Most coaches will tell you how crucial Special Teams is to their team's success. Execution in this aspect of the game is often the difference between a win and a loss, and when it comes to a close game against a tough playoff opponent, it can be the difference between advancing and hanging up the cleats.
[divider]MORE: Compare Any Two FCS Players or Any Two FCS Teams[divider]
Folks, we took what we think are the six most critical special teams rankings — Net Punting, Punt Return Average, Kickoff Return Average, Kickoff Return Defense, Field Goals Made and Total Blocked Kicks (punts and kicks combined) — and combined them into a ranking criteria for the 24 FCS Playoff participants. The No. 1 team in each stat category earned one point, second place earned two, and so on down to 24, and the team with the fewest points won — kind of like golf without the Mulligans, club tossing and swearing.
Who does it well? Who doesn't do it as well? We'll give you answers.[divider]
DIDN'T MAKE THE TOP THREE
|4||Stony Brook||1st-KR defense|
|5||San Diego||4th- KR defense|
|6||Kennesaw State||2nd- avg KR|
|7||South Dakota State||3rd – blkd kicks|
|8||Central Arkansas||4th- avg KR|
|9||Samford||3rd- net punt avg|
|10||Jacksonville State||6th – avg PR|
|11||Western Illinois||1st- avg PR|
|12||Central Conn. St||2nd – avg PR|
|13||Northern Iowa||1st – net punt avg|
|14||Southern Utah||6th – net punt avg|
|15||Monmouth||4th – avg PR|
|16||North Dakota St.||8th – avg KR|
|17||Nicholls||1st – FGs made|
|18||Wofford||8th – net punt avg|
|19||Elon||4th – FGs made|
|20||South Dakota||5th – KR defense|
|21||Lehigh||2nd – blkd kicks|
|22||Northern Arizona||10th – FGs made|
|23||Furman||9th – avg KR|
|24||New Hampshire||10th – net punt avg|
EDITOR'S NOTE: If two teams finished with the same number of points, we broke the tie by choosing the team with the highest ranking in one of the six categories. Two teams tied for first, for instance, but our No. 1 team had the best net punting average rank of the 24 playoff teams, while the second place team's best ranking was No. 3 in kickoff return average. This came into play with Stony Brook and San Diego for No. 4, Nicholls and Wofford for 17th.
THE TOP THREE
3. SAM HOUSTON STATE (10-1)
TOP CATEGORIES: 1st in Blocked Kicks/Punts; 2nd in field goals made; 3rd in punt return average; 6th in kick return defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Kyle Segler
THE HERO: P.J. Hall – Has been the kick blocking master in his career. He is second all time in NCAA history in blocked kicks. Don't forget Davion Davis returning punts (22.7 yd PR avg, 2 TDs; 25.3 KR average) or Jaylen Harris returning kicks (24.3 KR avg, 1 TD) — or Tre Honshtein (16 field goals).
THE SKINNY: This is interesting because the Bearkats were No. 3 last year in this special teams rankings too, and once again led all FCS Playoff participants in blocked kicks/punts. SHSU blocked a mind-boggling 11 kicks/punts this year. Only two other playoff teams were even above five (Lehigh with 9, South Dakota State with 8). P.J. Hall is just a flat out machine, having blocked 13 kicks in his career so far.[divider]
2. JAMES MADISON (11-0)
TOP CATEGORIES: 4th in net punt average; 4th in FGs made; 6th in kick return average.
SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Roy Tesh
THE HERO: Harry O'Kelly and Jeremiah McBride, Punters — These two combined for about a 42-yard average with six punts of more than 50 yards and 18 punts pinning the opponent inside the 20-yard lines. And no punts were blocked, a testament to the entire punting unit.
THE SKINNY: The Dukes take this No. 2 spot by just being good all around at several categories. In none of the six categories is JMU lower than 9th best in the field of 24 playoff teams. The team has run out two punters and two kickers this year and they've all been rock solid, and the return game has also been solid — starting with stud return artist John Miller (nearly 12 yards per punt return, 1 TD … three kick returns also).[divider]
1. WEBER STATE (9-2)
TOP TWO CATEGORIES: 1st in kickoff return average, 2nd in field goals made, 2nd in net punting average, 3rd in kickoff return defense
SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Colton Swan
THE HERO: Rashid Shaheed, KR – He is third in the FCS in kickoff return average at 32 yards per return, and he scored two touchdowns. His punt return compatriot for the Wildcats is Xequille Harry, who is good for 19 yards per punt return and has an 84-yard TD return. Kicker Trey Tuttle was 16 of 19 on field goals this year, and junior Brady May is a special teams stud who made first team Big Sky for his prowess.
THE SKINNY: What can we say? Coach Colton Swan, take a bow. Whatever Weber State has done with its special teams philosophy, the players have definitely bought into it and the talent is there to make it happen. In the postseason, special teams can play a massive part in a big win. Coming to Utah this weekend is a very good Western Illinois team. Could a big special teams play make the difference? You bet it could — and this team has what it takes in that phase of the game.