With the 2012 college football season less than two months away from kicking off, the watch lists for every award are slowly being released. The most recent list to be released is for the John Mackey Award, which is given to the best tight end in college football.
The award was first handed out in 2000, and is in honor of former Syracuse and NFL Hall of Famer, John Mackey.
With many great players on the list, it will be interesting to see who actually steps up this season and walks away with the hardware.
Here are the top 10 candidates for the 2012 John Mackey Award.
You have to like the position that Clemson tight end Brandon Ford is in. He plays for an explosive offense that has many weapons, which will give him favorable matchups. He has great size at 6'4" and 220 pounds, but also has the speed of a wide receiver.
Ford finished last season with 14 receptions for 166 yards and two touchdowns as a backup to Dwayne Allen. Now that he is no longer around, Ford's playing time will increase, along with his offensive production.
Jake Stoneburner is an interesting case because he has all of the talent to win this award; he is also in the right situation under head coach Urban Meyer. But he recently had his scholarship taken away after being arrested. Will be back on the field when the season starts, or will he miss significant time that costs him a chance at this award all together?
Stoneburner has 37 career receptions for 445 yards and nine touchdowns, and was going to be a bigger part of this Ohio State offense in 2012.
Chris Gragg really stepped up his junior season, racking up 41 receptions for 518 yards and two touchdowns. In his first two seasons combined, Gragg totaled just nine catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Now with Arkansas looking for receivers to step up, the senior tight end will be a reliable option for Tyler Wilson and this Razorback offense.
Joseph Fauria finished second on the team with 39 receptions and 481 receiving yards last season. His six receiving touchdowns were the most by a Bruin since 2005. He will have an expanded role in 2012, and with his great size at 6'8" 252 pounds, he will give UCLA quarterbacks an easy target to throw the ball to.
Stanford may have lost Andrew Luck at quarterback, but they have a nice 1-2 punch combination at tight end. Levine Toilolo will likely get the most looks due to his ridiculous size at 6'8", 268 pounds. Toilolo caught 25 passes for 343 yards and six touchdowns last season. Look for those numbers to improve with another year under his belt, especially with Coby Fleener now playing in the NFL.
Jacob Pedersen was a Mackey Award semifinalist last season, finishing the year with 30 receptions for 356 yards and eight touchdowns. Pedersen is the complete package at the tight end position, as he can block just as effectively as he can go down the field and help put points on the board.
More will be expected from Pedersen, as the Badgers lost many key contributors on the offensive side of the ball.
Gavin Escobar is a mismatch for any defense trying to cover him. He is strong like a tight end, but runs like a wide receiver and is 6'6", 245 pounds. It is difficult for any team trying to cover him, which is why he finished his sophomore season with 51 receptions for 780 yards and seven touchdowns.
He will have to step up even more now that the Aztecs lost a few key offensive players, but that should not be an issue for this guy.
Philip Lutzenkirchen may not have the impressive numbers that some of these other players have, but he is as sure-handed as any of them. He has only caught 44 passes throughout his three-year career at Auburn, but 14 of those receptions have gone for touchdowns.
He will enter the 2012 season as the No. 1 target for the Tigers' starting quarterback and should end up having his most successful season yet.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a two-sport athlete at Washington, but has an extremely bright future on the gridiron. As a freshman last season, Jenkins hauled in 41 passes for 538 yards and six touchdowns. He is a massive target at 6'6" 258 pounds, and should have a more productive season in 2012.
His 538 receiving yards is good for second all-time in Washington history for a true freshman.
Tyler Eifert was a Mackey Award finalist last season, but didn't win the award, although he did end up breaking the Notre Dame single-season records for receptions and receiving yards for a tight end. Eifert finished the year with 63 receptions for 803 yards and seven touchdowns.
This season, the Notre Dame coaching staff will look to move the senior around a bit more and try to maximize his potential. Expect an even bigger season from Eifert, especially with wide receiver Malcolm Floyd no longer around.