With spring ball a month away, we've been ranking position groups in the Big 12. These evaluations have been based on past performance, future potential, and quality depth. We complete the series below with special teams:
1. TCU: All-Big 12 kicker Jaden Oberkrom will be a four-year starter, as will punter Ethan Perry. Cameron Echols-Luper is also back after ranking 16th nationally in punt returns. TCU’s coverage units have also been spectacular. Not only did the Horned Frogs lead the country in punt return coverage last year, they became the first team to allow negative punt return yards in the 14 seasons that the statistic has been tracked. Special teams is just one reason why TCU figures to be a playoff contender in 2015.
2. Kansas State: Freshman Matthew McCrane led the Big 12 in field goal percentage after taking over for Jack Cantele in September; McCrane connected on 18 of 19 field goal attempts. Freshman Nick Walsh had a decent season punting. The outgoing Tyler Lockett is irreplaceable, but Morgan Burns averaged more than 30 yards per kick return.
3. West Virginia: The Mountaineers are third here despite sporting the worst coverage units in the league last season. Punt returns have also been an utter disaster. But the combination of Lou Groza finalist kicker Josh Lambert and punter Nick “Boomstache” O’Toole is elite.
4. Baylor: After a shaky start, kicker Chris Callahan got better as his freshman season wore on, making all four field goals and the game-winner against TCU. The Bears have to replace All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth and return specialist Levi Norwood. But they have several electric options from which to choose on returns.
5. Oklahoma: Alex Ross led the Big 12 in kick returns, including two touchdowns. Austin Seibert was the nation’s No. 1 ranked kicker recruit, and will succeed Michael Hunnicutt. The Sooners, however, ranked seventh and eighth in kickoff and punt coverage in the Big 12 last season, respectively, which cost them dearly in the loss to Oklahoma State.
6. Iowa State: Kicker Cole Netten is coming off a solid sophomore season, in which he nailed the game-winning field goal that beat Iowa. Colin Downing was also a serviceable punter as a true freshman. Though Iowa State’s return units got wiped out by attrition, the Cyclones led the Big 12 last year in kickoff coverage.
7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys would be much closer to the top if they still had Tyreek Hill. It’s unclear who will take over returning punts and kicks, but the Pokes are sure to audition several candidates this spring. After struggling as a freshman, kicker Ben Grogan had a nice bounce-back sophomore season. Oklahoma State also led the league last season with six blocked kicks.
8. Texas: Nick Rose made only 14 of his 21 field goal attempts, though he nailed 51- and 47-yarders in Texas’ final two regular-season games. He also led the league in touchback rate. Armanti Foreman is back after returning kicks as a freshman; Daje Johnson can be a dangerous returner when he’s not in the doghouse.
9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders ranked 114th in kick returns and 124th in punt returns last year. Cameron Batson and Jakeem Grant are capable as returners, but they didn’t produce. The Red Raiders’ coverage units, however, were steady, and didn’t allow a TD all season. Someone will have to fill Kenny Williams’ tackling prowess on special teams. Taylor Symmank had a solid year punting, though Tech will be breaking in a new place-kicker.
10. Kansas: All-Big 12 punter Trevor Pardula is gone. So are returners JaCorey Shepherd and Nick Harwell. Matthew Wyman is back, but he ranked last in the Big 12 in field goal percentage with only nine makes.