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“Way-too-early” expectations for Wisconsin’s special teams in 2019

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I miss you, Rafa.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Wisconsin Rick Wood-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers return everyone on special teams in 2019 ... except for our beautiful, Brazilian, baby boy, Rafael Gaglianone.

Rafa, as his friends call him, exhausted his eligibility last year and leaves Madison as the kicker with the most made field goals in school history. His memeability and points will be missed, but alas ... time marches on.

You may think that having all of these returning players is a good thing. Continuity is a hallmark of successful organizations, I’d imagine. I’ve never had a real job. But, in this case, you’d be dead wrong. Wisconsin’s special teams were dreadful last year. The Badgers ranked 125th (out of 130 FBS teams) in special teams S&P+ behind such college football powerhouses as Tulsa, UTEP, and Northwestern.

The Badgers were 101st in Special Teams Efficiency, which ESPN defines as:

Team efficiencies are based on the point contributions of each unit to the team’s scoring margin, on a per-play basis. The values are adjusted for strength of schedule and down-weighted for “garbage time” (based on win probability). The scale goes from 0 to 100; higher numbers are better and the average is roughly 50 for all categories.

They were 91st in kickoff return average, 115th in punt return average, 111th in field goal percentage, tied for first in extra point percentage though, a-holes, 129th in net punting (JESUS THAT’S BAD!), 123rd in punting average, and finally, they were last in the country in positive tweets sent by fans when they were on the field.

So ... where does that leave us heading into 2019? First of all, it leaves the Badgers with plenty of things to work on this offseason! It is nice to have a “to-do list” and be able to check things off of it. Special teams coordinator Chris Haering will have a yeoman’s task ahead of him to get the Badgers back to, at least, average special teams play this year.

2018 statistical leaders

  • Rafael Gaglianone: 48-for-48 on extra points, 10-for-17 on field goals, long of 42 yards
  • Anthony Lotti: 32 punts, 1234 yards (38.5 yards per punt), long of 63 yards
  • Zach Hintze: 66 kickoffs, 54 touchbacks
  • Jack Dunn: 17 punt returns, 94 yards (5.53 yards per return), long of 15 yards
  • Aron Cruickshank: 26 returns, 533 yards (20.5 yards per return), long of 34 yards

Expectation No. 1: Things get better, like, overall

Wisconsin needs to have better contributions from its special teams unit in 2019. The defense isn’t as good as it was two or three years ago and placing it in difficult starting field position, uh, positions, isn’t going to help. The offense is half great and half ::shrugging man emoji:: so getting them in good field position would also be helpful. It would be good for my mental health if Jack Dunn learned the value of the fair-catch signal.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I worry about him! It would be good if presumed starter Collin Larsh could make 75 percent of his field goals. Missed field goals can be real momentum-changers and Gaglianone’s misses last year were often killer. The miss against BYU, the miss to start the Minnesota massacre, and the miss to start the Purdue game were all crucial.

Expectation No. 2: We continue to not know who Adam Bay is

When you learn the name of your team’s long snapper, something has just gone horribly wrong. The best long snapper in the country coming out of high school Bay has been as reliable as Donald Trump tweeting early in the morning using poor capitalization. The young man is a snapping machine and it is a blessing for the Badgers to have his services for two more seasons.

BONUS Expectation: Someone dynamic and unknown emerges in the return game

I don’t even care who it is. I just want someone to return a kickoff past midfield and get me to stand up from the couch. I am a lazy man, and my couch is comfortable, so for me to do this something cool has to happen.