Special teams is often overlooked, or at least undervalued, in the overall analysis of a football team’s season. In a close game it could be the difference, and in a conference with more parity than in recent years, special teams could play an important part in the final conference standings standings.
1. Cincinnati - Ralph David Abernathy led the league with 1,034 kickoff return yards (1 touchdown) in 2011. Pat O'Donnell had the best average at 43.8 yds. and was named to the watch list for the Ray Guy Award. Tony Miliano (17 of 25 FGs) is back for his sophomore year at kicker and should be a stable presence. Anthony McClung should return punts. This unit could be the difference in more than one game in 2012.
2. Temple fans are rejoicing for a variety of reasons this week: (1) the addition of Boston College transfer Montel Harris as a feature back has given the Owl’s offense an instant lift; (2) the move most likely means that running back Matt Brown will be able to remain a return specialist; and (3) the Owls are not in the basement for yet another BECB preseason unit ranking. Temple solid special teams play last season. Brown averaged 25.1 yards per kickoff return and 10. 1 yards on punt returns. Kicker Brandon McManus was 13 of 20 on field goal attempts including a 53 yarder. He missed only one of 32 PATs and even punted 46 times for a 45.76 yard average.
3. UConn lost its all-time leading scorer and the league’s best field goal kicker in Dave Teggart. It has punter Cole Wagner (41.1 avg.) and return specialist Nick Williams (1,043 total return yds.) back on the roster though. Chad Christen handled the kickoffs last year and is in line to kick field goals although highly touted recruit Bobby Puyol should contend for the job too.
4. Pitt has yet another coaching staff, so it remains to be seen who will handle returns. Buddy Jackson (543 yds., departed) and Corey Davis (359 yds.) shared kickoff returns while Ronald Jones had the most punt return yards (93) for the Panthers. Their punter, Matt Yolic (41.2 yds.), and kicker, Kevin Harper (21 of 31 in FGs including a 52 yarder) are both veterans.
5. Syracuse kicker Ross Krautman hit 15 of 19 field goals last season … and one very controversial PAT. He is a veteran and should be a reliable contributor for the Orange this year. Jeremiah Kobena is back again to return kicks, and punter Jonathan Fisher (39.3 avg.) is also back on the roster. With their veterans returning this unit should be solid though not dominant.
6. Rutgers - It’s ironic that the three teams arguably on the top echelon of the league this year may have the most work to do on special teams. The Knights lost four-year placekicker San San Te (20 of 310 including 50-yarder) and will turn to freshman Kyle Federico to handle the kicking chores. Punter Justin Doerner (40.3 avg.) is back though, along with returner Jeremy Deering (530 yds., 1 touchdown). The unit has been at the top of the FBS teams in blocked kicks the past two seasons, but will be under new coaches as Robb Smith has assumed the role of defensive coordinator.
7. South Florida's Maikon Bonani is on the Lou Groza Award watch list for best placekicker. Last year he was 19 of 26 in FGs. Punter Justin Brockhaus-Kann had a 36.3 yard average. Terrance Mitchell and (67 yards) and Lindsey Lamar (817 yards) returned punts and kicks respectively. While the individual performances last year were middle of the pack, the fact that four veterans are returning bodes well for the Bulls.
8. Louisville graduated kicker Chris Philpott (12-18, including 52-yarder) and punter Josh Blesser (38.4 avg.). They are likely to be replaced by redshirt freshman John Wallace in a dual role, although Ryan Johnson may win the punter's job. Jeremy Wright and Adrian Bushell could be in the returner's role, but the Cards loss of two veterans will be an impact.