Eyes Across The Conference: Kickers

Harry How

I took a jump from the logical progression, but I wanted to have one of these positions handled for you. Enjoy.

Arizona Wildcats

The Wildcats are the only team in the conference that has zero experience returning to kick the ball for them. With the departure of punter Kyle Dugandzic and kicker John Bonano, the competition is left wide open. Dugandzic found himself near the top of the chart last season averaging over 43 yards and punt and Bonano was accurate enough, connecting on 70% of his attempts. It appears that the Wildcats will be turning to Drew Riggleman to handle the punting duties, a sophomore hometown product from Tucson and kicking will be handled by either Jake Smith or Casey Skowron. None of these three have to this point kicked for Arizona so it will be interesting to see if the special teams play can live up to the previous success they had with Dugandzic and Bonano.

Arizona State Sun Devils

The Sun Devils split time with their kickers late in the season. Alex Garoutte was the man when the year started but a 2/5 performance against California opened the door for Jon Mora to come on and make 9 of his 12 attempts for the Devils. Garoutte continued to kick extra points for ASU and it's unclear at this point which kicker is going to be lining up for the Devils, but they will have plenty of work over the next year. The Devils have a pair of first year punters coming on for this next year and early on in the year, it will be important that the long snapper and the punter, whether it be junior Dominick Vizzare or freshman Matt Haack , figure out their chemistry in the fall.

California Golden Bears

Much of the season was disappointing for the Golden Bears last season. As far as the kicking game is concerned, the lowest point was an 0/3 performance against Ohio State in a game they lost by only 7. Vincenzo D'Amato did improve as the season went on after the trip to Columbus, making 9 of his next 10 attempts, including a 52 yard goal on the road in Pullman. Punter Cole Leininger was below average as far as punting average is concerned, staying below 40 yards per punt. D'Amato is the stronger leg of this unit and Leininger has room to grow. Being merely a freshman a year before it's not unreasonable to think he has a much higher ceiling which he can achieve.

Colorado Buffaloes

It's no surprise that the Buffaloes punted more than any other team in the conference. With as much as they were forced to punt, they benefitted by having Darragh O'Neill back to kick it away. O'Neill ranked second in the conference in yards per punt and has the best average yardage per punt among returning Punters. Also not surprising is that Will Oliver, the Buffs kicker had very few field goal attempts last season, but did go 6 for 8 with a long of 37. Oliver attempted only one kick of more than 40 yards and missed it against Utah in the season finale. In his limited attempts, Oliver was perfect on point after attempts going 28 for 28 which is something to hang your hat on. However, when it's the fewest attempts in the conference, it's not unreasonable to imagine one or two going awry if Colorado found their way into the end zone more often.

Oregon Ducks

The kicking game has made Oregon fans shudder for the last couple seasons. With Alejandro Maldonado taking over as the primary kicker for the Ducks, there hasn't been a kicker miss more high profile kicks in the conference. Misses against Stanford were not easy kicks but cost Oregon potential trips back to a BCS championship game. Maldonado missed three consecutive kicks before banging through a pair against Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. ESPN shows that Maldonado is also slated to be the punter for the next season. Coming on to make the competition interesting this year is Matt Wogan who many think can play as a Freshman for Oregon. Maldonado has been involved with a few trick plays lining up as punter. Oregon is going to miss Jackson Rice this next season, one of the most underappreciated Ducks on the roster.

Oregon State Beavers

The Beavers come into the season with the most accurate kicker in the league. Trevor Romaine missed only twice on 18 attempts and neither of those adversely affected the Beavers as they beat both the Badgers and the Wildcats despite Romain's misses. Romaine also missed 3 extra points, but in none of those games did the Beavers win by less than 10. Romaine's longest kick came against the Sun Devils when he knocked it through from 45 yards out. As far as punting, the Beavs rely on local product Keith Kostol. Kostol saw plenty of action last year despite the Beavers record and was consistent in flipping the field, averaging just under 42 yards per punt.

Stanford Cardinal

No kicker saw as much action as Stanford's Jordan Williamson. While he kicked the most field goals, he also saw the most kicks go outside of the uprights. Williamson was a mere 63% on field goals and was only 33% from more than 40 yards out. Despite his kick felling Oregon in overtime and giving the Cardinal the opportunity to win the conference, Williamson will need to become more consistent if Stanford is to repeat as conference champions. Ben Rhyne appears to be taking the punting duties heading into next season. Getting action in the last two games of the season, Rhyne got 9 punts off, the longest of which being 56 yards. Having a good punter may be most important to the Cardinal as they can use field position and stingy defense to their advantage. Rhyne could help give that edge.

