With spring practice in the books, we’re updating our Big 12 position rankings.
The series concludes with a look at special teams:
1. Kansas State (previous ranking: 1): The Wildcats boast stability and a history of proven performance in the kicking game. Senior placekicker Matthew McCrane returns after hitting 11 of 14 field goals as a junior. Classmate Nick Walsh averaged 42.8 yards per punt last year. Mitch Lochbihler handles kickoffs; Dominique Heath and Byron Pringle will again power the return game.
2. Oklahoma State (2): While making plans for QB Mason Rudolph’s Heisman campaign, the Cowboys may want to promote Zach Sinor, too -- for the Ray Guy Award. The junior punter rates as a serious weapon with his powerful leg and precision. His 35 punts downed inside the 20-yard line last year led the FBS. Jalen McCleskey is also back as a threat on returns.
3. Iowa State (4): Garrett Owens, a graduate transfer and former three-year starter at Oregon State, emerged this spring as the replacement for Cole Netten at placekicker. Senior punter Colin Downing averaged 41.1 yards per kick last year. Running back Kene Nwangwu and receiver Trever Ryen are solid in the return game.
4. TCU (3): Some uncertainty here for Horned Frogs, who searched this spring for a consistent option at placekicker after Brandon Hatfield and Ryan Graf shared work last year. Sophomore Jonathan Song will get a look in 2017, and TCU is still looking at a juco kicker. Additionally, KaVontae Turpin, arguably the Big 12’s most explosive return specialist, missed the majority of spring practice. Adam Nunez is back at punter.
5. Texas (6): Punter Michael Dickson boasts perhaps the strongest leg in the country. He produced 25 punts of 50 yards or longer last year. The Longhorns are relying on juco transfer Josh Rowland at kicker to provide some stability at a shaky position. Texas also struggled in the return game, but it does not lack for speedy options. Maybe Tom Herman’s staff can concoct the right mix.
6. Oklahoma (7): Junior Austin Seibert does it all for the Sooners with his leg, ranking fourth in OU history in PAT percentage and field-goal percentage, seventh in punting average, 10th in career PATs and 21st in scoring. The Sooners auditioned candidates throughout the spring to replace Joe Mixon and Dede Westbrook on returns. A clear picture there won’t emerge until August.
7. West Virginia (8): The Mountaineers look poised for improvement as placekicker Mike Molina returns after a solid junior season, and junior Billy Kinney faces competition from redshirt freshman Jonn Young at punter. An anemic return game figures to receive a kickstart from freshman Tevin Bush, who’s set to work with Gary Jennings, Jovon Durante and Marcus Simms to boost WVU field position.
8. Baylor (5): The Bears were flat-out bad in the kicking game last year and likely overrated on our pre-spring list. Still, there’s hope under first-year coach Matt Rhule. Return specialist Tony Nicholson and punter Drew Galitz bring back experience. Junior Chris Callahan, who endured struggles in 2016, and sophomore Connor Martin return at placekicker.
9. Texas Tech (9): The Red Raiders struggled last year to cover kicks and in the punt game. Newcomer Dominic Panazzolo, a 6-foot-5 Australian, arrives this summer and may unseat Michael Barden at punter. Kicker Clayton Hatfield returns after a strong sophomore season. And from Tech’s corps of receivers, it ought to find a couple solid return specialists.
10. Kansas (10): A recurring source of frustration, the Jayhawks’ special teams remain a concern with the departure of placekicker Matthew Wyman and lingering issues in the return and coverage areas. Punter Cole Moos is back. Senior Gabriel Rui handled place-kicking in the spring, with competition to arrive before practice opens in August.