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The Best Punters in the Big Ten: Spring Position Rankings

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A proposal, some transfers, and a whole lot of “inside 20 %”, which is something you’d just better get used to. PUNTING IS WINNING!

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

It started innocently enough:

Subject: Quick note, enjoyed your read

Good afternoon,
Embarrassing his counterpart?
Will take getting embarrassed by 5 yards in a half and putting 2 inside the 20 to help your team anyday!
Enjoyed the article, great read, [team]!
Keep up the great work!
All the best,
[name redacted]

I get fan mail from parents of Big Ten punters now. I am a real Punting Journalist; that means there will be 100%* fewer** dick jokes*** in this preview of the best punters in the Big Ten.

Anyway, I responded to this parent, because he was polite, etc., and seemed like a good dude. His response:

There were many great articles that have been written and you bet I thank you for those, and in that position, you know him if you’re a family, a teammate, a coach or if he makes a boo boo and we all cringe when those happen. He actually is a different one where he gets more pub than most skill players with his play.

When you said Iowa, I thought you were going to follow up the embarrassment with where he had a big day, wishful thinking. You got me!

Be the guy that follows the punter off the field when he hits a 70 yard bomb! Not the guy that follows the punter when he has a tough moment.

I look at it this way, maybe you can be better than your counterparts and I am definitely not mad at ya and you don’t know how happy I am that you responded.

I do appreciate your kind words about him, he gave us a fantastic journey,

I will keep reading and separate yourself with positivity!

So cool you wrote back and thanks for allowing me the forum to do so!

“Be the guy that follows the punter off the field when he hits a 70 yard bomb” is my new life motto. Except my snapper two-hopped it to me, so I was content with “don’t get killed this punt; you’ve got a Sections soccer game on Tuesday and the backup goalie can’t tie his fucking shoes.”

Anyways, let’s follow these punters off the field when they hit their 70-yard bombs. (Only, like, 3 of them can probably do that, and none of them punt for Northwestern, that we know of. I’m fine, really.)

PUNTERS WE KNOW

1. Will HartMichigan Wolverines

@will_hart_4

Kicking Ability: I’ll be honest—this guy’s here in part because he’s the reigning Eddelman-Fields Punter of the Year, but in part because he just flat kicks the shit out of the ball. Hart is a legitimate field-flipper with a driver of a leg.

The downside? He’s not known for limiting returns—when opponents did return Hart’s kicks (19 of his 43), they averaged about 10 yards a return. That’s just 87th in the country.

Twitter Ability: Your standard Michigan stanning and Twitter Content. Worth a follow because he’s a punter, but not at the top of my follow list.

Overall: Thank God for Hart at Michigan—can you imagine where they’d be in the Big Ten East without a decent punter?

2. Drue ChrismanOhio State Buckeyes

@DChrisman91
@BuckSpecialists

First, congrats to Drue, who proposed to his girlfriend in an on-field surprise at the Ohio State spring game. You may have thoughts on this, but (1) never step on another man’s touchdown call, especially not a punter’s because this is the only chance he’ll get, and (2) any man able to convince a gal to whom he does this to spend the rest of her life with him is a lucky one.

Kicking Ability: Pretty fucking good! Chrisman benefited from not having huge fields to flip, but that I20:TB ratio suggests that he was asked to pin teams deep on a number of occasions and succeeded in spite of a narrow margin of error. Not the leg of Hart, but definitely a higher level of finesse.

Twitter Ability: Mostly flipping bottles. I don’t get it, because it’s not my 2006 study hall co-op in my high school cafeteria, but do you. Enjoyable, and OSU Specialists will be good if it ever starts up again.

Overall: I hate seeing Ohio State and Michigan at the top of these rankings.

3. Blake HayesIllinois Fighting Illini

@HayesBla1

Kicking Ability: Honestly, Blake Hayes only punted one more time than Chrisman, and I’m not really sure how to process that information. Thump will be by shortly to explain why that is, no doubt.

