Rarely does a position face so much scrutiny over such a minuscule portion of a football game. The refs are obviously under a microscope from the first snap (this is the #B1G after all), the quarterbacks lead the offense, the linebackers usually lead the defense, and then, a couple of times per game, we have the kickers, who often have the pressure of "do your job successfully right now or we lose the game" on their shoulders. And when the 2016 season begins, these are the guys to watch either thrive or fail under that pressure.
#1: Griffin Oakes, Indiana
As a wise man once said, 'To be the Man, you have to beat the Man.' And in 2015, the Big Ten Conference bestowed upon Griffin Oakes the honor of being The Man as the winner of the Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year Award. While he had a few big misses, of both extra points and field goals, Oakes is almost certainly still the foot that drives the Indiana kicking game, and he makes big kicks with enough frequency that his status is pretty well assured. If for some reason Oakes' production falls off, the Hoosiers likely turn to Aaron Del Grosso, but the circumstances that would necessitate such a change are difficult to fathom short of amputation or something similar.
#2: Michael Geiger (primarily), MSU
From the font of Spartan knowledge, Andrew Kraszewski:
"Michael Geiger returns for his 4th season as MSU's starting place kicker. His career has been up and down to say the least; he was brilliant as a freshman, struggled through a hip injury and accuracy problems the last two years, but has still "fucking nailed" (to quote the man himself) some kicks under massive pressure. He isn't the Groza lock, definite NFLer one assumes you're getting with a class's top kicking prospect, but whatever he faces this year, it won't be anything he hasn't seen already. Color me optimistic for a strong finish to his career.
Kickoffs will presumably continue to be the province of another senior, Kevin Cronin. I don't know what there is to say about a kickoff specialist. I guess I'd like a few more touchbacks out of him than he's managed so far.
Incoming greyshirt Matt Coghlin is the heir apparent as the place kicker. Maybe he also takes over kickoffs, maybe the staff finds another walkon to do that. Guaranteed to be the biggest offseason positional competition, that's for sure."
#3: Jack Mitchell (maybe), Northwestern
Hand delivered to you by the butler of MNWildcat:
"The ever-maddening Jack Mitchell returns for his senior campaign. He was only 25/28 on PATs last year, including an apropos miss on Northwestern's only touchdown in the Outback Bowl. He also regressed from farther out, hitting just 18 of his 27 FG attempts. Could he be pushed by redshirt freshman Mason Weissenhofer? I dunno, maybe. The Plainfield, IL native has a big leg, something Mitchell (save for his 49-yarder against Stanford) has yet to show for the 'Cats. He's got a penchant for the dramatic, though: he'll forever be remembered for winning the Notre Dame game in 2014 and saving the 'Cats from himself against Penn State in 2015. Just would be nice if he could hit a few more when the game isn't on the line."
#4: Tyler Davis and/or Joey Julius, PSU
Aaron Yorke provides the following HYPE update:
"The pleasantly plump Joey Julius missed four extra points for Penn State and was replaced in the middle of last season by Tyler Davis, who was perfect on field goals and extra points. Expect Davis to remain the starter unless incoming freshman Alex Barbir has a ridiculous spring. Meanwhile, Julius still has a chance to be the kickoff guy."
#5: Sean Nuernburger, OSU
Buckeye Bombs by GF3:
"It should be Sean Nuernburger. He was rock solid in the Fiesta bowl, accounting for 14 of OSU’s points and ending Notre Dame’s hope of a comeback by still scoring even when the Irish defense came through with 3rd down stops. He lost the job to Duke transfer (fuck Duke) Jack Willoughby last year, but won it back at the end and should be a lock to start this year."
#6: Rafael Gaglianone, Wisconsin
#7: Ryan Santoso, Minnesota
Well, there's a reason he's not called WhiteSpeedKicker:
"Santosobombs for everyone! I'm pretty confident we've got the best upper middleweight kicker in the B1G West."
#8: Jared Smolar or some other anonymous guy, Rutgers
Straight from our campus source ZuzuRU:
"Rutgers lost Kyle Federico, our only scholarship kicker. Chris Ash recently recruited one who will compete for the scholarship and the starting spot with the guy we already have this summer, preferred walk on Jared Smolar from Indiana."
#9-14: The rest of the conference
Either the race for who'll be doing your kicking is too close to call, or your kicking game just isn't exciting, but if you've ended up in this group, I don't really have words for you. But thankfully, that's why we have comment sections. #EmbraceDebate