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IT’S PUNTERS DAY! The 2018 Big Ten Punters Preview

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HAPPY PUNTERS DAY! We’ve got returning Ray Guy semifinalists, like, 15 Australians, somehow, closed special teams practices, and more! Come talk the best boots (and the best Twitter accounts!) the conference has to offer.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow this article gets more and more out of control for me every year.

In 2016 I asked, merely, that we embrace that Punting is Winning. I think we’ve done that pretty well. If I remember correctly, Illinois punter Ryan Frain also called my article “fairly nice.”

This is the Internet, Ryan. We’ve got screenshots of this in that vault with all the seeds and shit up in the Svalbards or wherever the hell they’re actually kept.

Anyways. Last year it was my impassioned plea to let the punter run the fakes. I don’t think any Big Ten punters called that article “fairly nice,” but I am gonna ride high off Ryan Frain’s endorsement (WE ARE THE “FAIRLY NICE” BIG TEN BLOG OF CHOICE FOR FORMER ILLINOIS QB/PUNTER/HOLDER RYAN FRAIN, YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST) for at least another 2-3 years.

What did those punters and Big Ten teams do, though? They let the punters run some fuckin’ sick-ass fakes.* I take all the credit, and I will rank them now, for your my pleasure:

5. Joe Schopper runs past rutger

There’s a simple elegance to just running right past hapless rutger.

4. Schopper, Jeff Brohm Fool Nebraska

Not actually completing the pass does bump this one down a notch, but look at that fuckin’ spiral. Good for you, Joe.

3. Rastetter Threads the Needle

Points off for the wounded duck, but big ups to Iowa punter Colten Rastetter for threading the needle to one of Iowa’s dozen tight ends.

2. Schopper to punt—no, run—no, pass! The Bucket is Purdue’s!

There’s a really poetic nature to this.

1. Colten Rastetter to Tyler Kluver

Iowa humiliating Ohio State still beats out Joe Schopper’s excellent spiral-throwing ability. I give this one a 55/24 for execution.

Honorable Mention:

Purdue runs a fake against Northwestern, gets a player ejected for “targeting.”

You know, Purdue, the more of these I see, the less funny I find them.

*As always, only punter-centric fakes count. I don’t care how many up-back or guard-protect fakes they ran. PUNTER FAKES ONLY. THIS IS LAW.


Anyways, at some point during this piece I actually rank the punters. This year the choice was tough: With Big Ten Punter of the Year Ryan Anderson (of Rutgers!) having graduated and Minnesota’s Ryan Santoso having similarly departed, would I go with one of the two Ray Guy Award semifinalists from 2017? One of the Aussies making a name for themselves at Indiana and Maryland? An up-and-coming freshman?

Step into the Sam Foltz Memorial Punters’ Lounge (rest easy, bud). Let’s rank some punters.

Best Punters in the Big Ten: The Rankings

[1] Joe Schopper, Purdue Boilermakers

Twitter: @SchopperInDaCar
Purdue: @PUspecialists

Yr Tot Yds YPP Lg I20 I20% 50+ 50+% FC FC% TB TB% FC/I20 Ret Ret% RetYd
4 73 2953 40.5 68 30 41.1% 16 21.9% 41 56.2% 4 5.5% 97.3% 13 18% 89

Yes, there are punters out there with a better leg than Schopper. But what he brings to the table for the Boilermakers far, far transcends any other Big Ten punter—running for one fake and throwing for what, three more? Add to that a serviceable YPP rate, ridiculous fair catch numbers (41!!!), and you’ve got him hitting almost a 100% fair catch or inside-20 rate (note that there’s overlap on that last one). Ridiculous.

Notable Tweet:

[2] Drue Chrisman, Ohio State Buckeyes

Twitter: @dchrisman91
OSU: @BuckSpecialists

Yr Tot Yds YPP Lg I20 I20% 50+ 50+% FC FC% TB TB% FC/I20 Ret Ret% RetYd
2r 51 2256 44.2 62 25 49.0% 15 29.4% 20 39.2% 4 7.8% 88.2% 7 14% 54

Look, I have no problem admitting that I have a bias against the “haves” of the Big Ten. “Get fucked, Urban Meyer” was my calling card for a reason.

