NCF Nation: Adi Kunalic

Big 12 media days live: Day 2

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
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The Big 12 media days continue on Tuesday in Dallas, as Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and new Texas coach Charlie Strong each take the stage. Keep this page open throughout the day's proceedings as we bring you the latest from our reporters, who will cover all 10 teams at the event.

Our preseason position ranking series comes to an end today with everybody's favorite group: special teams.

For this ranking, we're going to consider punters, kickers and returners only. No offense to the long-snappers or the punt-team gunners, but things like kickoff coverage units are hard to forecast. We'll give a little extra weight to teams that have returning and proven players at these spots, because it's difficult to know how new punters and kickers will fare when the pressure of real games begin.

As the guys in these positions would say, let's kick it:

[+] EnlargeDan Conroy
Andrew Weber/US PresswireDan Conroy was nearly perfect on his field goal attempts last season.
1. Michigan State: Kicker Dan Conroy made 14 of his 15 attempts last year, and Keshawn Martin led the league in punt return average. They will miss punter Aaron Bates and will have to improve their kickoff return game. And you know you always have to watch out for the fake when the Spartans line up for a kick.

2. Wisconsin: The Badgers are set at both punter and kicker, with seniors Brad Nortman and Philip Welch, respectively. Both are third-year starters who can be relied upon. Wisconsin will need to find a replacement for primary return man David Gilreath.

3. Penn State: The Nittany Lions bring back punter Anthony Fera and punt returner Devon Smith, who finished just behind Martin in yards per attempt last season. Chaz Powell and Stephfon Green are dangerous kick returners. Fera could move over to handle field goals this season if incoming freshman Sam Ficken doesn't win the job.

4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have a veteran punter in senior Ben Buchanan and two threats to take a kick to the house in Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry. Sophomore Drew Basil is expected to take over at place-kicker. Special teams are almost always a force in Columbus.

5. Purdue: No one in the league has a bigger leg than Carson Wiggs; the questions is whether he can consistently harness it. Punter Cody Webster averaged 43.3 yards per attempt last season, second best among returning punters. The Boilermakers' return game needs to improve.

6. Illinois: Derek Dimke was a Lou Groza semifinalist last season and broke the school record for points by a kicker. He nailed two 50-plus yarders. Ray Guy semifinalist Anthony Santella is gone, though return man Troy Pollard is back.

7. Northwestern: Brandon Williams improved at punter as his freshman year went along last season. The Wildcats at long last have an elite return option in Venric Mark. But place-kicker was a concern this spring, with Jeff Budzien and Steve Flaherty competing for the job.

8. Iowa: Kirk Ferentz's teams usually find a way to be good on special teams, so odds are the Hawkeyes will climb these rankings. But they lost a lot from 2010, including Ray Guy finalist and four-year starter Ryan Donahue, plus both primary return men. Eric Guthrie held the edge at punter after the spring. Place-kicker Mike Meyer returns after taking over that role for the final 10 games and doing a solid job.

9. Indiana: Mitch Ewald was named to the Groza watch list after a strong freshman year in which he made 16 of 19 field goals. Chris Hagerup needs to increase his punting average of 39.4 yards. The Hoosiers should have enough athletes to replace Tandon Doss on returns.

10. Minnesota: Dan Orseske's 36.1-yard average was worst among starting Big Ten punters in 2010, so that must get better. Jerry Kill must also find a new place-kicker -- NC State transfer Chris Hawthorne looks like the top option. Troy Stoudermire, one of the league's top return specialists, is back for his senior year.

11. Nebraska: Like Iowa, this is a team that will almost assuredly outperform this ranking. But boy did the Huskers lose a lot of talent and experience. It will be difficult to match the value that punter/kicker Alex Henery brought -- Brett Maher and freshman Mauro Bondi will battle to replace him -- and Adi Kunalic was a secret weapon as kickoff specialist. Top returner Niles Pau is gone, too. The Cornhuskers will likely reload, but nobody has bigger shoes to fill at these positions in the Big Ten.

12. Michigan: The kicking game looked like a disaster this spring, with neither Seth Broekhuizen nor Brendan Gibbons inspiring confidence. Incoming freshman Matt Wile might win the job this summer. This could prove to be an Achilles' heel for the Wolverines, as it was a year ago. On the plus side, Will Hagerup is the leading returning punter in the Big Ten, though he had only 33 attempts last season.

Recruiting needs: Big 12 North

January, 26, 2011
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Signing day is exactly a week from today, and it's time to take a look at who needs what in its 2011 class.

Some schools have addressed these with their current class. Some haven't. Others are still trying.

We'll kick things off with the artists formerly known as the Big 12 North and examine the South later today.

COLORADO

Cornerback: Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith were pretty reliable for the Buffaloes, but both are headed to the NFL, and the Buffaloes could definitely use some depth behind their first-year starters. It's not quite as pressing of an issue considering their move to the less pass-happy Pac-12, but they still like to sling it out west.

Receiver: Colorado isn't exactly starving anywhere on offense, but receiver sticks out a bit. Toney Clemons was good, but maybe not quite what the Buffaloes hoped he'd be in 2010, but they caught a break in getting Paul Richardson back after a great freshman season. The Buffaloes need some complementary pieces around Clemons and Richardson to replace departed pass-catchers Scotty McKnight and Travon Patterson. Next year, that should be tight end Ryan Deehan and receiver Will Jefferson.

IOWA STATE

Receiver: It's been a struggle for Iowa State in recent years, but they have to get better outside to help out their quarterback. Sedrick Johnson's transfer only worsens the Cyclones depth at the position, but Jake Williams and tight end Collin Franklin, the team's leading receiver, are gone. Shontrelle Johnson looks ready to become a big factor in the offense, but the Cyclones filling the space at receiver will make it easier for Johnson to replace running back Alexander Robinson.

Safety: Both starters, David Sims and Zac Sandvig, are gone. So is the Cyclones top reserve at the position, Michael O'Connell. Sims was a top-notch talent that will be tough to replace, but Iowa State needs more depth here. They should be solid at corner with Leonard Johnson, Ter'ran Benton, Jeremy Reeves and Anthony Young, which could make the new safeties' jobs easier.

KANSAS

Defensive line: KU is losing three of four starters on the line, including the team's only All-Big 12 talent, defensive end Jake Laptad. Turner Gill wants more speed, and this is a place to install it. Tackles that tip the scales at 320 pounds aren't too necessary in this league, but speed on the edge can go a long way in stopping the pass.

Quarterback: Neither Jordan Webb or Quinn Mecham look like long-term answers at quarterback for the Jayhawks. Mecham will be a senior, and Webb might develop into a better player as a sophomore next year, but Kansas needs other options. The Jayhawks hope Brock Berglund, the top-rated recruit in Colorado, is the solution to the problem.

KANSAS STATE

Running back: I hear your cries for Bryce Brown, Wildcats fans, but K-State can't expect to hitch their wagon to the former blue-chip recruit turned Tennessee transfer in the same way it did for Daniel Thomas. Thomas and his backup, William Powell, are gone, and the Wildcats need some depth at running back to show up.

Interior offensive linemen: K-State loses both guards and its center from an offense that produced the Big 12's leading rusher in 2010. Don't expect them to do it again in 2011 without Wade Weibert, Kenneth Mayfield and Zach Kendall, as well as Thomas and Powell, but finding some new talent behind them will help them come close.

Cornerback: David Garrett emerged as a budding star in 2010 ready for a breakout senior year in 2011, but the Wildcats lose Terrance Sweeney and Stephen Harrison, as well as safety Troy Butler. Like we've mentioned earlier, good secondaries are a must for success in the Big 12, and K-State had one of the league's worst in 2010.

MISSOURI

Receiver: Missouri has some good ones ready to suit up in 2011, namely Wes Kemp, Jerrell Jackson and T.J. Moe, but the Tigers don't have a true gamebreaker. They have some younger players in Marcus Lucas and Jimmie Hunt who they hope will develop into big-time, All-American caliber receivers, a la Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander. In Missouri's system, though, adding a few receivers is always a good idea. They certainly don't need any more running backs.

Defensive backs: Mizzou doesn't have any huge holes that need to be filled with recruiting, but the Tigers lose both corners, Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland from their 2010 team. Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines look likely to fill those roles, but the Tigers could use some depth and keep recruiting in the secondary to help add some talent around Tavon Bolden and Matt White, safeties who will replace departed Jarrell Harrison, who actually had to play some linebacker in 2010 because of injuries.

NEBRASKA

Every kind of kicker: Alex Henery, the team's punter and kicker is gone. So is kickoff specialist and lover/producer of touchbacks, Adi Kunalic. Fan favorite Henery was hardly underappreciated by the Nebraska faithful, but they'll miss him even more if the Huskers can't find a suitable placekicker and punter. Bo Pelini was reportedly after Wake Forest commit Mauro Bondi this week.

Receiver: Niles Paul and Mike McNeill are gone. The Huskers need Brandon Kinnie to come through with another good year and it'd be nice if Quincy Enunwa broke through in 2011, but Taylor Martinez needs some more help at wide out, and a couple new recruits could provide it as Martinez's passing prowess matures.

Texas gets breaks on final drive

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
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ARLINGTON, Texas – It likely won’t go down in history as “The Drive.”

The game-winning Texas possession depended more on one big play and one extra second, leading to Hunter Lawrence’s field goal and a 13-12 victory.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesColt McCoy was 20 of 36 for 184 yards with three interceptions but did enough to get Texas the Big 12 championship.
But Texas’ final drive boosted the Longhorns into the BCS title game – even if it didn’t come with many style points.

Texas coach Mack Brown said quarterback Colt McCoy’s gritty determination on a day when he was intercepted three times and sacked nine times will resonate with Heisman voters.

“Everybody wants a Heisman moment and I thought that was it,” Brown said. “I think that’s his 12th fourth-quarter comeback. We saw there was 1:49 left … That was plenty of time for our offense to score. It’s just so many times before the half or the end of the game where we’ve driven down to win the game.”

The Longhorns got a huge break on the kickoff when the normally reliable Adi Kunalic shanked the kickoff out of bounds. Kunalic had led the Big 12 in touchbacks this season. But his mistake gave the Longhorns 20 extra yards they ended up needing.

Before the Longhorns broke the huddle, McCoy calmed his team and reminded them of the opportunity they had in front of them.

“I walked into the huddle and told the offensive linemen it’s one at a time,” McCoy said. “I love each and every one of them and let’s make it happen.”

On the first play, McCoy hit Jordan Shipley for a short pass that he turned into a 19-yard gain. The Longhorns got 15 more yards on the play because Nebraska safety Larry Asante was flagged for a horse collar tackle.

McCoy then was sacked twice and threw an incomplete before Lawrence drilled his game-winning kick.

Even in the excitement of the dramatic victory, McCoy was excited about what the Longhorns had done.

In a sense it was poetic justice from last season’s disappointment. The Longhorns’ only loss came last season at Texas Tech with one second left. This season they were able to convert their chances and are 13-0 after getting their ugliest victory of the season.

“To be an undefeated team at 13-0, you have to win in different ways,” Brown said. “You’ve seen Alabama block field goals in the last second. You saw this team run up and down the field last week and the defense struggled. But you saw the offense do enough to win tonight.”

On a day when McCoy left the field banged up, he was more excited about nailing down his first Big 12 championship than any personal goals.

“It was just one of those nights. Those guys played tough defense all night. It came down to one second,” McCoy said. “We knew it was going to be tough coming in. We didn’t want to let it come down to the wire like that, but we were able to pull through.”

Pregame ponderables from Big 12 title game

December, 5, 2009
12/05/09
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The South Division has dominated play in these recent Big 12 title games.

Most people expect more of the same tonight with Texas heavily favored to beat Nebraska.

Here are some of the things I'll be watching during the game tonight to see if the No. 3 Longhorns can continue that trend.
  • Will Nebraska be able to exploit an advantage they feel is in place for inside running? Although Texas ranks as the nation's leading rushing team, Nebraska coaches believe they can run the ball "downhill" with Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead. Watch for this to happen early. If Nebraska can gain some momentum, it will be a good sign for their chances.
  • Keep Zac Lee in favorable down-and-distance situations. Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has done a good job of pulling in the reigns of his unit over the Cornhuskers' five-game winning streak. They haven't asked Lee to beat people, but have kept him in good situations. It will have to be that way tonight as well. If they can keep Lee in third-and-2 and third-and-4 and out of third-and-8 or third-and-10, it will make it much easier on him and the Cornhuskers.
  • Can the secondary check the second and third Texas receivers? The Cornhuskers' have a couple of first-team All-Big 12 players in Prince Amukamara and Larry Asante. That group will have to do a good job to check the receivers other than Jordan Shipley who have emerged for Texas over the last several weeks.

And here are some items that Texas needs to watch tonight:
  • Colt McCoy can't get frustrated. The Longhorns will be facing their toughest defensive challenge since Oklahoma. Heck, tonight's challenge might be tougher than the Sooners. McCoy could likely find yards difficult to come by. He doesn't have to play the perfect game to beat the Cornhuskers or put the finishing touches on his Heisman Trophy bid. But his statistics likely won't be anything like they were last week at Texas A&M. If he has some early struggles, he can't get down about his effort as he seemed to do at times during the Oklahoma game.
  • Come back Sergio: Coming into the season, Texas defensive end Sergio Kindle was expected to be their top defensive player and a sack-producing machine. He's been tied up by double-team blocks by opposing teams, but his numbers haven't been anywhere near what was expected. Tonight in his final college game in his hometown area would be a big time night for a huge time game from Kindle.
  • Make their special teams come through: Alex Henery and Adi Kunalic have been weapons all season for Nebraska in dictating field position. But Texas is pretty good in returns, averaging 28.3 yards on kickoffs and 13.4 yards on punts. The Longhorns also have blocked five kicks and Hunter Lawrence has converted 20 of 23 field goals. Whoever wins on special teams will have a big edge tonight.