Hayes is a Team MVP through and through. The dude’s got the big leg, the pinning ability despite punting with a lot of field in front of him (because Illinois’ offense is shitty, you see), the usage rate to shrug at his lower percentages and say “He’s done enough.”

I mean, should we be concerned that 50% of Hayes’ punts were returned, and for an average of 10+ yards per? Absolutely! But at some point we have to separate the punter and the coverage.

Twitter Ability: I am happily married, but Blake’s pretty much ID’d my ideal man:

Please don’t tell my wife.

Overall: Yesterday was ANZAC Day, and I raised a Foster’s to Hayes’ honor.

4. Blake GillikinPenn State Nittany Lions

@blakegillikin

Kicking Ability: Dude’s a record-setter at Penn State. It’s hard to argue with his ability, especially his ability to boom ‘em and pin opponents inside the 20.

With the athleticism of Penn State’s gunners and the fields he punted into, I held Gillikin behind Hayes due to his touchback rate and—frankly—disappointing fair catch rate. Returns attempted 23 run-backs on the Lions as well, implying that those 74-yard punts, while fantastic, might be outkicking their coverage a tad.

Twitter Ability: Lots of love for brother Tyler Gillikin, Northwestern long-snapper, and general Penn State support. You already follow him because you are a Penn State fan.

Overall: Quality, if points off because Gillikin has raised the bar on himself at Penn State.

5. Jacob HerbersMinnesota Golden Gophers

@herb_verb
@MinnSpecialists

Kicking Ability: LOOK AT THAT FAIR CATCH RATE.

I’ll be honest—I wanted to rank Minnesota’s punter in the top 3 of my rankings for his first two ratings alone. No touchbacks? Forcing a fair catch on nearly 3 of every 5 punts?! That’s punter porn, kids, almost on par with this Gopher gem:

With Herbers dropping bombs, the Gophers finished second in the nation in yards per punt return (1.11). Opponents returned 9 punts. It’s damn impressive.

Back to the wall, though? I’m not asking Herbers to flip the field.

Twitter Ability: Tweets vids of self with Axe. Is 10/10 in my book. #jointheband

Overall: He’s a serviceable punter for a Gophers team that wants to control the ball and put pressure on opposing specialists, rather than take over the game themselves. And Herbers is the man for the job in Minneapolis.

6. Adam KorsakRutgers Scarlet Knights

@adamkorsak

Kicking Ability: Can boot a great number of punts without having his leg fall off. That’s praise enough, no? On top of that, Korsak had a nice 79-yarder against my Wildcats.

On the whole, though, the leg’s one that isn’t going to flip a ton of fields. Korsak, to be fair, had to do a lot more than Herbers, but did it at a clip slightly behind his Minneapolitan counterpart.

Twitter Ability: Weird Aussie and Rutgers stuff. You’d think I’d get better at all this, what with the proliferation of Aussie punters in the Big Ten.

Overall: Hard-working punter. Doing the Lord’s work.

7. Michael Sleep-DaltonIowa Hawkeyes

@mjsleepdalton

Kicking Ability: A GRAD TRANSFER PUNTER!

Kirk Ferentz, you beautiful bastard. The Puntiff has upgraded from tumbling specialist Ron Coluzzi to the Aussie transfer punter from Arizona State, nabbing a punter who can (apparently) use both feet and brings with his characteristic rugby style.

So, like, Colten Rastetter, but...better?

But fully a third of Sleep-Dalton’s punts were returned in 2018, with a terrible (13.55 ypr) rate at that. The injury-prone punter saw the writing on the wall, as the Sun Devils brought in Michael Turk to improve their punting. I want to believe, but I won’t until he takes a tumble on a fake punt.

Twitter Ability: Has the hashtag #puntersarepeopletoo, is now my favorite human being. Good for you, you weird Aussie.

Overall: GRAD TRANSFER PUNTER. God bless you, Kirk Ferentz.

