Kick Coverage, 2017 Pre-Season Edition

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Kick Coverage, 2017 Pre-Season Edition

If things go well this season, I’d love to do some of sort big college football kicker season preview that includes projections based on the previous seasons’ numbers. For now, I thought I’d much less scientifically give a rundown of the Groza’s pre-season watch list and give my finalist predictions.

Lou Groza Watchlist

The Palm Beach County Sports Commission released their Lou Groza Award watchlist in mid-July.

The criteria for inclusion was all 14 returning kickers that made at least 20 field goals last year, the six kickers (not including overlap from the previous category) that attempted at least 15 field goals with 84%+ success, and three kickers (not including overlap) that hit multiple 50+ yards. Given that there were 28 senior kickers lost to graduation last season, this list of 30 encompasses about 30% of returning FBS kickers. Not that these lists mean anything of course–when it comes time for the shortlist there’s no ‘penalty’ to including a freshman starlet or someone else that didn’t make the pre-season list.

For now, this not-so-exclusive club looks like:

  • Ricky Aguayo (So.), FSU
  • Matt Anderson (Sr.), CAL
  • Stevie Artigue (Jr.), ULL
  • Michael Badgley (Sr.), MIA
  • Jonathan Barnes (Sr.), LT
  • John Baron II (Jr.), SDSU
  • Aaron Boumehri (So.), TEM
  • Drew Brown (Sr.), NEB
  • Daniel Carlson (Sr.), AUB
  • Emmit Carpenter (Jr.), MINN
  • Bryce Crawford (Jr.), SJSU
  • Blanton Creque (So.), LOU
  • Tyler Davis (Sr.), PSU
  • Clayton Hatfield (Jr.), TTU
  • Greg Huegel (Jr.), CLEM
  • Redford Jones (Sr.), TLSA
  • Kody Kroening (Sr.), FRES
  • Austin MacGinnis (Sr.), UK
  • Tommy Openshaw (Sr.), VAN
  • Eddy Pineiro (Jr.), FLA
  • Canton Rooker (Sr.), MTSU
  • Jason Sanders (Sr.), UNM
  • Parker Shaunfield (Jr.), USM
  • Skyler Simcox (Jr.), WKU
  • Joey Slye (Sr.), VTECH
  • Luke Strebel (Sr.), AFA
  • Mike Weaver (Sr.), WF
  • Matthew Wright (Jr.), UCF
  • Gary Wunderlich (Sr.), MISS
  • Louie Zervos (So.), OHIO

For those keeping score at home, that makes the list comprised of 16 seniors, 10 juniors, and three sophomores. Sixteen players represent Power 5 schools while the remaining 14 play in G5 conferences. Breakdown by conference looks like:

  • ACC: 6
  • SEC: 5
  • Mountain West: 5
  • Conference USA: 4
  • American: 3
  • Big 10: 3
  • Big 12: 1
  • MAC: 1
  • PAC12: 1

In the past decade, just one non-P5 kicker has claimed the ‘Groz (Tulane’s Cairo Santos in 2012).

Carlson seems to be the odds on favorite to win the award this season, having been a Finalist the past two. A third trip to Palm Beach County would make him the first kicker to ever be a three-time Finalist. Twelve of the kickers have been named semi-finalists (top 20) in previous seasons. Just Johnny Barnes and Joey Slye have made it to the semis twice of that group.

Pseudo-scientific Finalist Predictions: 

Since I don’t yet know the lay of the kicking landscape enough to project too much here, I decided to comprise my list simply off the highest returning kicker in FG%, in kicks beyond 40+*, and one wild card pick. That leaves me with:

Gary Wunderlich (Sr.), Ole Miss

Wunderlich had a breakout season last year, his accuracy shooting from 76% to 95.7% from his sophomore to junior year. He hit a 49 yarder against Auburn and missed his one and only 50+ attempt. Assuming his range has improved even just a little this offseason, I think the same kind of accuracy with a few long makes will see him dressing fancy in December.

Per Wunderlich is the only returning FBS kicker who attempted double-digit field goals without missing a kick within 50 yards. Even with the long-range miss, his 95.7% accuracy rate is best among returning kickers with double-digit attempts.  

Daniel Carlson (Sr.), Auburn

The returning kicker with the most 50+ yard makes last season and second-longest FG (53), as well the below accolades. For what it’s worth (nothing), he’s also the AP’s preseason All-American selection.

Per A finalist in both 2015 and 2016, Carlson is hoping the third time is the charm to take home the Groza. The nation’s active leader in career field goals (69), he led the nation in field goals per game last season. He has yet to miss a PAT in his career, a stretch of 141 straight that is the second-longest in SEC history.

Louie Zervos (So.), Ohio

Zervos balled hard last season, setting the NCAA record for kicks made by a freshman. Ohio kicked more field goals than anyone else in the MAC last season, and Z rose to the occasion hitting his 35 attempts at an 84% clip. He has a leg too, making at least six beyond 45 last season by my rough count. Bill Connelly’s S&P+ projects the Bobcat offense to be bad again this year, likely giving the sophomore even more opportunities to make the panel take notice.

Per Simply put, Zervos led all FBS kickers with his 29 made field goals. That mark is the second-highest FBS single-season total in the last five years. He started off hot, going 4-for-5, 5-for-5, and 4-for-4 in the first three games of the season. His 21 made FGs from at least 30 yards are tied with two-time Groza finalist Daniel Carlson for the most by a returning kicker.

***Predicted Winner: Daniel Carlson*** 

I know it’s supposed to be a merit-based award, but if Carlson has a season good enough to get him back to the ceremony (and neither of the other nominees didn’t have exceptionally better seasons), I can see the panel giving him the Groza as a sort of lifetime achievement award.

*Technically Carlson is tied Florida’s Eddy Pineiro for makes beyond 40+ yards last season, but given Carlson’s familiarity by now with the faces at the PBCSC, I gave him the nod. Also, I’m guessing three players invited from the same conference would be unlikely to happen.

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