Counting Down The Top Returning Players
The 2023 season is a transition one for the Big 12. Four institutions are joining the league in BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF. On the flip side it’s the last year for cornerstone schools, Oklahoma and Texas, before they leave for the SEC. Let’s look at the best kickers, punters, and return guys with the Big 12’s Top Returning Specialists. Last Word on College Football is renewing its series on the best-returning players, by position, by conference. Over the next handful of days, we will look at the Big 12. For our purposes, we are allowing players on teams whose school is starting in the league this year. However, we aren’t counting players who transferred to a Big 12 school.
Ranking The Best Kickers
Two of the league’s best kickers from 2022, Oklahoma State’s Tanner Brown and Texas Tech’s Trey Wolff graduated and are onto the NFL. Brown is currently on the L.A. Rams roster while Wolff is with the Tennessee Titans. However, there are several really good placekickers. Here are Last Word’s top three.
3- Zach Schmit– Oklahoma- During his junior campaign Schmit converted all 53 of his extra points, second only to a player upcoming. In addition, he hit 12 of 18 field goals and registered touchbacks on 58 of 79 kickoffs. He even caught a two-yard pass for a score in the Sooners’ 27-13 win over Iowa State.
2- Bert Auburn– Texas– As a sophomore Auburn finished with 118 points, ranking him second in all of FBS in scoring. He nailed 21 of 26 field goals and all 55 of his extra-point attempts. That put him second in school history for extra points in a season without a miss. As a result, he was named Honorable Mention All Big-12.
He had his best performance against Alabama where he made four of five field goals including a season long 49 yarder. Auburn was named Lou Groza Award Star of the Week for his game against the Crimson Tide.
1- Griffin Kell– TCU- The senior made quite the name for himself on the Horned Frogs’ magical run to the national title game. His 40-yard game winner as time expired giving TCU a 29-28 win over Baylor was one of the most memorable plays of the season.
Griffin Kell running onto the field, on the road, and perfectly hitting a 42-yard field goal to win the game is just so nutty. pic.twitter.com/LMqit7Q9g0
— Max Olson (@max_olson) November 19, 2022
Overall Kell made 62 of 64 extra points and 17 of 19 field goals. As a result, he capped off an incredible season with first-team All-Big 12 honors. He made folks in Fort Worth very happy after announcing he was returning for a fifth season.
As we continue with the Big 12’s Top Returning Specialists let’s now look at the best punters in the conference.
Counting Down The Top Punters
3- Logan Ward– Oklahoma State- The redshirt sophomore played in 12 of the Cowboys’ 13 games last season. He took over after an injury to four-year punter Tom Hutton. For the season Ward averaged 45 yards a punt on 37 attempts. He didn’t have enough attempts to make the NCAA rankings but would have been in the top 25
2- Austin McNamara– Texas Tech– McNamara made Red Raider fans very happy by coming back for his “Super Senior” season. Considered the top punter in school history McNamara has averaged over 44 yards a punt in all four seasons in Lubbock. In fact, he owns four of the top eight single-season averages in program history.
A season ago the Arizona native averaged 44.3 yards on 50 punts. In addition, he had one punt of at least 50 yards in 10 of 13 games and only three for touchbacks. Furthermore, McNamara was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection.
1- Mason Fletcher– Cincinnati- Our final player on the list is on one of the new teams in the Big 12. A season ago the Australia native led the American Conference with 46 yards per punt. In fact, he lead the conference in punting yards and average.
Fletcher landed 29 of his 62 punts inside the 20-yard line. In addition, he booted 14 punts more than 50 yards including an amazing 84-yarder against SMU. He finished 2022 as a third-team All-American and Ray Guy Award Finalist.
As we finish up our look at the Big 12’s top returning specialists let’s count down the best kickoff and punt returners.
The Top Return Men
3- Jaden Nixon– Oklahoma State- As a freshman Nixon made honorable mention on both the All-Freshman team and All-Big 12. He averaged 27.5 yards per kickoff return which led the league. Against Baylor, he took a kick 98 yards to the house which tied for the eighth-longest kickoff return in school history.
2- Keilan Robinson– Texas- While another Robinson, Bijan, got most of the headlines, Keilan had a great season as well. He was named honorable mention All-Big 12 as a return specialist. A season ago Robinson averaged 25.2 yards per kickoff return ranking him third in the Big 12. He also had a punt return for a touchdown. He seems primed for a big year in 2023.
1- Phillip Brooks– Kansas State- The “Super Senior” made folks in Manhattan very happy when he came back for another year. Currently, he ranks second in school history in punt return touchdowns (4), fifth in both punt return average (14.6) and punt return yards (641), and eighth in punt return attempts (44). Last year his 12 yards per return put him second in the league. In addition, he averaged 18 yards per kick return.
Thanks for checking out the Big 12’s top returning specialists here at Last Word On College Football.
Photo courtesy: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports