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Time to add Jalen Robinette to Biletnikoff Award watch list

Allan Dranberg/Icon Sportswire

Attention Biletnikoff Award committee members: It’s not too late to add Air Force senior wide receiver Jalen Robinette to your watch list for the nation’s best wide receiver.

My hunch is Fred Biletnikoff, the Florida State and Oakland Raiders great who is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, would be impressed by both Robinette’s production and interest from NFL scouts.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder from Bexley, Ohio, leads the nation in yards per catch at 26.9. The third-year starter also became Air Force’s career leader in reception yards with 2,410 when he caught three balls for 104 yards in last week’s 31-12 win at Army. With 100 yard games against Navy and Army, he helped the Falcons sweep their rivals to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.

“All that stuff is outside noise to me,” Robinette told me. “Awards don’t help the team with our performance. Then again, it would be a treat to be associated with such a great award. But when it comes to awards, I don’t pay much attention. Week in and week out, our goal is to go 1-0.”

Naturally, most preseason nominees for the award start with names plucked from brand-name schools and teams known for tossing the ball around. Maybe for that reason Robinette was overlooked while playing in a triple-option offense, although the reality is the days when the run-oriented academies don’t have a legitimate big-play receiver are an era gone by. Navy’s Jamir Tillman (6-foot-4, 212 pounds) and Army’s Edgar Poe (6-foot-4, 216 pounds) are crucial to their teams’ offenses.

Robinette also isn’t a flash in the pan. He first established himself as a sophomore when he caught 43 balls for 806 yards and four touchdowns with 18.7 yards per catch. As a junior he grabbed 26 for 641 yards for five TDs and 24.7 yards per reception. His 2015 season included a career best single game with seven catches for 210 yards to help beat Utah State that helped Air Force win the Mountain West Conference Mountain Division title.

Through nine games this season, he has 27 receptions for 726 yards and four touchdowns.

Robinette’s 45-yard catch in the Army game bumped him past the school career total of Ernie Jennings (2,392, 1968-70). Robinette is second to Jennings in both career catches (112 to 148) and career TDs (16 to 28), but Jennings played in an era when Air Force threw the ball. That was prior to Fisher DeBerry bringing the triple-option and consistent winning to Colorado Springs.

 Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has depended on Jalen Robinette for big plays. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has depended on Jalen Robinette for big plays. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

The Army performance was Robinette’s fourth 100-yard game of the season after three straight against Navy (five catches, 163 yards, one touchdown, long of 75), Wyoming (3-101-1, 75) and New Mexico (7-182-1, 53). The Biletnikoff people should have noticed him by the start of the season and added him to their updated lists.

But the Oct. 11 additions lacked Robinette following his numbers posted against Navy on Oct. 1 and Wyoming on Oct. 8; same with the updated Nov. 1 list after New Mexico on Oct. 15 and Tuesday’s updated list after the Nov. 5 Army game.

Two names that were added on Tuesday were Washington junior John Ross (44 catches, 742 yards, 14 TDs, long of 67) and Akron senior Jojo Natson (53-736-10, 46). Although Robinette doesn’t have their catch and touchdown totals, he is on par with them in yards (726) and tops them in longest reception. He has two 75-yarders that better the longest of Ross and Natson.

The comparisons are not to discredit Ross and Natson. They deserve their place on the list. It’s to spell out that Robinette belongs among them and the rest of the 76 total nominees.

For added perspective, note Robinette’s production despite the disparity in pass attempts. Washington’s quarterbacks have completed 159-of-234 passes and 2,416 yards and Akron’s QBs 194-of-345 for 2,735. Air Force (45-of-108, 1,206 yards) QBs have completed only a third to a quarter of those schools’ pass attempts.

Robinette’s NFL body and production also has drawn the interest from pro scouts despite his five-year military commitment as an Air Force officer upon graduation.

“I try to keep my mind off (the NFL),” Robinette said. “That can wait. We still have games to play. Maybe in January when I return to school that’s something I can focus on and get back into training.”

Biletnikoff Award nominee or not, Robinette already has his name on an exclusive list for another type national honor. When Air Force won Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, the Falcons’ seniors earned invitations to a White House ceremony in the spring.

“Being able to get the trophy back shows you hard work pays off,” Robinette said. “It’s great feeling knowing all the hard work in the offseason paid off, and we played exceptional games against Navy and Army.”

Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter @shanny4055

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