UCLA Bruins

Outside of Alejandro Maldonado, no one in the conference missed a higher profile kick than Ka'imi Fairbairn. Fairbairn missed against Stanford in the conference title game, a game the Bruins lost by only 3 points even though it was the longest attempt he had all season long. Early on, Fairbairn struggled from outside 39 yards, until he finally connected for his longest kick of the year against Stanford, clearing the uprights at 48 yards. Fairbairn is a special case in the conference as he is the only Punter on the roster (according to ESPN.com) following the departure of Jeff Locke. It will be interesting to see if Fairbairn improves as a kicker while having to work double duty this next year. The Bruins had the second highest punt per game ration in the conference trailing only Colorado in that statistic.

USC Trojans

A topsy-turvy season for the Trojan was epitomized by their kicking game. In his first season, Andre Heidari was one of the most effective kickers, missing only twice as a freshman. Last season, Heidari converted only 62% of his attempts. 4 of his 6 misses came in a loss against UCLA and a win against Utah, missing twice in both games. Heidari showed early on, he could hit from just outside 40 yards but beyond that he had trouble converting for the Trojans. With the absence of Barkley, the Trojans may need Heidari in a way they haven't to this point in his USC career. Like many teams in the conference, the Trojans will be trotting out a punter who hasn't seen NCAA snaps yet in their career. They will have big shoes to fill as Kyle Negrete was a solid punter who more often than not, flipped the field for the Trojans when their defense took the field.

Utah Utes

Like many units for the Utes, the kicking game struggled. Coleman Peterson has a good, strong leg connecting from 48 yards out against BYU, but only made 8 of his 13 attempts on the season. His production dipped greatly attempting fewer field goals than he made in 2011. Peterson will need to get back to his production in 2011 if Utah is to crawl out of the Pac-12 South cellar with Colorado. Punting will likely be handled by Australian product Tom Hackett. Hackett appeared in 9 games last season and in limited action averaged just under 39 yards per attempt. The Utes have a brutal schedule this year having to face both Oregon and Stanford out of the North and are going to need a good kicking game if they plan on competing with the powers in the conference.

Washington Huskies

For the Huskies, they had to rely on Travis Coons for both kicking and punting for much of the season. Coons returns for the Dawgs as the kicker but may have to cede to Korey Durkee who started the season last year as the Huskies' punter. Coons was solid from outside 40 yards, missing only twice during the regular season. He did miss though on a kick which could have proven to be the difference against Boise State in the MAACO Bowl, who is coincidentally the Huskies first opponent for the next year. Coons was also perfect on his extra points, hitting all his 39 attempts. Filling in as punter, Coons was less than spectacular, not getting over 40 yards per attempt but after one season as a kicker and punter, being able to focus on one or the other, he may be able to improve.

Washington State Cougars

Andrew Furney has the biggest leg in the Pac-12. Early in the season, against Eastern Washington, Furney connected on a 60 yard field goal en route to a win over the Eagles. Now, the opponent isn't what's important, it's that Andrew Furney made a field goal from the center logo. Furney did see a dip in his percentage, but also kicked more than he did the previous season. Furney was also the hero of the Apple Cup, making 3 field goals, including one from 45 yards out. Michael Bowlin likely will be returning as the Cougars' punter. With 58 punts, Bowlin saw a respectable average, just a hair under 42 yards per kick. With another season under Mike Leach, we may see fewer punts and more scoring attempts from this unit, but the rest of the offense will have to perform the way he was accustomed to seeing the Red Raiders perform when he coached there.

Kicker Rankings Overall Rankings
Oregon State 12 Oregon State 34
UCLA 11 Washington 34
Washington State 10 Arizona State 32
California 9 Oregon 32
Washington 8 UCLA 30
Stanford 7 USC 30
USC 6 Arizona 28
Arizona State 5 Washington State 28
Colorado 4 Stanford 24
Oregon 3 California 20
Utah 2 Colorado 14
Arizona 1 Utah 6
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