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AAC Preseason Position Previews: Punter

Plenty of talent returns, giving multiple teams a weapon that can flip the field position.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Our final installment of Preseason Position Previews is for those who can flip the field with one boot. Punters in the AAC had solid seasons in 2016, and many return this year. Once again, we use our same groupings: Room for Improvement, Wait and See, Second Tier, and Elite

“Room for Improvement” means exactly what you think, this team needs to get better or maybe has one returner or two but a lot of questions behind them.

“Wait and See” are teams that we’re not sold on, but have the talent or experience to be good. These teams just need time to get their players up to speed during fall camp/beginning of the season.

“Second Tier” are for teams that return valuable experience, but the depth behind them is questionable, and an injury to one or two starters could spell trouble.

“Elite” will be the top teams who have all-conference talent, and also have depth behind that talent who can step in should an injury occur.

Previous positions: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Kicker

Elite

1. Memphis: Even with limited work thanks to a powerful offense, Spencer Smith was one of the best in the country. His 45.1 yard average was good for seventh in college football. Fellow senior Nick Jacobs punted 12 times last year as well, should they need a backup.

2. USF: Another part of the Bulls success last year was their ability to flip the field with punting. Jonathan Hernandez averaged 41.2 yards per punt, while forcing 23 fair catches and landing 24 punts inside the 20. This type of field position will continue to help the defense improve as well.

Second Tier

3. Houston: Dane Roy had a solid season in 2016, punting 59 times with an average of 40.6 yards per punt. He also forced 26 fair catches and landed 17 punts inside of the 20, giving the Cougars a consistent option at punter.

4. Tulane: Zachary Block’s returns after punting 68 times for an average of 40.8 yards last season. He also doubled up by doing kickoffs as well, and the Green Wave hopes that he will be doing more kicking than punting this year.

5. Navy: Erik Harris punted just 10 times last year, but held an average of 45.1 yards per punt. Now that he doesn’t have to share punting duties, we will see if that average stays the same.

Wait and See

NCAA Football: Houston at Southern Methodist
Sackville (left) punted a lot last year, and the Mustangs are hoping to exchange that quantity for quality in 2017
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

6. SMU: Jamie Sackville punted 71 times last year, and while his average could use some work, he is definitely a smart player. Maybe it was muscle fatigue from punting so often, but that number should decrease as the offense improves.

7. Temple: Alex Starzyk was supposed to be the starter, but was suspended indefinitely without many details being released. Starzyk averaged 39 yards per punt with 16 punts landing inside the 20. Should he not return to the team, sophomore Aaron Boumerhi could take over.

8. Tulsa: Redford Jones could be doing double duty in the fall as kicker and punter with the departure of Dalton Parks. Sophomore Thomas Bennett will battle with Jones for the spot also.

Room for Improvement

9. UCF: Caleb Houston punted 74 times last year, tied for tenth most in the nation, and his leg will be missed. Junior Mack Loudermilk punted six times last season, but will need to improve upon his 35 yards per punt average if he wants the job.

10. Cincinnati: The Bearcats find themselves looking for a new punter after Sam Geraci announced he was transferring to play elsewhere as a graduate transfer. With no experience returning from 2016, this position will be a wide open battle.

11. ECU: Worth Gregory punted 51 times last season, and whoever replaces him might double that amount. All jokes aside, the new punter is going to find themselves on the field frequently with the offensive turnover.

12. UConn: Redshirt freshman Brett Graham needs to prove he can be better than his spring numbers. He punted twice in the spring game for an average of 38 yards, which is rough considering no one was rushing him.