’s transformed the Sooners’ offense into the lethal juggernaut many expected to see all season. If Mark Andrews was originally thought to be Baker Mayfield’s potential go-to target coming into 2016, Westbrook has since sped away in blinding speed with that title and earned his quarterback’s full trust and confidence as the team’s no. 1 receiving option.

But we all know awards aren’t handed out in October. So here’s a rundown of some other major candidates for the prestigious Biletnikoff Award.

James Washington (Junior), Oklahoma State

(6 games, 36 receptions, 731 yards, 6 touchdowns, 20.3 yards per reception)

Iowa State v Oklahoma State Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images

In the land known for wild offense and video-game passing numbers, it’s only fitting that Westbrook will face stiff competition for any receiving awards from a few counterparts within the Big 12, beginning with Oklahoma State’s James Washington, the conference’s current leader in receiving. Washington’s 20.3 yards per catch average is among the nation’s best, with his longest play coming on a 91-yard score against Pitt in his best game of the season — a game in which he finished with a total of 296 yards and two touchdowns following a weather delay in Stillwater. Washington has been the Big 12’s lone consistent receiving threat week to week so far this season, but Westbrook is fast closing in on the Poke’s top spot.

Jonathan Giles (Sophomore), Texas Tech

(6 games, 43 receptions, 750 yards, 9 touchdowns, 17.5 yards per reception)

Louisiana Tech v Texas Tech Photo by John Weast/Getty Images

Texas Tech’s Jonathan Giles, next in the long line of Red Raider stat-stuffers on the perimeter, enjoyed another strong afternoon with 136 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions — but in a home loss against West Virginia. As long as a healthy Patrick Mahomes is at the helm, expect Giles to run up big-time receiving totals, including when the matador Oklahoma secondary visits Lubbock next week. A shutdown day from Jordan Thomas next week (that statement looks hilarious when I see it in type), and Giles is likely eliminated from Biletnikoff consideration.

Chad Hansen (Junior), California

(6 games, 59 receptions, 770 yards, 8 touchdowns, 13.1 yards per reception)

NCAA Football: Utah at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Cal’s Chad Hansen has been putting up monster numbers, especially through September — posting ridiculous yardage totals of 160, 190, 196 and 110 against Hawai’i, San Diego State, Texas and Arizona State respectively — before being held to four catches and 16 yards in last week’s loss at Oregon State. With the Golden Bears attack sure to air it out all season, Hansen could continue putting up the numbers, but it remains to be seen if they’ll come in marquee contests or against the Pac-12’s lesser foes. On the season, Hansen is currently fourth overall in the nation in receiving yards with 770 through six games.

Zay Jones (Senior), East Carolina

(6 games, 84 receptions, 840 yards, 3 touchdowns, 10.0 yards per reception)

East Carolina v Virginia Tech Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

Isaiah “Zay” Jones of the East Carolina Pirates, Lincoln Riley’s old stomping grounds, is enjoying a video-game season. Check out Jones’ ridiculous numbers:

The competition in Jones’ conference is a notch below what some of the other Biletnikoff candidates face on a weekly basis, and ECU’s offensive system consistently produces high passing numbers. So, it’s hard to say if his success would be the same against higher-level competition. Zay Jones and the Pirates make a trip to Tulsa on November 5 to take on the ‘Hurricane for what looks to be a fun shootout.

Amba Etta-Tawo (Senior), Syracuse

(7 games, 56 receptions, 930 yards, 6 touchdowns, 17.2 yards per reception)

Colgate v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The nation’s current leader in the wide receiver clubhouse is Syracuse big-play monster Amba Etta-Tawo, who after today has 56 receptions, 930 yards and six touchdowns on the season. Seemingly coming from out of nowhere, Etta-Tawo, a graduate transfer from Maryland, stands at a towering 6’2” 202 pounds, and has developed into a complete receiving threat after being stifled — if not completely hidden away — in an anemic Terrapin passing game for his first three college seasons. The versatile playmaker has fit right in with the Orange and Dino Babers’ up-tempo scheme, consistently displaying the ability to stretch the field and use his strength and athleticism to dominate opposing cornerbacks — making him a fast riser in NFL draft boards. Etta-Tawo, if he keeps up his blazing early-season pace, will likely go into December the favorite for the Biletnikoff. A road date at Clemson looms on November 5. Go off in Death Valley and the award is his.

Unless Dede just keeps going deep, deep...

Bye bye, defense.