Shelby Hilliard reviews the backlash from East Carolina University receiver Justin Hardy being left off the list of Biletnikoff Award finalists.
(Image courtesy of the American Athletic Conference – www.facebook.com/AmericanConf )
(C+P) — The semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top wide receiver, were named Monday, and one of the biggest storylines since has been a name that wasn’t even on the list. That is not to say the 10 semifinalists are not having great seasons, they are but the omission of East Carolina’s Justin Hardy has left many confused, particularly the American Athletic Conferences’ commissioner Mike Aresco.
“We were extremely disappointed to learn that Justin Hardy of East Carolina was not chosen as a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award,” Aresco said in a statement on Wednesday. “While we understand that there are a number of deserving candidates for this honor, anyone who has seen Justin play this year would have to conclude that he is among the best receivers in the nation.”
From his point of view Hardy’s season warrants at the very least a spot on the semifinal list after he has compiled 1,002 receiving yards and seven touchdowns already in 2014. His point seems to have legs as Hardy has accumulated more yards and touchdowns than three of the semi-finalists.
Even though the award is for performance in an individual season, Aresco also made a point to acknowledge Hardy’s exceptional career in college as well.
“Quite simply, Justin Hardy will finish his career as one of the all-time greats in college football,” Aresco added. “He is on the cusp of becoming the NCAA FBS career receptions leader, breaking one of the game’s most important records, and he has done it with great class and dignity. He has had an outstanding season in every respect.”
Again, career numbers have no bearing on a player’s placement on such a list, but one could argue that is why a player like Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett made the list, despite having both fewer receiving yards and touchdowns than Hardy.
Aresco wasn’t the only one surprised or upset by Hardy’s absence from the list; his usually composed head coach stood up for his wideout during Monday’s news conference.
“He’s not!? That’s the most idiotic thing I have ever heard in my life that they would not put that young man on there,” Ruffin McNeill said when a reporter informed him that Hardy was not named a Biletnikoff semifinalist. “What are you looking for in that award? He is on the honor roll. On the field, he does it all – catches and blocks.”
Sure McNeill may be biased, since Hardy is one of his own, but he understands what it takes to be on the list almost better than anyone as he coached Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree when he won back-to-back Biletnikoff Awards in 2006-07.
“I’ve been around a two-time Biletnikoff winner. That’s why I can speak without hesitation on it,” said McNeill emphatically. “I’ve watched a two-time Biletnikoff winner in Michael Crabtree. Justin is not just a candidate. If I had never been around one, seen one, coached one or talked to one, then you could shut me up. But since I have been around one that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in my life.”
Argue with him if you dare, but for a man who is normally so calm and composed his strong stance on the issue makes Hardy’s omission look all the more strange.
Maybe the voters are punishing him for playing in an offense that throws it as often as the Pirates. Then again one could say the same about players such as West Virginia’s Kevin White who was named to the list. Or maybe they feel the competition in the American Athletic Conference isn’t as great as the teams the semi-finalists have faced. Again, it is hard to get behind that argument either as Hardy pulled in 21 receptions for 272 yards combined against the likes of South Eastern Conference member South Carolina and Atlantic Coast Conference members Virginia Tech and North Carolina.
In the end would he have won? Who knows, as it seems unlikely anyone will catch Alabama’s Amari Cooper, who already has an impressive 1,303 yards receiving to go along with 11 touchdowns, both of which lead all semi-finalists. But the fact remains he was having an outstanding season, one that statistically was better than multiple players who did make the list, making the outrage from ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill and AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco seems more than founded.
Hardy himself has not spoken on the issue, but no one should be surprised Saturday when he lets his play on the field do his talking versus Tulane in a very big way. Maybe this time, Biletnikoff Award or not, more people will hear it.