- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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With spring ball done, we've been updating our Big 12 position group rankings. We finish up the series below with an update to our special-teams rankings:
1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Horned Frogs are quietly stacked here. Jaden Oberkrom and Ethan Perry are both set to be four-year starters. Cameron Echols-Luper is the top returning punt returner in the league. The Horned Frogs will need someone to take over for B.J. Catalon on kick returns, but they have plenty of viable candidates, including track star Kolby Listenbee.
2. Kansas State (2): Despite graduating Tyler Lockett, Bill Snyder should feel reasonably optimistic about his special-teams units following spring ball. That’s largely due to the emergence of redshirt freshman Dominique Heath, who starred in K-State’s spring game with a 59-yard kickoff return and a 75-yard punt return touchdown. With kicker Matthew McCrane coming off a standout freshman season, the Wildcats figure to be strong again on special teams, even with Lockett no longer around.
3. West Virginia (3): Punt returner has been, as Dana Holgorsen puts it, “a complete nightmare” for the Mountaineers the last couple of years. Holgorsen, however, is hopeful that safety K.J. Dillon, who fielded punts smoothly in the spring game, will be able to finally stabilize the role. The Mountaineers are set in the kicking game, with the combination of Lou Groza finalist Josh Lambert and punter Nick “Boomstache” O’Toole.
4. Baylor (4): Though he’s probably most known nationally for getting annihilated in the Cotton Bowl, kicker Chris Callahan quietly had a banner freshman season, and he built on that with a strong spring. The Bears have the No. 3 punter recruit in the country coming in to replace All-Big 12 performer Spencer Roth. Even with Levi Norwood gone, Baylor will boast plenty of firepower in the return game with the trio of Corey Coleman, Johnny Jefferson and promising redshirt freshman Ish Zamora.
5. Oklahoma (5): Like Baylor, the Sooners will be relying on a highly touted recruit here in Austin Seibert, who was the No. 1 kicker signee in the country. It will be interesting to see if Oklahoma keeps Sterling Shepard on punt returns given his injury history, or if they give someone like dynamic redshirt freshman Joe Mixon a shot to help keep Shepard fresh.
6. Texas (8): After struggling a bit early, place-kicker Nick Rose came on strong at the end of last season; he nailed a 52-yarder in Texas’ spring game. Daje Johnson finally getting out of the doghouse could give the the Longhorns a massive boost on returns. Remember, he did this to Oklahoma two years ago:
7. Iowa State (6): The Cyclones are set in the kicking game with punter Colin Downing and kicker Cole Netten both back. Returns will be a question with Iowa State’s top three returners from last year all gone.
8. Oklahoma State (7): After an improved sophomore season, Ben Grogan sat out the spring game with a minor injury. In his place, walk-on Matt Hockett nailed a 48-yard field goal. Hockett is actually battling Zach Sinor for the punting job. Juco transfer Todd Mays also suffered an injury midway through spring ball, but could help the Cowboys on punt returns with Tyreek Hill no longer around.
9. Texas Tech (9): Punter Taylor Symmank made a push during the spring to double as the team’s place-kicker, too. Symmank had a successful 2014 season punting, finishing third in the league.
10. Kansas (10): Matthew Wyman is back at kicker, though he could get pushed by Ryan Weese after making just 9 of 15 tries last year. Wide receiver Tre' Parmalee appears to be in line to take over on punt returns.
With spring ball done, we've been updating our Big 12 position group rankings. Next up: Special teams.