Whatever the world thinks of Sean Snyder as the possible next head coach at Kansas State, this much is undisputed: the special teams unit Sean coaches is consistently among the best in the country. 2017 should be more of the same, provided the starters contribute as expected.
Matthew McCrane should be the starter, as he was for the beginning of the season in 2016. Injury and inconsistency saw McCrane give way to Ian Patterson last year, but McCrane will be looking to go out on a high note this year, his last season with the Wildcats.
He only kicked in eight games in 2016, but in the process, McCrane set a school record for consecutive field goals made (16) and for field goal accuracy (36-of-40 for his career). That’s good for fourth-best in the country among active placekickers.
Patterson also handled kickoff duties for part of the last season, but he has since graduated, and McCrane may take on that role as well. He kicked off 31 times last year, including nine times against Texas Tech. It’s also possible that punter Mitch Lochbihler, who kicked off for Kansas State in the last six games in 2016 may also pull the same duties in 2017.
Punting will once again be in the able command of Nick Walsh. In 2016, on his way to becoming All-Big 12 (Phil Steele), Walsh averaged a career best 42.8 yards per punt, including two punts of more than 50 yards against Texas Tech. He also had 16 punts land inside the 20.
What about the return game though? Like the other positions, the names from 2016 will be in heavy rotation in 2017 as well. Byron Pringle, who had nearly 700 yards in 23 kickoff returns last year, will probably get the lion’s share of the return game. Expect to see Dominique Heath contribute in the return game as well.
Colborn Couchman is now gone, and Sam Sizelove will probably see limited action on special teams as he becomes part of the regular rotation at linebacker. But Denzel Goolsby and Brogan Barry, the newest walk-on to receive a scholarship, are more than capable in the kick coverage and return game.
Here’s an important task for the purple faithful: keep your fingers and toes crossed that McCrane stays healthy for the entire season in 2017. There’s not much experience in the kicking ranks this year. Indeed, there’s only the untested Blake Lynch behind McCrane, and who knows what he’s capable of in an actual game situation?
At punter, Lochbihler should be able to backfill Walsh’s spot if the need raises. Nick McLellan, who hasn’t played in a single game to date, might also be pressed into service in 2017.
In the return game, expect to see at least a bit of speedster Isaiah Harris spelling Pringle and Heath. Defensive back Sean Newlan is also expected to play at least a little in a kick coverage capacity this season.
Solid special teams play should provide a nice cushion for a Kansas State team that is not likely to struggle as much on offense as in 2015. Plus, punting is winning. Right?