That extends, additionally, to Drue Chrisman, who was a Ray Guy semifinalist in 2017 for a damn good reason—half his punts inside the 20, and only 7 returned all year. Dude’s a legitimate field-flipper, but I just can’t put him up there on the do-it-all scale with Schopper. He’s a worthy second and now will probably win Big Ten Punter of the Year and the Ray Guy, just because I love looking like an idiot on the Internet.

My preview of Drue from last year:

Drue Chrisman, Ohio State

Twitter: @dchrisman18

Of course Ohio State comes up with the #1 punter in the Class of 2016. Meet Drue Chrisman! He replaces outgoing Eddelman-Fields Punter of the Year and Ray Guy Award finalist Cameron Johnston. I’m sure he’ll quickly be the best punter in the nation or something, because that’s just how Ohio State works.

Oh, and since he was a quarterback before needing Tommy John surgery in high school, I look forward to him dropping a back shoulder fade for about 30 yards on Northwestern after Urbz dials one up while pinned back at the OSU 24 yard line.

Me to you, Drue: I will eat all the crow you like if you pull off a bitchin’ fake punt this year (I’m talking dropping a ball on the back shoulder 35 yards downfield). You will be Punter of the Decade, easy.

Notable Tweet:

[3] Blake Gillikin, Penn State Nittany Lions

Twitter: @blakegillikin
PSU: Are no fun, evidently

Yr Tot Yds YPP Lg I20 I20% 50+ 50+% FC FC% TB TB% FC/I20 Ret Ret% RetYd
3 52 2244 43.2 57 26 50.0% 14 26.9% 16 30.8% 3 5.8% 80.8% 17 33% 73

Gillikin’s a boomer as well, and a Ray Guy semifinalist from 2017. Ultimately he suffers from the same bias/issue that bumps Chrisman down, and on top of that, he’s a yard behind him in YPP and quite a few behind in fair catch rate.

Notable Tweet:

We see you, Blake. Respect.

[4] Caleb Lightbourn, Nebraska Cornhuskers

Twitter: @4th_n_10
UNL: also no sense of humor

Yr Tot Yds YPP Lg I20 I20% 50+ 50+% FC FC% TB TB% FC/I20 Ret Ret% RetYd
3 59 2486 42.1 69 21 35.6% * ##### 23 39.0% 4 6.8% 74.6% 11 19% 111

I have to be honest: I’m incredibly guilty of not getting over Lightbourn’s -5 yard punt in 2016. He’s markedly improved his yards per average, and while his inside-20 rate wasn’t the best, he improved his hangtime and became a weapon for an otherwise bad Huskers offense in 2017.

But don’t take my word for it, take it from BRT:

Junior Caleb Lightbourn will presumably be starting for the Huskers for the third straight season. Many times during last year’s dismal campaign, he was one of the few bright spots for the Huskers, though he was arguably underutilized, as the team often opted to conduct the change of possession via Pick-6s, rather than by the more traditional punting method. Still, Lightbourn worked with what he could, and booted the ball over 6o yards on two separate occasions (64 against Rutgers, and 69 against Wisconsin).

In a season promising many new things for the Huskers and much mystery, the Husker punting game appears to be an area of continuity from last season--in one of the only areas where we’d like to see continuity.

PS His notable tweet was retweeting our “Band of Punters” image from last year, which was nice of him.

Thanks for retweeting, Caleb!

Notable Tweet:

I waded through about 30 retweets of whatever the fuck Fortnite is, and I got bored. No more “Notable Tweets.” Sorry.

[5] Jake Hartbarger, Michigan State Spartans

Twitter: @JakeHart24

Yr Tot Yds YPP Lg I20 I20% 50+ 50+% FC FC% TB TB% FC/I20 Ret Ret% RetYd
4 69 2895 42.0 62 28 40.6% 12 17.4% 21 30.4% 11 15.9% 71.0% 12 17% 31

Hartbarger is a tough case, in part because he has managed to turn in consistently good numbers yet still, somehow, sink in my ratings. Perhaps you’ve been too above-average all these years, Jake, and I’m just not digging it.

Regardless, Hartbarger is a consistently-good punter who was very, very touchback-prone in 2017 (15% rate! ouch!) but continues to lead a usually-above-average Michigan State special teams unit.

