- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our 2012 preseason position rankings come to a close today as we wrap up with the special-teams units.
When looking at special teams, you have to rely on what teams did last year and who they bring back, as it's extremely difficult to get a read on new kickers and punters during preseason practice. So teams that rank the highest on this list have reliable kickers and return men back in the fold. While the top and the bottom are fairly easy to sort out, the middle is pretty indistinguishable.
Let's specialize ...
1. Nebraska: The obvious and really only pick for the top spot, as the Huskers bring back star kicker/punter Brett Maher and return ace Ameer Abdullah. Special teams should once again be a strength in Lincoln.
3. Ohio State: Drew Basil turned into a very dependable kicker, and the Buckeyes also bring back punter Ben Buchanan. Jordan Hall is a top-flight returner when healthy, and Ohio State has other options there.
5. Wisconsin: The Badgers' star is Jared Abbrederis, who's outstanding at returning both kicks and punts. But they need to replace both their kicker and punter. Kyle French has handled some field goals in the past, and Drew Meyer appears set to take over at punter. The punt protection unit must not allow breakdowns that cost the Badgers in big games last year.
6. Minnesota: Getting record-setting returner Troy Stoudermire back should help a team that did pretty well without him on returns a year ago. Jordan Wettstein made all six of his field goal tries after taking over the job late in the season. The Gophers need more consistent punting.
7. Michigan: The Wolverines made steady improvements on special teams, as Brendan Gibbons shored up the place-kicking situation. There is still a competition going on at punter between Matt Wile and Will Hagerup. Michigan's coverage was solid last year, but it can do better on returns.
8. Penn State: The losses of punter/kicker Anthony Fera and punt returner Justin Brown to transfers hurt. Sam Ficken will handle field-goal duties, though the punting competition remains open. No word yet on who will return punts.
9. Iowa: The Hawkeyes are still searching for a punter, and former quarterback John Wienke is in the mix. Mike Meyer was just 14-of-20 on field goals last year. Iowa's kickoff coverage a year ago was subpar.
11. Indiana: Kicker Mitch Ewald was a bright spot, but the Hoosiers' kick return game was terrible a year ago. IU will also break in a new punter.
12. Illinois: Things can only get better for the Illini, who were brutal on special teams last year. A new coaching staff should help, as well as transfer Tommy Davis, a former star return man at Northern Illinois. They must replace kicker Derek Dimke, however.