One aspect of college football that often goes unnoticed is the importance of special teams play. Having an excellent returner or an accurate punter can be the difference in valuable yardage in a tight ball game.
With a number of key players on special teams units looking to make an impact in the upcoming season, we will take a look at the top special teams units heading into 2019.
When you have a sophomore kicker returning as the reigning Lou Groza award winner as the nation’s best kicker, your special teams unit is pretty special. Based on Phil Steele’s special teams rankings, Syracuse finished No. 5 in the country in 2018.
Andre Smyzt was 30-34 on field goal attempts last year and the team also returns starting punter Sterling Hofrichter, who averaged 39.3 net yards per punt last year.
You won’t find many head coaches with the special teams acumen of Bobcats head coach Frank Solich. The Bobcats have finished with the No. 7 rated special teams each of the last two seasons, and Solich has nine top-28 finishes since 1997.
Punter Michael Farkas finished with a 39.8 net punt average in 2018, and the team also returns kicker Louie Zervos, who was 13-17 on field goal attempts with a long of 48 yards.
The Tigers could finish the year with the best special teams unit in the country. After a No. 72 finish in 2017, the team jumped up to the No. 3 spot last season.
Their biggest bright spot is kick returner Noah Igbinoghene, who averaged over 28 yards per return last season. Punter Arryn Siposs averaged nearly 42 net yards per punt last season, and the only real hole is at punt returner for the SEC powerhouse.
Troy had the No. 2 special teams unit in 2018, backed behind the ultra-strong leg of kicker/punter Tyler Sumpter. Sumpter was 18-24 on field goal attempts last season, with a long of 50 yards. He also had an outstanding 42 yards net punt average. He punted the ball 55 times last season, with 17 inside of the 20-yard line.
The real question marks will be at kick and punt returner, as the Trojans have to replace their top players at each position. If the Trojans can find suitable players for those spots, it could finish with another top-10 ranking.
Utah State Aggies
The Aggies have been one of the most consistent special teams units in the country over the last couple of seasons, with back-to-back top-10 finishes in Steele’s special teams rankings. A No.9 result last year was spearheaded by kicker Dominik Eberle. Eberle is a two-time All-Mountain West kicker who set a school record with 141 points last season.
He was 22-28 on field goal attempts (long of 51 yards) and 75-75 on extra points.
The team also has electrifying returner Savon Scarver, who led the nation with an amazing 33.7 kick return yards average, to go along with two touchdowns. Utah St. also returns their leading punt returner Jordan Nathan, who took one back last season.
Returning three of the four major pieces to a top-10 unit should be an excellent measure of success, and if the team can find a capable punter, it should be another great year for the Aggies.