Big 12: Cole Netten

With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Friday with special teams. These outlooks will probably look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Horned Frogs’ coverage units were pretty lousy last year. If they can shore those up, this could be an elite special-teams unit with kicker Jaden Oberkrom, punter Ethan Perry and returners B.J. Catalon and Cameron Echols-Luper.

2. Kansas State (3): Freshman Judah Jones, who was one of the stars of the spring game with a 51-yard touchdown catch, fielded kickoffs, too. Cornerback Morgan Burns also added a 39-yard kickoff return. They could take some pressure off Tyler Lockett in the return game and also him to get a breather when needed.

3. Baylor (2): The return units are going to be spectacular, and Spencer Roth is one of the best punters in the nation. But field-goal kicking is an unknown. Freshman Chris Callahan has taken over for now as the team’s kicker, but missed one chip shot badly in the spring game. Callahan could be fine. But as Oklahoma State found out last year, rolling with a first-time kicker can be dicey.

[+] EnlargeMichael Hunnicutt
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsMichael Hunnicutt has the ability to become Oklahoma's first All-America kicker.
4. Oklahoma (5): Place-kicker Michael Hunnicutt (Moneycutt?) nailed field goals of 52 and 47 yards during a windy spring game. Amazingly, the Sooners have never had an All-America kicker. Hunnicutt has the potential to be the first.

5. West Virginia (7): Josh Lambert created plenty of buzz this spring, including his 53-yard field goal in the spring game. Mario Alford also took the opening kick in the spring game to the house. Punter Nick O’Toole is a proven commodity. If Lambert has a big sophomore year (he was really good as a freshman) and Alford’s TD is a sign of improvement in the return units, which ranked last in the Big 12 last year, this could become one of the league’s better special-teams units.

6. Texas Tech (4): The Red Raiders continued to have issues fielding punts during the spring, which is probably one reason why the return slots were left blank in the team’s post-spring depth chart. Incoming freshman Ian Sadler, who had six return touchdowns during his senior season of high school, could solidify that spot once he arrives on campus.

7. Iowa State (6): Sophomore kicker Cole Netten showed off his big leg in the spring game by making a 56-yard field goal. That came after coach Paul Rhoads gave him a shot at a 62-yard attempt. Netten, combined with the dynamic return trio of Jarvis West, DeVondrick Nealy and Aaron Wimberly, should translate into a strong special-teams unit. If incoming freshman Colin Downing can adequately step in at punter, the unit will be even stronger.

8. Texas (8): Nick Rose showed a strong leg on a missed 55-yard field goal try in the spring game and converted a 40-yarder. William Russ averaged 43.3 yards per punt in the spring game. Those were positive signs, but replacing All-American kicker/punter Anthony Fera will be one of the underrated storylines in Charlie Strong’s first season.

9: Oklahoma State (10): With so much turnover on both sides of the ball, the Cowboys need their special teams to be much better than last season. They just might be, though. With his speed, Tyreek Hill will be a major factor in the return game. Also, place-kicker Ben Grogan, after a shaky freshman season, drew praise for his improvement this spring from coach Mike Gundy.

10. Kansas (9): Special teams did not excel in Kansas’ spring game. Matthew Wyman made a 23-yard field goal but missed an extra point. The punting in the game was mediocre as well. The Jayhawks reportedly have preferred walk-on John Duvic enrolling this summer. After setting the Illinois state high school record with five field goals in a game, he could be a welcomed addition.

Big 12's lunch links

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
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Tap, tap. I can't wait for this 30 for 30.
As we await the start of spring ball, we’ve been examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12. Thursday, we close this series out with special teams.

1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.

2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAlong with being a top-flight wide receiver, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett can also provide big plays in the return game.
3. Kansas State: The Wildcats feature one of the best kickoff return men in the game in Tyler Lockett, who doubles as an All-American WR candidate. Jack Cantele, the younger brother of All-Big 12 K-State kicker Anthony Cantele, only missed two field goal attempts as a sophomore and nailed a 41-yarder as time expired to beat TCU. Defensive tackle Travis Britz also returns after leading the nation with four blocked kicks.

4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.

6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,

7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.

8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.

9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.

10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.

Season report card: Iowa State

January, 16, 2014
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Paul Rhoads’ team took punch after punch this season.

Yet Iowa State’s will to compete remained strong each week despite an injury-riddled season and the Cyclones finished the season playing their best football. A close-call loss against Texas will be the lasting memory of the 3-9 season but the Cyclones’ response to a seven-game losing streak to start Big 12 play should not go unnoticed. ISU rallied to win its final two games and head into the offseason with some hope.

Offense: D

ISU’s offense didn’t scare anyone, finishing among the bottom three in almost every offensive category. The Cyclones’ 24.8 points per game was ninth in the Big 12 and No. 89 nationally and their 4.82 yards per play was also ninth in the conference.

Receiver Quenton Bundrage was the lone big-play threat on offense with nine receiving touchdowns including a 97-yard catch-and-run against Texas. He finished with 48 receptions for 676 yards.

Freshman quarterback Grant Rohach provided hope for the future, starting the last four games. In those games, ISU’s offense averaged 28.2 points and 5.38 yards per play. His 66.5 adjusted QBR was sixth in the Big 12. He joins Bundrage as a good building block for the future.

Realistically, the offensive line was the root of a lot of ISU’s offensive problems as injuries forced the Cyclones to play musical chairs throughout much of the season.

Defense: F

The Cyclones finished last in the Big 12 in points allowed per game (36), total yards allowed (463.1), yards per play allowed (6.05), rushing yards allowed (224), total sacks (15) and yards per rush (5.35). In other words, they earned this F.

There were individual standouts on the unit, like linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, but the overall defense was really bad. A general lack of aggressive, active playmaking made this the conference’s worst unit. Yet there were a lot of inexperience players who got thrown into the fire so ISU can only hope 2013’s disappointment will spark success in 2014.

Special teams: B-

ISU’s special teams were solid but not exceptional. Punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was solid and Cole Netten hit 10 of 11 attempts inside 40 yards. Add two different players with kickoff returns for touchdowns (Jarvis West, DeVondrick Nealy) and ISU’s special teams held their own.

Overall: D+

The Cyclones escaped an lower grade with their strong finish to the season and Rohach’s strong play once he took over the starting role. Their 52-44 triple-overtime win at West Virginia in its season finale showed a lot of fight for a team that could have thrown in the towel during a seven-game losing streak in the middle of the season. Nonetheless, a three-win season was a disappointing result.

Iowa State Cyclones spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
5/01/13
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2012 record: 6-7
2012 Big 12 record: 3-6
Returning starters: offense: 5; defense: 4; special teams: 2.


Top returners: C Tom Farniok, RB James White, LB Jeremiah George, RB Shontrelle Johnson, S Jacques Washington, DE Willie Scott, P Kirby Van Der Kamp, QB Sam Richardson

Key losses: LB Jake Knott, LB A.J. Klein, DL Jake McDonough, QB Steele Jantz, WR Josh Lenz, S Durrell Givens, WR Aaron Horne, CB Jeremy Reeves, DL Cleyon Laing

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Passing: Steele Jantz (1,603 yards)
Rushing: James White* (505 yards)
Receiving: Josh Lenz (459 yards)
Tackles: A.J. Klein (117)
Sacks: Cleyon Laing (3)
Interceptions: Durrell Givens, Jacques Washington* (3)

Spring answers

1. Leaders emerging. Jake Knott and A.J. Klein led vocally and by example for the past few years in Ames, and without that duo, somebody had to fill the void. Jeremiah George did some of that this spring, and Jacques Washington might be counted on for leadership from some of his experience, too. George is a heck of player who's got a good amount of playing time, too.

2. The offensive line is jelling. Four starters who closed the season for Iowa State return, and this should be the strongest position for the Cyclones, who need to find some big-play ability on offense. Center Tom Farniok headlines this unit, but Ethan Tuftee is an experienced senior and ISU should have some good depth there, too.

3. Iowa State's going to focus on the running game. Sam Richardson is still a green sophomore, but the running backs are deep and have tons of ability. James White and Shontrelle Johnson are shifty and productive, though Johnson is coming off an injury, and Jeff Woody is a solid power guy. Reserve Devondrick Nealy broke out in the spring game and juco transfer Aaron Wimberly provides even more depth. ISU will never be short for solid, fresh legs at running back.

