Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, June 24, 2015

There?s offense, defense ? and special teams, the often overlooked aspect of football. But, special teams can be the narrow difference between winning and losing.

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Here?s a look at the Big Ten East special units.

1. Maryland. There is no better kicker in America than Brad Craddock. The Australian won the Groza Award last season after hitting 18-of-19 field goals. He has converted on 81.7 percent of his career attempts. The punting job is up for grabs with redshirt freshman Lee Shrader and true freshman Nicholas Rubinowicz in competition. Will Likely is a great return man, ranking No. 1 in the Big Ten in kickoff returns (31.0 ypr) and No. 3 in punt returns (11. ypr) in 2014. Likely ran back a punt and a kickoff for a TD last year.

2. Indiana. The Hoosiers have their kicker and punter back. Griffin Oakes assumed kicking duties early last year and hit 13-of-18 field-goal attempts. He nailed a 58-yarder vs. Maryland that was the longest boot in the nation in 2014 and the longest in school annals. Erich Toth averaged 40.7 yards on punts and excelled with his touch, downing 18 punts inside the 20-yard line. J-Shun Harris is a good return man.

3. Ohio State. Vets are back at kicker and punter. Sean Nuernberger was OK as a freshman, hitting 13-of-20 field-goal attempts. He needs to continue to develop. Cam Johnston is one of the Big Ten?s-and nation?s–best punters. The native of Australia finished second in the Big Ten last season with a 45.1-yard average. He also has nice touch. Jalin Marshall is an electric return man, ranking No. 2 in the Big Ten in punt returns last year (11.8 ypr) and running one back for a score.

4. Michigan State. Questions loom in the kicking game. Star punter Mike Sadler is gone. He was a four-year starter and a true weapon who could flip the field. Jake Hartbarger arrives with a fat scrapbook as one of the nation?s top punters. Michael Geiger, who is coming off hip surgery, didn?t excel as a sophomore after a strong debut in 2014. He hit 14-of-22 field-goal attempts after missing just one kick in 2013. R.J. Shelton ranked No. 3 in the league in kickoff returns last year (25.6 ypr) with a TD.

5. Penn State. The Nittany Lions are tasked with replacing kicker Sam Ficken, who paced the Big Ten in field goals (24) and finishing third in percentage (82.8) last year. Joey Julius is next man up. Daniel Pasquariello, an Aussie, has promise as a punter but needs to develop more consistency. The return game features Mark Allen, Grant Haley and Koa Farmer.

6. Rutgers. Work must be done at punter. Joe Roth and Tim Gleeson will compete. Kicker Kyle Federico is back after a solid 2014 in which he booted 16-of-21 field-goal attempts. He needs to improve his range. Janarion Grant was one of the Big Ten?s elite kickoff return men last year, averaging 25.3 yards per runback.

7. Michigan. The Wolverines will break in a new kicker and punter with Matt Wile and Will Hagerup gone. Weber State transfer Blake O?Neill may be the answer at punter. He averaged 44.1 yards per boot last season. Hyped incoming freshman Andrew David may be the favorite to win the kicking job. He banged in a 58-yarder in high school. Kenny Allen also is in the mix. Jabrill Peppers juices up the return game.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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