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Thursday, May 17, 2012
Top performer: Kicker

By Edward Aschoff

Our look at the SEC's most productive returning players in 2012 continues with a look at the league's top returning placekickers.

Past producers:
The SEC returns eight of the top 10 kickers from last season. We decided to go by field goals made over percentage, because a few players had higher percentages, but didn't have as many attempts. The top kicker is back, but when it comes to field-goal kicking, the crown is always always up for grabs.

Here's a look at the top returning kicker when it comes to field goals made:

Caleb Sturgis, Florida: He connected on 22 of 26 field goal attempts for a kicking percentage of 84.6 last season. He hit 19 of 21 kicks within 50 yards, and was 3-for-5 from 50 yards and beyond, including hitting a long of 55. Sturgis also nailed all 31 of his extra-point attempts. Sturgis, who was finalist for the Lou Groza Award, given annually to college football's best placekicker, did all of that after suffering a very serious back in 2010. The injury cost him the final nine games of the season. Sturgis has one of the strongest legs in the country, and really improved his accuracy in 2011. He will likely receive a few preseason accolades this fall, and should yet again be in the conversation as the nation's top kicker.

The SEC returns seven more of the top 10 kickers from 2011:
Kicking is so unpredictable these days. Just look at last year's bowl season. Yuck. So it's tough to say if Sturgis will keep his crown. Hocker is someone who will definitely push for the top spot, because of all the scoring opportunities Arkansas will have. But he could also lose chances if the Hogs get in the end zone too many times.

Shelley and Alleman should also get plenty of chances to get near the end zone. Both Alabama and LSU should have improved passing games, so both offenses should move the ball well enough to satisfy their kickers.

Missouri returns Trey Barrow and Andrew Baggett this season. Barrow, who filled in nicely for the injured Grant Ressel, began the spring as a starter, but moved behind Baggett after struggling along the way. The competition should run through fall camp and should be pretty fun to watch. The winner should have more than a few chances of getting into kicking range with the Tigers' offense.

Longtime Georgia kicker Blair Walsh is gone, and while he struggled last season, he still made 21 field goals. The Bulldogs have a few options at placekicker and will take a hard look at freshmen Marshall Morgan and Collin Barber. The coaching staff has made it clear that it will work on live field-goal attempts more during the preseason than it has in the past.

Mississippi State must replace one of the league's top kickers in Derek DePasquale. Brian Egan, a former Parade All-American, looks ready to step in, so keep an eye on him this fall.