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Posts Tagged ‘Cameron Johnston’

The Game preview: #3 Michigan at #2 Ohio State

Friday, November 25th, 2016


um-osu-game-preview-header(Dustin Johnson)

Ten years ago, No. 2 Michigan met No. 1 Ohio State on a crisp fall day in Columbus in what was being called The Game of the Century. With the Big Ten championship game and College Football Playoff still years away, the winner of The Game would earn a spot in the BCS Championship Game.

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Quick Facts
Ohio Stadium – 12p.m. ET – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (5th season)
Coaching Record: 164-28 (60-5 at OSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Ed Warriner (5th season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Greg Schiano (1st season)
Luke Fickell (12th season)
Last Season: 12-1 (7-1 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: OSU 42 – UM 13
All-Time Series: Michigan 58-48-6
Record in Columbus: Michigan 27-26-2
Jim Harbaugh vs OSU 0-1
Last Michigan win: 2011 (40-34)
Last Ohio State win: 2015 (42-13)
Current Streak: Ohio State 4
Ohio State Schedule to date
Opponent Result
Bowling Green W 77-10
Tulsa W 48-3
at #14 Oklahoma W 45-24
Rutgers W 58-0
Indiana W 38-17
at #8 Wisconsin W 30-23
at Penn State L 21-24
Northwestern W 24-20
#10 Nebraska W 62-3
at Maryland W 62-3
at Michigan State W 17-16

After delivering a rousing speech to the team on Thursday night, Bo Schembechler passed away on Friday morning, the day before the game. The loss of the patriarch of Michigan football sent shockwaves around college football and completely changed the tone of the game. Whether it made an impact on the outcome of the game will never be known, but the game turned out to be a shootout. Michigan marched down the field for the game’s first touchdown. Ohio State answered and took a 28-14 halftime lead. Michigan fought back to within four, but was unable to pull it out as Ohio State won 42-39.

We all know the long and painful story from there. Michigan went on to lost the Rose Bowl to USC, then lost the first two games of the next season to Appalachian State and Oregon. Lloyd Carr retired at the end of the season and Michigan suffered through seven seasons of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke.

Ohio State, meanwhile, went on to win four Big Ten championships, two BCS bowls, and play in three national championship games, winning one of them. During that span, they’ve beaten Michigan all but once, when the Wolverines pulled off a 40-34 win in Hoke’s first season, which was also a transition season between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer.

Jim Harbaugh returned to Michigan in December 2014 and immediately locked in a solid recruiting class in short time and then turned a 5-7 team into a 10-3 team that beat SEC East champion Florida in the Capital One Bowl. But he wasn’t able to beat Ohio State, falling 42-13 in Ann Arbor. Now, 30 years after his infamous guaranteed victory over the Buckeyes, he takes his Wolverines into Columbus to try to earn a spot in the Big Ten championship game.

Ohio State comes in with an identical 10-1 overall record and 7-1 conference record as Michigan. The Buckeyes’ only loss was a 24-21 defeat at Penn State just a couple weeks after Michigan beat the Nittany Lions by 39 points. But OSU has beaten now-8th-ranked Oklahoma and 6th-ranked Wisconsin, both on the road. Add in a 62-3 thumping of now-16th-ranked Nebraska, and Ohio State has proven it can play with anyone.

Like that Game of the Century a decade ago, this year’s matchup figures to be a monumental battle between two of college football titans. In college football’s greatest rivalry, what more could you ask for? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Ohio State has the ball

Despite losing their running back, quarterback, tight end, most of the receiving corps, and their left tackle to the NFL, Ohio State’s offense hasn’t really missed a beat. It leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth nationally in scoring (43.8 points per game), leads the Big Ten and ranks eighth nationally in rushing (263.1 yards per game), ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 68th nationally in passing (230 yards per game), and leads the Big Ten and ranks 21st nationally in total offense (493.1 yards per game).

That the Buckeyes lost last season’s quarterback is slightly overstated given that junior J.T. Barrett is back. He started his freshman season, going 11-1 in 2014 before ending his season against Michigan and watching Cardale Jones lead the team to the national title. Jones won the starting job last season, but Barrett saw ample playing time, including a four-touchdown performance in last year’s Michigan game.

This season, Barrett leads the Big Ten with 24 passing touchdowns, though he ranks sixth in yards per game (209.5) — one spot behind Wilton Speight’s 215.6 — and third in pass efficiency (147.7) — one behind Speight’s 148.9. He has completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 2,304 yards and just four interceptions. But he’s coming off his worst passing performance of the season against Michigan State, in which he completed just 10-of-22 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. Still, he’s even more dangerous with his legs as he rushed for 105 yards. He has thrown for more than 200 yards in seven of 11 games, including a five-game stretch leading up to the MSU game, and he’s also tied for the team lead with eight rushing touchdowns.

