Collegiate football games generally begin with a kickoff, and so in a very singular sense of the word "important" the players who physically carry out the "foot" aspects of football games are the most important players on the field.
Arguments of course abound on the pertinence and provenance of teams' kicking apparatus, and normally they tussle over strategy, and thus coaches' decision-making. How much faith does this or that head coach have in his place-kicker's accuracy and cannon between opponents' 30 and 40 yard lines? Just how many years were shaved off Nick Saban's stolid life on November 30, 2013? How does one weigh the relative merits of going for it on fourth-and-three over and against punting your foe inside his own five-yard line? Does Les Miles even know how game clocks work?
These questions normally arise on Monday mornings, and always without the leering, screaming, homicidal gaze of 90,000 cannibalistic believers in your face. Saban of course knew that Adam Griffith -- poor, poor, freshman Adam Griffith -- couldn't cover 57 yards that night, but what if he had, man, what if he had?
Certainly the Rebel faithful hope for nothing of the Kick Bama Kick debacle to happen in 2015, and absolutely heaven forbid it occur in Starkville. Bill Connelly likes Ole Miss pretty alright this year, and last week Alex Gray and Nick Martin saw real possibilities for Hugh Freeze and the boys. Not that a handful off bloggers' opinions constitute any reliable barometer of Ole Miss' earning potential, but all the same, no one wants to live through the losing end of a Kick Six, especially during rivalry week.
So, kicking then. And kick returning. And punting and punt returning. Who we got?
Gary Wunderlich returns this season as the nominal candidate for field goal and extra point duties. When he wasn't busy throwing punches at Memphis players last season, Gary split time with Andrew Fletcher. Wunderlich himself was six of eight on field goals in 2014, with a longest make of 47 yards against Auburn. He also contributed to the unit's very stellar 47-of-49 extra points and was called up for the ever tricky business of situational punting, which he's expected to continue this year. Wunderlich's 38 points scored in 2014 placed him second on the team behind Jaylen Walton, who earned 42.
The Greek Feet Andy Pappanastos will back up Wunderlich at placekicker, but one sincerely hopes for Wunderlich's continued health, since Pappanastos played in just two games last season. Andy's standout performance came against Presbyterian, wherein he connected on five-of-six PATs and handled kickoff duties with a lone touchback.
Wunderlich is further slated to continue his kickoff gig, in which he averaged 62.5 yards on 35 attempts for 13 touchbacks last season. Nathan Noble returns to back up Gary on kickoffs, insofar as his weaker leg netted him an average of 61.4 yards on 30 attempts with 11 touchbacks.
Ryan Buchanan will take placeholder duties, while Will Few and Chadwick Lamar will handle long-snapper work.
In Australia, punting is called "willy-balling with your mates," and Will Gleeson is quite the willy-baller. The Thunder From Down Under took 58 cracks last season for an average of nearly 43 yards per attempt. He dropped the rock inside opponents' 20s on 24 occasions and forced 17 fair catches. In his first ever football game on American soil he blasted a 70-yarder against Boise State on his way to a season that earned him two Ray Guy awards. In fact, 2015 could be a breakout year for Gleeson, whom Phil Steele has named a third-team All-SEC this preseason. Watch too for Gary Wunderlich in pooch and directional situations, since dude apparently can't get enough of kicking around oblong objects.
Kickoff and punt returners
When Hugh Freeze released his initial depth chart earlier this summer, Jaylen Walton was listed as the top guy at kickoff returns, while Markell Pack was listed first for punt returning. Those spots may have changed in the last week, though:
#OleMiss head coach Hugh Freeze said Carlos Davis is working at No. 1 punt return. "Markell (Pack) is 1B."— Ben Garrett (@SpiritBen) August 18, 2015
"Carlos Davis could be the guy on punt and KO return. So far in practice, he's been solid," @SpiritChuck on @HeadtoHeadRadio— Brad Logan (@BradLoganCOTE) August 17, 2015
If this is indeed the case, the Rebs' kickoff return preferences run Carlos Davis, Jaylen Walton, then Kailo Moore; the punt returners then are Davis, Markell Pack, and Tony Bridges.