8. Haydon WhiteheadIndiana Hoosiers

@haydonw123

Kicking Ability: Only 15 punts returned, and for under 4 yards a clip! That’s damn good!

Let’s just ignore the rest then, shall we? Whitehead floats his kicks decently enough, but there’s not enough leg or pin there to say anything nicer than that he’s solidly in the second tier of Big Ten punters.

Twitter Ability: I am here for weird specialist trick shots:

Overall: A cromulent, if uninspiring, punter.

9. Isaac ArmstrongNebraska Cornhuskers

@isaacarmstrong2

Kicking Ability: Nebraska doesn’t make their punters’ 50+ stats readily available, which is why that’s not listed.

After taking over punting duties from Caleb Lightbournwho will transfer from UNL, sadly—Armstrong slowly turned Nebraska punting in the right direction (read: not negative-yard punts...sorry, Caleb). But Armstrong has been fine, if underwhelming. Which brings us to our first...

PUNTING COMPETITION:

Will Pryzstup: transfer from Michigan State — @WPrzystup

More of the same from the Michigan State transfer, but Pryzstup might have a little more leg in notoriously-windy Memorial Stadium. I’ll be watching this one with interest.

10. Connor Allen or Anthony Lottiwisconsin badgers

@connorallen04

Kicking Ability: Uh...

...

...

Lotti’s got the leg and field-flipping ability, but Allen offers a steadier leg and return-limiting ability. That’s as nice as I can put it with a punting gang that’s ranked near the bottom of the conference since Brad Nortman and Drew Meyer.

Twitter Ability: Allen describes himself on Twitter as a “4th down QB”, which I love. Allen also plays the piano real good, which makes me want to give him the edge over Lotti in the badgers’ punting race despite hoping that entire city falls into a black hole. Good for all the 4th down QBs out there.

PUNTERS WHERE THERE’S A CLEAR #1

Michigan State Spartans

We want to believe it’s Jake Hartbarger, but we still don’t know if he’s got a sixth year of eligibility after breaking his leg at Arizona State in 2018. If yes, watch out—the veteran punter is one of the best in the conference when he’s healthy.

The Spartans exhausted their options in 2018, rolling out Bryce Baringer, Tyler Hunt, and Przystup—along with one punt from backup QB Rocky Lombardi—to replace the Nordic sensation...and while Hunt and Baringer return, they Spartans could really, really, really use Hartbarger’s boot to flip fields like he does so well.

Purdue Boilermakers

Brooks Cormier is the front-runner at punter for Purdue, but he’s a true frosh.

...oh, did we not mention? He’s a 5-fucking-star true frosh. From Tuscaloosa. I don’t know how Jeff Brohm does it, but it sure seems like he’s worth the $5 million a year they’re paying him.

BETTER IF WE DON’T TALK ABOUT IT

Maryland Terrapins

Northwestern Wildcats

It’s never good when there are rows of ##### on my spreadsheets. These are the punters I could find on roster for Northwestern and Maryland. None of them, to my knowledge, have done anything of note in an actual college football or Big Ten game.

(Cody Gronewold is spelled wrong in the table—I am embarrassed and apologize.)


I hope you’ve learned something today! Join us in the comments and be that guy that follows the punter off the field after a 70-yard punt! (Don’t be me, really, is good life advice.) In the meantime, can we interest you in the rest of our Specialist Content? We’re working on your red-hot long-snapping content, too!

Vote in the poll and let me know your favorite punter moments in the comments. As always, HAPPY PUNTERS DAY!

Poll

Best punter in the Big Ten?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Will Hart
    (17 votes)
  • 7%
    Drue Chrisman
    (17 votes)
  • 13%
    Jake Hartbarger, if healthy
    (30 votes)
  • 6%
    Blake Hayes
    (13 votes)
  • 15%
    Blake Gillikin
    (33 votes)
  • 9%
    Jacob Herbers
    (21 votes)
  • 19%
    The grad transfer — always the grad transfer
    (42 votes)
  • 19%
    Other
    (43 votes)
216 votes total Vote Now