Our position rankings conclude with the specialists, kicks, punters, and return men. Effectiveness in the kicking game can mean wins. Struggle with special teams and you'll be taking losses. We tend to forget how often games come down to field position, a key turnover, or a well executed fake. We overlook kicking until the game comes down to a walk-on kicker making a field goal in the waning seconds. We present the specialists.
1. Texas A&M
Texas A&M has become known for punters. Not exactly what you'd like to be known for, but it's something. Shane Tripuka is the next in the lineage. Tripuka, a senior averaged 42.9 yards per punt and put 27 inside the 20 yard line. He hit a career long 59 yard punt three times last year.
The Aggies Daniel LaCamera made 17 of 24 kicks last season including a long of 49. Became the fifth Aggie kicker to surpass 100 points in a season.
In the return game the Aggies have a dangerous weapon in Christian Kirk. Kirk averaged over 23 yards a return and three punts for touchdowns. He averaged 28 yards on kickoff returns. Don't expect the Aggies to make the junior the focus of the return game, but he's available if necessary.
Michael Dickson is known to his new head coach simply as "the punter." Herman is a jokester of course, Dickson is a weapon. He averaged a school record 47 yards a punt in 2016. He's a frontrunner for the Ray Guy Award. Herman would like to use him less than the 65 attempts he booted in 2016. But if called upon, Dickson will undoubtedly kick it a long way.
JUCO transfer Joshua Rowland will get the first chance at holding down the kicking job. Rowland was inconsistent in the spring, at one point drawing the ire of Tom Herman for his inability to thread the goal posts. He's got potential so he's just like everyone else in Austin.
Texas used burner Devin Duvernay in the return game, he averaged 21 yards per kickoff return in 2016. Armanti Foreman returned punts when graduated senior Jacorey Warrick wasn't. He averaged just under nine yards a return. Expect Texas to audition some other, younger return men in 2017.
3. Texas Tech
Clayton Hatfield took fourteen attempts last season and missed just one, a forty yarder against Kansas State. Hatfield tied for fourth in the FBS is field goal percentage at 92%. He connected on a long of 51 yards as a freshman in 2015.
At punter Tech is hoping to get a better season out of junior punter Michael Barden. Barden averaged 38 yards a punt last season in 43 attempts. Barden located eleven punts inside the 20 and six inside the ten.
Cameron Batson and Keke Coutee are capable return men. Coutee will be the featured receiver this year, so he may not get as many touches on special teams but if he does, he's dangerous.
Baylor has one of the more consistent specialists in the Roundup in Drew Galitz. Galitz averaged 41 yards per punt and handled the primary kickoff duties for the Bears in 2016.
The Bears will be breaking in a new placekicks as Chris Callahan has packed up and moved north to Purdue of all places. Callahan lacked the consistency last season. So much so that midway through the season Baylor reopened the kicking competition between Callahan, Connor Martin, and Galitz. Callahan ultimately prevailed but, again, decided to leave for Purdue. Martin gets the first crack at the kicking job, he kicked off twice in 2016.
Baylor's Tony Nicholson showed quite the acumen for returning punts and kickoffs as a redshirt freshman. The Grand Prairie product averaged eighteen yards a kickoff return and over ten per punt return.
The Roadrunners return both their kicker and punter from 2016, that's not bad news. Punter Yannis Roustas averaged a very steady 42 yards per punt. Roustas put eleven punts out at 50 yards or longer with a long of 60.
Victor Falcon is back kicking, he was 43 of 43 on PATS and 12-17 on field goals with a long of 43 yards. He also handles kickoff duties for the Roadrunners.
Brett Winnegan has been the primary returner at UTSA since 2015. The junior from Pearland Dawson averaged 23.9 yards on kickoff returns last year. Matt Guidry played a nice role as a returner as a true freshman last year.
Josh Williams has made a nice transition from punter his freshman year to placekicker the last two. The junior from Rowlett connected on 77% of his field goals with a career long of 44 yards. As a kickoff man 13% of his kicks went for touchbacks.
At punter SMU went and found themselves an Australian and then overused him. Jamie Sackville punted 71 times in 2016, he may have the deadleg if Aussies are prone to it. He put together a nice season, average 39.6 yards per punt and putting 21 inside the 20. According to his bio he lettered in cricket and lawn bowling at Caulfield Grammar School in Melbourne.
James Proche and Kevin Johnson each averaged 18 yards per kickoff return last season. Proche wasn't as effective returning punts, averaging 3.2 yards.