Also, Andrew K finds it important you know this about the Michigan State punting situation:

Jake Hartbarger passed on the NFL draft to make his run at the Heisman and has an iron grip on the job. MSU gave a scholarship to a third kicker, Cole Hahn, last season despite being set at both P and K, so one assumes they intend him to be the next punter as K Matt Coghlin is only a sophomore, but who knows, maybe we’re just using a scholarship on a kickoff specialist.

[6] Haydon Whitehead, Indiana Hoosiers

Twitter: @haydonw123

Yr Tot Yds YPP Lg I20 I20% 50+ 50+% FC FC% TB TB% FC/I20 Ret Ret% RetYd
2 85 3459 40.7 56 33 38.8% 5 5.9% 31 36.5% 5 5.9% 75.3% 25 29% 124

Eighty-five punts. EIGHTY-FIVE! I don’t think Indiana punted that much in the entire Kevin Wilson Era! (Sure, that might’ve been because Richard Lagow was throwing picks, but let’s skate past that for the time being.)

Whitehead shocked the Punting World (perhaps I’m exaggerating) by flying in on a kangaroo or a didgeridoo or whatever the fuck other lazy Australian stereotypes I can’t think of and Waltzing Matilda away with the job of Friend of the Program Joe Gedeon (@choccoboomstick we see you we still love you) in 2017 when he signed and arrived through the Prokick Australia pipeline.

While the yardage and some question of leg strength (only 5 over 50+ with lots of returns) hold Whitehead down in the rankings, look for big things out of the probably-a-sophomore in 2018.

[7] Blake Hayes, Illinois Fighting Illini

Twitter: @HayesBla1

Yr Tot Yds YPP Lg I20 I20% 50+ 50+% FC FC% TB TB% FC/I20 Ret Ret% RetYd
2 77 3231 42.0 64 22 28.6% 10 13.0% 16 20.8% 2 2.6% 49.4% 30 39% 143

Hayes, like Whitehead, gets love here for sheer numbers: 77 punts and still turning in a 42 ypp average is nothing to sneeze at. I shouldn’t judge him so harshly for his low inside-20% rate, because he’s punting Illinois out of their end zone roughly a third of the time (do not bother fact-checking me on this), but looking at his fair catch rate as well, there’s some room for Hayes to grow into American football (another fuckin’ Aussie, guys).

Serviceable

Anthony Lotti, wisconsin badgers

Twitter: No.

Yr Tot Yds YPP Lg I20 I20% 50+ 50+% FC FC% TB TB% FC/I20 Ret Ret% RetYd
3 57 2281 40.0 62 25 43.9% 12 21.1% 18 31.6% 2 3.5% 75.4% 18 32% 132

Tough to follow in the shoes of Drew Meyer Brad Nortman, but I just am not really in love with Lotti’s leg and role for the badgers. Feels like—and this is, of course, the Big Ten Championship game excepted—he’s never the weapon I expect wisconsin to have at the punter position.

Plus I’ve not once seen him throw a jump pass. Get on that, Paul Chryst.*

*Please do not “get on that” against Northwestern, Paul.

Wade Lees, Maryland Terrapins

Twitter: @wl_88

Yr Tot Yds YPP Lg I20 I20% 50+ 50+% FC FC% TB TB% FC/I20 Ret Ret% RetYd
3 64 2511 39.2 64 17 26.6% 7 10.9% 30 46.9% 2 3.1% 73.4% 13 20% 146

Just not enough length and production from Lees to push him into the next level of punters in the conference. Maybe another year’s seasoning.

These Are Also Punters

Brad Robbins, Michigan Wolverines

Twitter: @brobb713

Yr Tot Yds YPP Lg I20 I20% 50+ 50+% FC FC% TB TB% FC/I20 Ret Ret% RetYd
2 64 2583 40.4 58 19 29.7% 4 6.3% 23 35.9% 4 6.3% 65.6% 18 28% 189

Colten Rastetter, Iowa Hawkeyes

Twitter: @Ltrastetter

Yr Tot Yds YPP Lg I20 I20% 50+ 50+% FC FC% TB TB% FC/I20 Ret Ret% RetYd
4 55 2078 37.8 55 11 20.0% 5 9.1% 10 18.2% 0 0.0% 38.2% 13 24% 44

More on the Iowa punting situation below.