Michigan fans will be familiar with redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber, the Detroit Cass Tech product who originally committed to Brady Hoke, decommitted in favor of Ohio State, and nearly switched back to Michigan after Harbaugh was hired. But he stuck with the Buckeyes and has rewarded them with a 1,000-yard season in his first campaign. He currently ranks fourth in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 95.1 yards per game. He has rushed for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry. But after opening the season with three 100-yard games in his first four, he has just one in the last seven games. He rushed for 111 yards on 14 carries at Michigan State last Saturday. Penn State and Wisconsin held him to a combined 3.6 yards per carry.

The receiving corps is lead by the dangerous H-back Curtis Samuel. The junior from Brooklyn, N.Y. has 61 receptions for 790 yards and seven touchdowns — all team highs — and he also has 84 carries for 650 yards and seven scores. His 14 total touchdowns rank third in the Big Ten (non-quarterbacks) and he ranks second in the conference behind Penn State’s Saquon Barkley with 132.5 all-purpose yards per game. Sophomore Noah Brown is the team’s second leading receiver with 27 catches for 345 yards and seven touchdowns, while senior Dontre Wilson has 26 for 343 and five. Junior tight end Marcus Baugh is the only other Buckeye receiver with 20 or more receptions with 21 for 242 yards and two scores.

Ohio State’s offensive line is good but not great. They’ve given up one more sack than Michigan’s has this season, but some of that success is a result of Barrett’s mobility. Senior center Pat Elflein and junior right guard Billy Price are the are the best linemen on the team. Elflein was a second-team All-American last season. Sophomore right tackle Isaiah Prince and freshman left guard Michael Jordan are the weaknesses on the line where Michigan’s talented defensive front will attack. Junior left tackle Jamarco Jones has improved throughout the season and is a solid bookend.

When Michigan has the ball

The Buckeye defense ranks second in the Big Ten and third nationally in scoring defense (13 points per game), fourth in the Big Ten and 18th nationally against the run (120.3 yards per game) second in the Big Ten and third nationally against the pass (159.5 yards per game), and second in the Big Ten and fourth nationally in total defense (279.8 yards per game).

Like on the offensive side, despite losing much of their defense to the NFL, the Buckeyes still present the best and most athletic defense Michigan has faced yet this season. But they’re not as great at getting to the quarterback as they have been in years past, ranking just sixth in the Big Ten and 57th nationally with 24 sacks — two-thirds of Michigan’s total. Junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis leads the way in that category with 7.5 sacks, while the other end, sophomore Sam Hubbard, has three. Reserve ends, junior Jalyn Holmes and freshman Nick Bosa, have another six combined. The interior of the OSU line is lead by redshirt freshman Dre’Mont Jones and junior nose tackle Michael Hill who have a combined 59 tackles and five tackles for loss, but no sacks. Freshman backup tackle Robert Landers is also talented with 7.5 tackles for loss and one sack on the season.

There’s no dropoff at linebacker where junior Raekwon McMillan is one of the best middle linebackers in the country. He’s Ohio State’s leading tackler with 71, has 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack, four pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He’s much more athletic than your typical middle ‘backer. Sophomore WILL Jerome Baker and junior SAM Chris Worley are solid with 103 combined tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, and six passes defended.

The secondary is lead by sophomore safety Malik Hooker, who leads the Big Ten with five interceptions and is dangerous with the ball in his hands, having returned two of them for touchdowns. He ranks third on the team with 60 tackles in addition to 4.5 tackles for loss, half a sack, and nine passes defended. He’s all over the field, both in coverage and run support. Junior Damon Webb — another Cass Tech star that got away from Michigan — is the other safety and he has 48 tackles, two for loss, one interception, and four passes defended. Junior Gareon Conley — a former Michigan commit — and sophomore Marshon Lattimore are the corners and both are very good.

The other third

Fifth-year senior punter Cam Johnston is one of Ohio State’s best weapons, leading the Big Ten in punting average by a whopping 4.5 yards! He’s averaging 46.3 yards per punt with 13 of 43 punts over 50 yards and nearly half (21) downed inside the 20. Senior kicker Tyler Durbin has been the Big Ten’s most reliable placekicker, converting 16-of-17 field goals, the only miss being the block at Penn State. But the former walk-on’s long all season has been 45 yards.

Sophomore receiver Parris Campbell is a dangerous kick returner even though he hasn’t taken one all the way yet. He averages 26.6 yards per return. Wilson is the main punt returner, averaging 6.3 yards per return.

