So here we are, yet again, on the precipice of another college football season. If you are unfortunate enough to be my friend on Facebook, you’ll already know that college football season has started in my house as my wife texted me to say that she almost punched a woman at the airport in an Iowa t-shirt. Potential arrests are as much a part of college football season with my group of friends as Heisman watch lists, arguing over which conference is superior and randomly-claimed national titles.
The Wisconsin Badgers are presumably preparing for the upcoming college football season far differently than I am, but with no less intensity. As anyone who has watched a minute of B1G football over the last, I don’t know, let’s say 1,000 years knows: special teams can win— or lose, if you’re Michigan—a game here in the best conference in the country.
Wisconsin returns all three of its kicking specialists, its long snapper, and one of its kick returners and will undoubtedly have one of the finest special teams units in the conference. Lets take a deep dive into the numbers and pictures of Rafael Gaglianone dancing that you’ve come to expect from this fine website.
Allow me to start with some hardcore knowledge-dropping courtesy of the official Lou Groza Award website (an award for which Gags is on the watch list), which is a place I visited on the Internet today because this job is glamorous:
“Gaglianone enters 2018 as the FBS active leader in career field with 60, and ranks second in points with 348. He needs just 6 field goals and 37 points to become Wisconsin’s all-time leader in field goals and kick-scoring. His 88.9% accuracy rate last season was the best by any kicker with double-digit attempts who returns to FBS this year.”
While nothing would make me happier than Gaglianone hitting his ninth field goal of the season in overtime to beat some combination of aOsu/Alabama/the Patriots in the College Football Playoff final, I know that he won’t end his career with a nice number of field goals. The redshirt senior out of Sao Paolo, Brazil, is set up to destroy just about every major school placekicking record and cement his status as the best to do it in Madison.
Rafa was third in the conference in scoring, behind first-round NFL draft pick Saquon Barkley and aOsu kicker Sean Nuernberger, and averaged 7.6 points per game (which also would have made him useful to the Badgers’ basketball team last year). He has also only missed two extra points in his entire danged career, both coming in his freshman year. He’s also only 40 extra points behind Philip Welch for the all-time record there and due to the prolific offense the Badgers should have, he could also challenge Welch for the most extra points made in a season (67 in 2010).
The placekicking position is clearly settled but there is even more good news! The Badgers also possess a kickoff specialist who booms the ball through the end-zone with regularity. Zach Hintze ranked 10th in the nation in kickoff average with a robust 64.1 yards per boot. He was also 10th in the country in touchback percentage at nearly 69 percent (68.4, minimum of 50 kickoffs to get rid of the clowns that can’t kickoff all season). The Badgers banged 58 kickoffs through the end zone, 20 more than the second-best team in the conference and 53 more than Maryland (lol). Hintze’s presence allows Gaglianone to focus on field goals and usually allows the coverage team time to grab a lemonade or soft pretzel from the concession stand. He is also an Academic All-Big Ten team member, which doesn’t really apply to his football prowess but is impressive nonetheless.
It should be noted here that there is a new kickoff rule in college football! To, hopefully, stem the amount of injuries that occur when large, fast, young men run into each other at full speed, receiving teams are now allowed to fair-catch a kickoff inside the 25-yard line, have it count as a touchback, and start with the ball at the 25 regardless of where the fair catch occurred. This seems ... fine? If it keeps kids healthy and on the field, then it’s probably a great rule change.
Did you guys know that Wisconsin received a commitment from the best long snapper in the country before last season? You probably didn’t, because Adam Bay is so good at his job snapping the ball on field goals and punts that you never heard his dang name all season. Much like a Milford Man, a long snapper should be neither seen nor heard, and Bay was basically invisible all season (IN A GOOD WAY!). I can’t wait for Bay to graduate, get drafted in the seventh round, and have a decade long career in the NFL all the while his teammates aren’t even sure where his locker is.
Connor Allen is the holder on PATs and field goals for Wisconsin. He has a nice smile in his bio picture on UWBadgers.com. He punted four times last year. He has been on the Academic All-Big Ten team twice. He is from New Berlin, Wis. These are all of the things that I know about Allen and now you do too. If you have any further information on Allen, please tweet @JakeKocoB5Q.
So, based on the comments from a number of Wisconsin-related websites, many of you seem displeased with Wisconsin’s punter, Anthony Lotti. “He doesn’t kick it far enough,” a lot of you say. “I think there should be an ‘e’ on the end of his name,” others of you cry. Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong on all accounts! Lotti’s name is fine just the way it is and he kicks it plenty far. His average last year was an even 40 yards per punt and he placed 25 inside the 20 and had 18 fair-caught. He only had two touchbacks last season and has had one punt blocked in his career. Also, 12 of his 57 punts were longer than 50 yards. The best punter in the league last year, Drue Chrisman of aOsu, had 15 punts of 50+ and the same amount of punts downed inside the 20. Basically, I want all of you to leave Anthony Lotti alone and remember #punttowin.
Our coverage units are fine. On kickoffs last year, Wisconsin only allowed 6.4 yards per return, second best in the B1G. The Badgers allowed 2.1 yards per punt return, which is actually pretty bad, but I’m not worried about it because, uhhh, reasons.
As far as the return game goes, Wisconsin has a couple of questions to answer. Punt returner Nick Nelson declared for the draft and a number of players are vying to take the job. Tiny freshman Aron Cruickshank is the most intriguing option, as every time he touched the ball in practice it seemed he was running past everyone on the team. A.J. Taylor should be the top option for kickoff returns, as he handled 14 last year, with Cruickshank and wide receiver Kendric Pryor also in the mix. FUN FACT ALERT! Minnesota had 36 punt return yards all season. They literally can do nothing right.
Overall, the Wisconsin special teams unit should be a strength and I’m excited to see Gaglianone break records all season. Oh! Coach Dad, if you’re reading this, always go for it on fourth down on the opponent’s side of the field. I don’t care about the distance.