Kickers and punters are football players too. Just ask our friend Satchel Ziffer, a former specialist for Old Dominion and one of our pawdcast personalities we have at Underdog Dynasty.
These guys often get overlooked, but are repeatedly the difference between a win and loss. Former Memphis Tigers kicker Jake Elliott broke several records when he hit a 61-yard, walk-off field goal for the Eagles last season. They also get all the blame when what most would consider a “chip shot” ends up costing them the game.
Punters are passed over even more, but their impact on the game is equally important. A ball landing inside the 20 opposed to the end zone is a difficult task. A terrible punt sets the opponent up with better field position.
Elliott was obviously a special talent, one that the AAC is lacking entering the 2018 season. However, some teams are in much better kicking situations than others. Some programs have lost both specialists from a year ago. Few are returning both with experience.
This is how we have been breaking up the conference into: Elite, Second Tier, Wait and See, and Room for Improvement.
Room for Improvement: Your team can definitely get better. Even if your team has a returning starter, there’s still plenty of room for growth.
Wait and See: Most likely, your team is going through a transition to a new starter. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just means the new face has to prove themselves.
Second Tier: Good not great. The players aren’t elite yet, but may be right on the doorstep.
Elite: The best of the best. Most likely competing for an All-Conference spot. Also helps to have depth at the position.
2018 Position Reviews: QB, RB, WR/TE, OL, DL, LB, DB
UCF: The reigning champions won’t skip a beat here as they welcome back both their specialists whom made second-team All-AAC. Matthew Wright returns for his senior year after finishing second in the American in scoring. So does Mac Loudermilk, who is coming off his first season as a full-time starter. He’s also arguably the most outspoken punter in the nation with his celebrations after good punts.
Houston: Caden Novikoff was the only kicker to make every extra point attempt and also finished second in field goal percentage (80 percent). He beat out JUCO transfer Dalton Witherspoon for the job. The Coogs also bring back junior Dane Roy, who averaged 41.8 yards per punt.
Temple: Ranked No. 1 entering 2017, Aaron Boumerhi was the primary kicker, but underperformed, making just 15-of-23 field goal attempts. He had competition from Austin Jones, who was 4-for-5 on his attempts last year, but Jones transferred to Alabama. Geoff Collins will need to replace Alex Starzyk, a four-year starter at punter for the Owls.
SMU: The Mustangs will have both their guys back, but neither was spectacular a year ago. Josh Williams missed five extra points and was just 70 percent on field goal attempts. Jamie Sackville - a great name for a football player - was middle of the pack in much of the punting categories.
Wait and See
Memphis: Many expected the Tigers to have a huge hole to fill with Elliott going to the NFL, but they found their replacement in freshman Riley Patterson. He hit on 63 of his 64 extra point attempts, but he just needs to be more consistent after making just 11 of his 16 field goal attempts. They will need to find someone to handle the punt duties as both Spencer Smith and Nick Jacobs are gone.
Tulsa: Redford Jones finished his career as the second-leading scorer in AAC history with 319 points and will need to be replaced. Thomas Bennett is back after playing in his first season of college football, following a transfer from Baylor.
ECU: We named Austin Barnes our All-AAC punter last season, but he’s no longer with the Pirates. Jake Verity hasn’t been that impressive in his short time in college football as he is 17-of-27 on field goal attempts in his collegiate career.
USF: Emilio Nadelmen led the conference in field goals made (21) and percentage (84 percent), earning him All-AAC honors, but he’s longer with the program. Neither is Jonathan Hernandez, last year’s punter. The Bulls have a ton of turnover at a lot of positions heading into 2018.
Room for Improvement
UConn: Brett Graham is back at punter, but his 38.8 average per punt was the lowest in the AAC. Meanwhile, Michael Tarbutt scored the least points of qualified kickers, but that has more to do with the Huskies’ inept offense.
Cincinnati: The good: Punter James Smith was a first-team All-AAC selection as a true freshman. The bad: three Bearcats kickers went a combined 9-of-17 on field goal tries and also missed three extra points.
Tulane: 10. That’s the number of field goals the Green Wave attempted all of last season. Zachary Block finished with the second-worst punt average in the AAC. There is definitely room for improvement here, but it would likely come from a newcomer as everyone is back for another year.
Navy: The Mids are without-a-doubt at the bottom of this list. Sure, the offense they operate results in few chances for punter Owen White, but three kickers, including White, were a combined 10-of-18 on three-point tries. Bennett Moerhing finished with the worst field goal percentage of qualified kickers which isn’t ideal for an offense that doesn’t have many explosive plays and needs all the points they can get.