Prediction

I’ll start with a disclaimer. This prediction is based on Speight being able to play the whole game. If he’s unable to play, or if he’s knocked out of the game, I predict a Michigan loss. But I’m hedging my bets on his shoulder not being quite as bad as Harbaugh let on the past couple of weeks.

In a game like this where both teams rank among the nation’s best both offensively and defensively, and both teams will come in full of emotion in a rivalry game, I like to think that they’ll both keep doing what the are good at — what got them there.

As we saw in this week’s The Numbers Game, Ohio State’s defense has been susceptible to big plays, especially in the run game where they rank 77th nationally, giving up 5.91 explosive runs per game. In fact, they’re slightly worse in that regard than Indiana, which entered last week surrendering 5.7 per game — 70th nationally. We all know what Michigan’s running game did to the Hoosiers, racking up seven explosive runs including De’Veon Smith’s scampers of 39, 34, and 25 yards. We also know that on drives in which Michigan has an explosive play they score 73 percent of the time.

Michigan’s offense averages 11.36 explosive plays per game and OSU’s defense surrenders 8.09 per game. Let’s say Michigan’s offense gets eight and scores points on 75 percent of those. Even if they’re all field goals, that’s 18 points. But Michigan will score at least one touchdown, so now we’re into the 20s. Two puts them at 26 points — two touchdowns and four field goals — and I think that’s enough to win the game.

Michigan’s defense surrenders just 6.09 explosive plays per game — fifth nationally — while Ohio State’s offense averages 11.09 (16th). The Wolverines haven’t surrendered more than nine explosive plays in non-garbage time this season. But even so, even if Ohio State’s powerful offense gets its average of 11, Michigan’s defense gives up points just 35 percent of the time. That equates to four scores and I doubt all four will be touchdowns as Michigan has surrendered just 14 all season. Three touchdowns and a field goal is 24 points.

Sure, it may be slightly ridiculous to base a prediction on explosive play stats, but they’ve been pretty accurate all season. And now we have 11 games worth of data to use. If Speight plays, Michigan’s offense will be able to move the ball well enough to put up some point on the Buckeyes, even if they settle for field goals. Senior Kenny Allen will come up big by making all of them. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will empty the kitchen sink trying to soften the Buckeye defense for Smith to get the running game going.

On the other side, Michigan will surrender a few big plays, likely including the 50-yard touchdown run up the middle that has become standard for OSU in this game. But by and large, the U-M defense will hold strong and keep the Bucks out of rhythm.

The game live up to its billing, going down to the wire. Allen boots a game-winning field goal, Michigan escapes the snake pit with its first win in 16 years, and heads to Indy for a rematch with Wisconsin. Of course, if Speight doesn’t play, this could be all moot.

Michigan 26 – Ohio State 24

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Kicking specialists

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014


Big-Ten-position-rankings-header-KickingSpecialists

This is the 10th installment of Maize and Go Blue’s series that ranks the best Big Ten players at each position for the upcoming season. Each week, until Michigan’s opener, one position will be previewed, looking at the players who will excel in 2014, not necessarily the ones who did so in previous seasons. This week, we are taking a look at special teams. Like the past nine editions of this series, this position preview is split into two parts—one for kicking specialists and one for return specialists—in order to provide thorough and in-depth analysis of each of player ranked. Today, we reveal who will be the top five kicking specialists—placekickers or punters—in the Big Ten this upcoming season.

Previously

Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two | Running Backs: Part One, Part Two | Wide Receivers: Part One, Part Two
Tight Ends: Part One, Part Two | Offensive Line: Part One, Part Two | Defensive Line: Part One, Part Two
Linebackers: Part One, Part Two | Cornerbacks: Part One, Part Two | Safeties:Part One, Part Two

5. Matt Wile, Michigan (K) | Senior – 6’2”, 219 lbs
FG Made FG Att FG % Long 1-39 40+ PATs
2013 3 5 60.0 49 2-2 1-3 5-5
2012 2 3 66.7 52 0-0 2-3 0-0
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0
Career Totals 5 8 62.5 52 2-2 3-6 5-5
(Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com)

(Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com)

Matt Wile was supposed to be the savior that salvaged Michigan’s placekicking the moment he stepped on campus. He arrived in Ann Arbor the summer after Michigan went a ghastly 4-of-14 on field goals in 2010. He was expected to wrestle away the starting job from Brendan Gibbons, who made only one of his five field-goal attempts in 2010, immediately. However, not only did Gibbons enter the 2011 season atop the depth chart, he transformed into one of the most productive placekickers in Michigan history, breaking a few records and kicking numerous clutch field goals during the next three years. With Gibbons entrenched as the starter, Wile was left to perform the remaining odd jobs, becoming Michigan’s long-distance kicker, pooch punter, and kickoff specialist. Wile’s versatility proved to be a great asset to Michigan’s special teams the past three seasons, but he never has had the chance to be the kicker.

