The ESPN position rankings are wrapping up, with special teams the last unit to cover. Chris Low and Edward Aschoff have ranked from top to bottom the best individual players and player groups in the SEC and the results were not too favorable for Kentucky. That was, until the special teams unit rolled in.
Offensive linemen may be one of the most underappreciated players on the field for any team. Unless you consider your punter and kicker — which fans often do forget about — we want touchdowns every series, right? Place-kickers and punters are extremely important to a team, because let’s face it, nobody’s perfect. Especially not Kentucky.
The overall score for the Cats isn’t fantastic, but it’s the best ranking they have received thus far, coming in at No. 11 on their list.
11. Kentucky: Senior place-kicker Craig McIntosh has gone from walk-on to one of the most dependable place-kickers in the SEC. He made 12-of-14 field goals last season and also took over the kickoff duties later in the season. Replacing punter Ryan Tydlacka won’t be easy, and the Wildcats’ return game was non-existent in 2011. They were last in the SEC in punt return average (1.8 yards).
The kicking game will not be an issue this year. McIntosh returns with a stellar foot that will surely be beneficial for the Cats when the offense isn’t quite clicking. But when McIntosh’s golden leg isn’t quite in range, Ryan Tydlacka’s departure leaves a void as a punter which will surely be noticed this season. There is there is no one on the roster to replace his booming 45-yarders yet.
On the other side receiving the punts, Randall Burden barely registered in the stat column, with a pitiful 34 punt return yards on the season. With other, now more mature athletes on the team and Burden graduated, maybe we see Joker Phillips try somebody with a little flair. Not that there is another Randall Cobb on this team, but when he returned punts there was always a chance for a score. Put somebody dynamic back there that can make plays happen.
While the collective score is nothing to brag about, individual praise is the real kicker (pun intended). When Low and Aschoff broke down the place-kickers, McIntosh impressed them enough to be ranked as a top-five SEC kicker.
5. Craig McIntosh, Sr., Kentucky: He turned out to be one of Kentucky’s best offensive weapons last fall, hitting 12 of 14 (85.7) field goals, including a long of 48. The Wildcats have more optimism concerning their offense and finding individual playmakers, but McIntosh will yet again be key for Kentucky in the points department.
McIntosh was named to the Lou Groza Award watch list, given to the nation’s most outstanding place-kicker. He is one of 30 players on the pre-season list, which includes five other kickers from the SEC. The Lexington native has nailed nearly 80 percent of his field goal attempts in the last two seasons, with a career long of 50-yards.