Pac-12 Power Rankings: The Special Teams Units

Marqise Lee took this kickoff return 100 yards for a touchdown. - Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

We have our hands full this week as we try to break down the kickers, punters, returns, and everyone in between in our Special Teams Power Rankings.

1. University of Southern California (5 First-Place Votes)

The Trojans are not the West Coast's version of Virginia Tech, but they do possess the talent to easily earn our top spot in our Special Teams Power Rankings. Marqise Lee is the name that jumps out from this group as he's a threat to go the distance every time the ball is in his hands.

Andre Heidari is back as the field goal kicker after hitting on 25 of 33 tries in his first two seasons including a long of 50 yards. The only question mark appears to be the punting position, but sophomore Kris Albarado was touted as having a more than capable foot coming out of high school. The Trojans also boast some of the conference's best coverage units, so they have the chance to turn the tide of games at any time.

2. Oregon

Once again, a dynamic return presence vaults a team near the top of our special teams rankings. De'Anthony Thomas is electric as a punt returner, as his 17.1 yard per return average from last season indicates.

The Ducks lose their kicker and punter from last season, but freshman Matt Wogan was the No. 1 kicking recruit in the country. Dylan Ausherman is listed as the punter, but if he struggles, expect Wogan to step in and handle both the kicking and punting duties.

3. Stanford

It should come as no surprise that David Shaw has his special teams units finely tuned. The meticulous task-master of a coach enjoyed solid production in the kicking game last season, and he'll have Jordan Williamson back this year as well. Williamson was a Second Team All Pac-12 kicker as he hit 13 of 19 field goals including a long of 45 yards.

Ben Rhyne punted nine times last year for an average of 41.1 yards per punt, but only one of those nine punts landed inside the 20-yard line. Stanford has some of the best tackling fundamentals of any school, so the coverage units should be excellent yet again.

4. Colorado

Mike MacIntyre's squad finally appears on the top half of our power rankings as his Buffaloes possess some of the top special teams players in the conference.

Darragh O'Neill was an Honorable Mention All Pac-12 selection as a punter last year and Will Oliver returns as the starting field goal kicker. O'Neill punted 76 times last season with a long of 61 yards, and he's sure to have his number called plenty this year. Marques Mosley will handle the kick return duties after doing an admirable job last season.

5. Oregon State

The Beavers are excited to return both their starting field goal kicker and their starting punter after they came on strong at the end of last season.

Trevor Romaine was money last season as he nailed 16 of 18 tries with a long of 45 yards en route to becoming a First Team All Pac-12 player. Keith Kostol punted 54 times last season and put 24 of those inside the 20-yard line, so the Beavers do have some weapons to work with in the third phase of the game.

6. California

Cal was listed all over our writers' rankings as the Golden Bears appeared to be the toughest team to peg. Sonny Dykes' squad appeared as high as second as as low as tenth, but they ultimately averaged out to sixth.

Vincenzo D'Amato handles the field goal duties yet again after converting on 16 of 23 tries last year while Cole Leininger is back as the punter. Leininger had the impossible task of replacing Cal great Bryan Anger, and he struggled by only putting 13 of his 60 punts inside the 20-yard line. Brendan Bigelow will should the return load this season after deferring to Keenan Allen for much of last year.

7. Washington State

Mike Leach has never been a fan of settling for field goals, but this year, he has the right kicker to do so if need be. Andrew Furney is back for his swan song after a Second Team All Pac-12 season last year in which he hit 14 of 20 attempts, but his long was a remarkable 60 yards.

Furney's leg strength is well-documented, and punter Mike Bowlin will hope to become equally successful this year. Bowlin did average 41.9 yards per punt, but his coverage unit let him down a bit as his net average worked out to be 35.6 yards. Teondray Caldwell is a solid kick returner, but it's hard to have your top running back fielding every kick.

8. UCLA

Every Sun Devil fan remembers Bruin kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn who nailed a last-second kick to take down Arizona State in Tempe last season. Fairbairn is back after hitting 16 of 22 including a long of 48.

The Bruins will break in a new punter this year and it appears freshman Sean Covington has the inside track on the job. Covington averaged 46.5 yards per punt in high school, so time will tell how that translates the college level.

9. Washington

The Huskies had one of the worst special teams units in the country last season, but they return tons of experience so an improvement should not be hard to come by.

Travis Coons only hit on 9 of his 14 field goal tries while punter Korey Durkee lost his job to Coons in the middle of last season. This year, both are hoping for a fresh start. The kick returners are nothing to write home about, but there's always the possibility of a star in the making when you have team speed like the Huskies do.

10. Arizona State

A below-average unit returns plenty of faces from last season, but it won't return the most important player. Punter Josh Hubner was sensational, but he graduated in the spring and left a glaring void to be filled.

Recruit Matt Haack hopes to take over for Hubner, while Alex Garoutte, Jon Mora, and incomer Zane Gonzalez should duke out a three-way battle for the field goal kicking job. Garoutte and Mora have struggled mightily, so Gonzalez will be given every chance to win the job. As for returners, it's time to please the fans and let D.J. Foster field kicks.

11. Utah

The Utes have to replace just about everyone from one of the better special teams units in the conference. Right now, coach Kyle Whittingham appears to have walk-on Jaime Sutcliffe pencilled in as the field goal kicker while Tom Hackett will do the punting.

Hackett became known for his pooch punts as a freshman, but he did hit a booming 52-yarder in the Utes' spring game this year.

12. Arizona

The Sun Devils show up in our tenth spot, and the Wildcats pull in at 12, so all we can guess is that the desert air might not be the best place to kick the football. Rich Rodriguez had a below average unit last year that could get even worse as the Wildcats plan on using walk-ons at both the kicker and punter spots.

The Wildcats could struggle in the return game as well, as injuries at the receiver position could deplete the amount of candidates they'll have auditioning for the job this fall.

Previous Power Rankings

The Quarterbacks

The Running Backs

The Tight Ends

The Wide Receivers

The Offensive Lines

The Defensive Lines

The Linebackers

The Defensive Backs

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