TCU played a couple of kickers last year, as is the case when you play more than one kicker, results were mixed. TCU was replacing Jaden Oberkrom who made nearly 80% of his kicks over four years. Brandon Hatfield and Ryan Graf split duties last season. Graf went five for six and Hatfield was thirteen of nineteen. Competition is open this fall and will include Johnathan Song who might have been the answer last year were it not for a quadricep injury.
Only 22 of Adam Nunez' 72 punts were returned last season. The number mitigates his 38 yard average. He put 26 punts inside the 20. His efficiency was good enough to garner him Honorable Mention All Big 12 recognition.
If TCU ever wants a big play KaVontae Turpin is their guy. He returned a punt for a TD and averaged 12 yards per return. On kickoffs that number shot up to 28. If TCU doesn't want to expose him in the kick game then Desmon White can handle duties.
Houston went and found themselves an Aussie to do the punting as well. Dane Roy is roughly the size of a defensive end or power forward at 6-7 and 240 pounds. He averaged 40 yards a punt put 20 inside the 20 and hit six of 50 yards or more.
The Coogs look to turn the kicking over Dalton Witherspoon, a JUCO transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. Witherspoon hit a 58 yarder in junior college so he's got a big leg.
Collin Wilder and D'Eriq King highlight the returning punt returners, though neither averaged more than five yards a return. King moves to quarterback so its doubtful that he continues to play in the return gamed. The same can be said for kickoff returners as Brandon Wilson took most of the kicks last season. He's moved onto the NFL. Dillon Birden will get a look returning kicks heading into fall camp.
Former walk-on Haden Tobola will return to handle the kicking for Rice. The junior from West connected on 59 of 62 extra points last season. He hit on 7 of 11 field goals with a long of 44.
Jack Fox returns to handle the punting chores. Fox was Honorable Mention all CUSA after landing 27 punts inside the 20. He also hit thirteen punts of 50 plus yards. He handles kickoffs for the Owls.
Twin Astin and Austin Walter each returned kickoffs along with Nashon Ellerbe. Ellerbe averaged 27 yards a return in his five attempts. Austin Walter averaged 19 yards per return. Ellerbe was the primary punt returner as well. The sophomore from Trinity Christian in Frisco averaged four yards a return.
10. North Texas
We openly campaigned for Eric Keena for Heisman before it was in vogue to back a punter. Now everyone's doing it. Sadly our efforts went unrewarded. Keena was a real field position weapon and was rewarded with First Team All-CUSA honors.
The Mean Green went out and signed Alvin Kenworthy a JUCO punter from Kilgore . He averaged 36 yards per punt and also handled kicking duties for the Rangers. They also have Blake Patterson on campus. He redshirted last year out of Cedar Ridge in Round Rock.
At kicker North Texas returns Trevor Moore. Moore made nine of his thirteen attempts last year. Moore has made 99 straight extra points in his career as well. He was Honorable Mention All CUSA last season.
Turner Smiley returns to shag punts. He had a respectable 9 yard average last year. He also averaged 21 yards on three kickoff returns in 2016. Nothing concrete but true freshman Tre Siggers seems like he might get a look on returns this fall.
Alan Luna is a pretty good punter. He was named Honorable Mention All-CUSA last season. He averaged 41 yards a punt, boomed a 69 yarder and hit nine of 50 yards or more.
At kicker the Miners lose Jay Mattox, a pretty reliable weapon. They'll look to a couple of unknowns - either Andrew Zubia or Jason Filley - to fill the void. Both are local products, Filley from Coronado and Zubia from Franklin. Zubia kicked at NAIA Benedictine College before coming to UTEP last fall.
UTEP has options at the return positions. Terry Juniel averaged a healthy 9 yards a punt return and eighteen yards on kickoff returns. Sophomore Walter Dawn was effective on kickoff returns as well. Eddie Sinegal has experience in the return game as well.
12. Texas State
Texas State returns kicker Marcus Ripley from their 2016 squad. The redshirt sophomore from Klein Oak connected of five of six field goal attempts and even averaged 38 yards on eight punts in 2016. The Bobcats must replace Lumi Kaba, a very effective punter who saw the majority of the action last year. He also held down kickoff duties.
James Sherman also kicked last year and hit the season long for the Bobcats, a 39 yarder. He also averaged 37 yards in limited punting action. Sherman should step into kickoff duties in 2017.
The Bobcats lose their best returning in Brandon McDowell who left the team in the spring. He returned 41 of the 76 punts and kickoffs directed at Texas State last season. Tyler Watts backed him up on punt returns last season. Defensive back Jordan Eastling will get a look at kickoff returner as well. He averaged 18 yards on 11 returns last season.