Punting isn't winning but it's important

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

We're going to beat this dead horse of a quote one more time.

Remember when UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel told a national television audience that "punting is winning" as he headed to the halftime locker room during the Bruins game with Tennessee?

Neuheisel received a lot of grief for that, particularly from USC fans.

Having worked with Neuheisel through the years, I knew exactly what he was thinking (in fact, Neuheisel had told me the same during preseason practices when reflecting on the quality of his defense and punter Aaron Perez).

Neuheisel was accommodating a halftime TV interview while thinking about what he'd say -- or had previously said -- to his quarterback Kevin Craft, who'd thrown four -- FOUR! -- first-half interceptions.

In a close game, field position is critical. A good punter can wildly swing the field position advantage.

So a team that doesn't turn the ball over, has a good defense and a great punter can steal games.

Which is what UCLA did in the second half against the Volunteers.

Of course, this is a long intro to who's looking for a new punter this spring.

UCLA for one.

Great shape

  • California: Sophomore Bryan Anger is a freak and figures to be an All-American candidate next season. He averaged 43.7 yards per punt and led the Pac-10 with 25 boots killed inside the 20. And don't even get me started on hangtime.

  • Arizona: Junior Keenyn Crier actually averaged better than Anger (44.0 yards per punt). He's also is an A-A candidate.

Good shape

  • Arizona State: Thomas Weber is a much better kicker than punter, though he's not a bad punter. The Sun Devils would love to hand the job to someone else.

  • Washington State: Reid Forrest was a busy guy last year with 77 punts. While his 41.2-yard average isn't outstanding, it's worth noting that none were blocked.

  • Stanford: David Green averaged just under 40 yards per boot after beating out Daniel Zychlinski, a touted recruit. Their competition should renew this spring.

  • Oregon State: Johnny Hekker didn't have a great regular season, ranking eighth in the Pac-10 with a 38.6 average, but he averaged 45 yards on 10 boots in the Sun Bowl.

We'll see

  • Oregon: Josh Syria graduated, so the Ducks signed Jackson Rice, considered one of the nation's best prep punters.

  • UCLA: Perez is gone, which means Danny Rees, No. 2 on the 2008 depth chart, and Jeff Locke should battle it out this spring.

  • Washington: The Huskies signed JC punter William Mahan to fill the void left by the departure of Jared Ballman.

  • USC: Greg Woidneck, who ranked last in the Pac-10 with an average of 36.6 yards per punt in 2008, is gone, and Billy O'Malley was No. 2 on the depth chart.