Small Sample Size/We Don’t Know

Iowa Hawkeyes: Ryan Gersonde, if healthy

Twitter: @ryan_gersonde

Yr Tot Yds YPP Lg I20 I20% 50+ 50+% FC FC% TB TB% FC/I20 Ret Ret% RetYd
3 13 552 42.5 61 2 15.4% 5 38.5% 4 30.8% 1 7.7% 46.2% 4 31% 35

Per RossWB of Go Iowa Awesome, Gersonde—who battled a back injury in 2017—should get the starting nod for the Hawkeyes in 2018. Gersonde is known for the better leg of the two Iowa punters, while Rastetter’s rugby style and fake prowess are more helpful inside opponents’ 40s, which all Big Ten fans know is the best place to punt.

Who knows, though, as it’s Iowa, and a punter platoon is possibly the only thing left that can tent Kirk’s khakis, save for lining up two punters on 3rd and 8 from the opponent’s 29 and dropping one at the 1.

Furthering this being a classically-Iowa thing, it is worth noting that Rastetter is the nephew of Bruce L. Rastetter is an American agribusinessman, agricultural entrepreneur, and former President of the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, which governs the state’s three public universities. [This is the best Bored High School Student I can do, with no apologies to Adam Jacobi.]

All we’re missing these days is a Terry Branstad mustache adorning the Hawkeyes’ helmets and we’ve got peak Iowa nepotism.

Minnesota Golden Gophers: Jacob Herbers, perhaps?

Twitter: @Herb_verb
Minnesota: @MinnSpecialists

Yr Tot Yds YPP Lg I20 I20% 50+ 50+% FC FC% TB TB% FC/I20 Ret Ret% RetYd
3r 1 11 11.0 11 0 0.0% 0 0.0% 0 0.0% 0 0.0% 0.0% 0 0% 0.0

Was it mean to put that table in there? Probably not, right? I’m sure it was a great 11-yard punt.

WhiteSpeed, checking in:

In proving that he really is ready to be a coach in this conferece, PJ’s hiding who his punter could be from everyone. #B1G

I can’t wait to see what wacky punt-themed acronym Bald PJ rolls out in 2018.

Northwestern Wildcats: Maybe Dan Kubiuk?

Twitter: No.

Yr Tot Yds YPP Lg I20 I20% 50+ 50+% FC FC% TB TB% FC/I20 Ret Ret% RetYd
4 2 72 36.0 45 0 0.0% 0 0.0% 1 50.0% 0 0.0% 50.0% 0 0% 0

Kubiuk was formerly a walk-on QB for the football team and a pitcher for the baseball team, but has now turned to what I’m sure has been his true lifelong passion—punting and holding. He did a lot of the latter in 2017, now it remains to be seen if he will handle the former for Northwestern in 2018 as much-maligned but occasionally-brilliant Hunter Niswander has graduated.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Open competition!

Rumor has it freshman Adam Korsak is the front-runner for the Knights’ open punting job. I don’t rank freshmen who have never kicked in the Big Ten, and I don’t envy the punter that has to replace the leg of Big Ten Punter of the Year Ryan Anderson. Good luck, Adam!

Twitter: @AdamKorsak


I’m exhausted. That’s a lot of punting, and that’s a lot of winning. To recap, we’ve got:

1. Schopper - Purdue
2. Chrisman - Ohio State
3. Gillikin - Penn State
4. Lightbourn - Nebraska
5. Hartbarger - Michigan State

Hit the comments and tell me why I’m wrong. A blessed, joyful, and happy Punters Day to you all.

Punting is winning,
MNW

Poll

#wellactually, MNW, the best punter in the Big Ten is...

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    Schopper - PU
    (48 votes)
  • 8%
    Chrisman - OSU
    (14 votes)
  • 31%
    Gillikin - PSU
    (53 votes)
  • 7%
    Lightbourn - UNL
    (13 votes)
  • 10%
    Hartbarger - MSU
    (17 votes)
  • 2%
    Whitehead - IU
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    Hayes - IL
    (2 votes)
  • 10%
    Other (comments)
    (17 votes)
168 votes total Vote Now