A crowd of more than 80,000 is expected, making this crowd the largest in Big 12 history for a championship game. Almost all of the fans are in their seats and looks to be about 80 percent Texas supporters inside the stadium.

Big 12 title game prediction favors the Longhorns

December, 3, 2009
12/03/09
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The South Division has dominated play in the Big 12 in recent years. It will be up to Nebraska to turn things around and provide some competition in the championship game.

Here's how I see the game playing out.

Texas 28, Nebraska 13: The Longhorns are heavy favorites to claim Mack Brown’s second Big 12 title. Nebraska has been one of the hottest teams in the conference as the Cornhuskers have run off five straight victories after starting 4-3. And the Cornhuskers have a puncher’s chance of stealing an upset victory in this game. If they are to be successful, they must continually pressure Colt McCoy and contain Texas’ offense. And on offense, they can't be intimidated by the Longhorns' No. 1 ranked rush defense. Because so much of Nebraska's offense is based on running the ball, they have to keep trying Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead, even if it isn't immediately successful. They do have hope after the Longhorns were gashed for 190 rushing yards and 532 total yards by Texas A&M last week. And Helu and Burkhead are an upgrade over the Aggies’ backs.

Nebraska must stay ahead of the chains and keep Zac Lee from long down-and-distance situations that have caused him to struggle this season. If the Cornhuskers are to be successful, they also must dominate the special teams with big efforts from punter/kicker Alex Henery and kickoff specialist Adi Kunalic.

But even with those weapons, Texas still has too many weapons. The Longhorns should get some big plays from receivers like Malcolm Williams, James Kirkendoll, Dan Buckner and John Chiles -- particularly if the Cornhuskers elect to double-cover Jordan Shipley. The Cornhuskers will stay close for much of the game, but the Longhorns should pull away late as they head to the BCS title game.

Last week: 5-0 (100 percent)

Season record: 74-23 (76.3 percent)

What to watch for in Big 12 championship game

December, 3, 2009
12/03/09
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Here are five trends that merit watching in Saturday’s Big 12 championship game:

Can the North Division make this a game, for a change? The South Division has dominated this game, much like all aspects of cross-division play in recent seasons. Since Kansas State’s stunning upset victory over Oklahoma in 2003, the South Division teams have won the games by a combined margin of 233-51. During those five games, the North team has led for a total of 3 minutes and 22 seconds in the 300 minutes of game action. Nebraska’s defense should give it a puncher’s chance to be successful in the game. But Texas looks like the prototypical bully from the South Division that looks like it will be ready to jump on an opponent at the slightest sign of weakness.

Colt McCoy’s Heisman hopes: With the Alabama-Florida game being played earlier in the afternoon. McCoy should have a good idea who will be his prime Heisman opponent emerging from the SEC championship game. It won’t be easy as McCoy will be facing one of his biggest challenges of the season in terms of the rival defense. Nebraska ranks among the top 15 teams in the major team defensive statistical categories of rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense. The Cornhuskers have allowed more than 21 points in a game only once this season and have averaged three sacks a game over their last five contests. McCoy will need a big statistical game to sway Heisman voters one last time.

The center of Nebraska’s defense: Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick are the finest pair of defensive tackles in the conference. Suh likely is the best defensive player in the country. They will be backed up behind the line by starting middle linebacker Will Compton, a redshirt freshman. These players will need to dominate the game inside in their contest with Texas starting center Chris Hall and starting guards Charlie Tanner and Michael Huey. If the Nebraska defensive tackles and Compton can impose their will in the trenches, it will make life much more difficult for McCoy and the Longhorns.

Nebraska’s special teams need to be special: The Cornhuskers have dictated field position all season long thanks to punter Alex Henery and kickoff specialist Adi Kunalic. Henery is the most accomplished situational punter in the conference with 26 of his 65 punts pinning opponents inside their own 20-yard line. Eight of those kicks have landed inside the opponent’s 3-yard line. Kunalic leads the Big 12 with 40 percent of his kickoffs going through the end zone for touchbacks. If the Cornhuskers can dictate the special teams, they will be able to neutralize Texas kickoff return specialist Marquise Goodwin (24.1 average, one TD) and punt return specialist Jordan Shipley (13.3 yard per return average, two TDs). As difficult as it will be for the Cornhuskers to stick with Texas on offense and defense, they can’t allow any cheap touchdowns or wild changes in field position and expect to win.

Can Texas’ defense rebound? The Longhorns struggled through their worst performance of the season in their narrow victory over Texas A&M, allowing their most rushing yards, total yards and points of the season. Texas players said those memories have been blotted away as they prepare for the Cornhuskers. Nebraska’s offensive strategy should play more into Texas’ strengths that Texas A&M’s varied run-pass option attack. But it will be imperative for the Longhorns to forget about their recent defensive difficulties and bounce back with a big effort in the championship game.

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