Fall questions

1. Can the receivers step up? The Cyclones lost all three of their top receivers from last year's team, and three new starters have to step into bigger roles for a team that's struggled with inconsistency at quarterback. Tad Ecby, Quenton Bundrage and Jarvis West have to help Iowa State's passing game become a bigger threat that defenses must respect. Albert Gary has experience and should contribute, but ISU needs more than 459 yards from its top receiver. Coach Paul Rhoads called this the thinnest position on the Cyclones' team.

2. Is Sam Richardson really the long-term answer? After Jared Barnett's postseason transfer, it looked like the Richardson Era began, but when two of his three career starts ended with completion percentages below 50 percent, it's hard to have a ton of faith in him coming into fall. He' has promise and more accuracy than Steele Jantz and Barnett, but he's not far from being replaced by Grant Rohach if he struggles at some point in 2013.

3. Can Iowa State find a kicker? Three missed extra points is three too many, and Edwin Arceo's senior camp will be spent competing with freshman Cole Netten. Both missed a pair of kicks on a big stage in the spring game, but ISU has a penchant for getting locked into close games. It needs consistency from this spot.
We'll cap our coverage of Saturday's spring games with the Cyclones in Ames.

What happened:
  • Sam Richardson completed 9 of 12 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns and an interception.
  • Running back DeVondrick Nealy carried the ball 18 times for 142 yards and two scores, and juco transfer Aaron Wimberly added 89 yards on 15 carries.
  • Attendance was 15,000.
  • Linebacker Jeremiah George and defensive back Darian Cotton led all defenders with 10 tackles.
  • Gold beat Cardinal, 41-27.
What we learned:
  • Holy offense, Batman. The biggest issue for Iowa State, even through an amazing first four seasons with Paul Rhoads, has been the offense, but Saturday looked solid. The defense is still adjusting to life after Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, but the big-play ability we saw was definitely something new. The offense turned up the tempo and ran for 535 yards and threw for 362. Nealy was fourth string last year, but Rhoads loved what he saw from the whole position all spring. "I had felt the running back position overall had the best spring,” Rhoads told reporters. "DeVondrick Nealy is running as he was capable. He is going into his third season and that is encouraging to see. James White is James White. He runs hard, smart, and knows everything about the offense. Aaron Wimberly showed why we are excited to have him and why we recruited him. Rob Standard is productive every time we play him." You can only put so much stock in a spring game, but Saturday was definitely a good sign. If you can put up points in the Big 12, you're going to win a whole bunch of games, and it's hard to see Iowa State's defense getting torched next season like it did for much of Saturday.
  • The defense is finding some new impact players. I was a little surprised to see coaches be so open about Willie Scott, a possible future star at defensive end who was arrested earlier this spring for possession of a controlled substance. He was maybe the biggest defensive star on Saturday with a whole bunch of tackles and an interception. "He’s a high-motor guy,” safety Jacques Washington told the Des Moines Register about Scott. "He’s a little undersized as a defensive end, but he’s athletic and closes on the ball well. He’s a guy you can always count on -- like everyone saw [Saturday].” Jeremiah George has a lot of experience, but I like what he showed on Saturday, too. Iowa State's defense centered around Knott and Klein, and though you can't replace guys like that easily, George looks solid.
  • The new offense is taking shape. You're going to see a lot more pistol with Richardson this year, which could mean good news for a decent running game, too. Richardson is a speedy guy, and the more the pistol works, the more you're going to see it. The misdirection that can come from the set is already paying off for the running game, and as that happens, life's going to get easier for Richardson in the passing game. Everybody wins.
  • The kicking competition is still a bit of a mess. Edwin Arceo made just 12 of 18 field goal attempts last season and missed three extra points, part of the reason the competition is open to Cole Netten this spring. Netten, a freshman, was just 2-of-4 on Saturday, but Arceo didn't take advantage, making just one of his own three attempts. The good news for Arceo? His only made kick of the day with a 53-yarder, and his last kick after beginning with two misses. Both of Netten's misses came from beyond 50 yards, but he made kicks from 29 and 45 yards. "I think that shows one, consistency, and it also shows two, we’ve got two guys very capable of playing winning football as kickers at this level," Rhoads told the Des Moines Register.

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