Wile finally will have that chance this fall. With Gibbons no longer a part of the program, Wile will be Michigan’s full-time placekicker. What we already know is that he has the leg to drill the football through the uprights from at least 45 yards out. As Michigan’s long-distance kicker the past two seasons, he attempted six field goals from at least that distance and made half of them, hitting from 48, 49, and 52 yards. While a 50-percent success rate from there already is respectable for a college kicker, it should be even better this year. This will be the first time of his career that he will be able to devote all of his time to honing his placekicking form and ability. Wile should be even more lethal from 45-plus-yards.

On the other hand, what we have yet to learn is whether Wile can be consistent from inside 45 yards. A big leg is a prized weapon, but coaches would be willing to trade it in for a kicker that is automatic from shorter distances. The only opportunity we have had to see Wile attempt a field goal from closer range was when he filled in for a suspended Gibbons in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl last season. He had two tries—22 and 26 yards out—and connected on both. But these were just chip shots. Can Wile convert the ones from 35 to 45 yards on a regular basis? Given that Wile was 19-of-25 his last two years in high school and invited to the U.S. Army All-American Game, my projection is that he will and there will be little drop-off from Gibbons to Wile for Michigan.

4. Brad Craddock, Maryland (K) | Junior – 6’0″, 185 lbs
FG Made FG Att FG % Long 1-39 40+ PAT
2013 21 25 84.0 50 16-17 5-8 37-38
2012 10 16 62.5 52 6-10 4-6 23-25
Career Totals 31 41 75.6 52 22-27 9-14 60-63
(Andrew Shurtleff)

(Andrew Shurtleff)

Just three years ago, Brad Craddock had never played American football. Growing up in Australia, he played four sports: soccer, tennis, track, and Australian-rules football. It is the last one that is the reason why he now finds himself on the Maryland football team. While playing Australian-rules football as a youth, he broke his arm three years in a row. This forced him to spend much of that time on the sidelines, but it did not prevent him from building his leg strength. Over time, his leg became a cannon, which led to one of head coach Randy Edsall’s former punters tipping Edsall off about Craddock. Edsall took a look at Craddock’s film and decided to take a chance on him.

Unsurprisingly, Craddock’s first season at Maryland was rocky. Not only did he need to adjust to playing American football for the first time in his life far away from his home continent, he was forced to play a position he had not been recruited to play. Craddock was meant to be only a punter and kickoff specialist. Yet, right before the 2012 season, Maryland’s starting placekicker Nick Ferrara suffered what would ultimately be a season-ending injury. Next thing he knew, Craddock was the starter despite essentially never having practiced any proper placekicking technique. He made only 10 of his 16 field goals as a freshman and dinged off the left upright would what would have been a game-winner against North Carolina State. The disappointment caused him to seriously consider not returning to Maryland for his sophomore season, but he decided to give it another shot. It is a good thing he did.

After working with one of the most accurate placekickers in NFL history in Matt Stover in the offseason, Craddock became one of the nation’s better placekickers last year. Craddock made 21 of the 25 field goals he attempted, increasing his conversation rate from 62.5 percent as a freshman to 84 percent as a sophomore. His 21 makes were tied for the most in the ACC and seventh-most nationally. Plus, Craddock still flashed the power his leg possesses, drilling a 50-yarder against West Virginia that would have been good from 60 yards. Craddock’s significant improvement was recognized as he was named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, which is given to the nation’s best placekicker. What Stover was able to do was harness Craddock’s power and mold him into a consistent kicker by teaching him the proper technique. It was the first time Craddock understood the intricacies of placekicking and why he had been missing kicks left or right. With another offseason of development and practice under his belt, the sky is the limit for the Aussie who will be playing just his third season of American football this fall.

3. Michael Geiger, Michigan State (K) | Sophomore – 5’8”, 189 lbs.
FG Made FG Att FG % Long 1-30 40+ PAT
2013 15 16 93.8 49 7-8 8-8 36-38
Career Totals 15 16 93.8 49 7-8 8-8 36-38

After the 2012 season, Michigan State had a huge hole to fill on special teams. The Spartans’ three-year starter at placekicker, Dan Conroy, was graduating. With Conroy’s departure, Michigan State lost the kicker with third-best accuracy (77.5 pct.) and fourth-most career field goals (55) in school history. Michigan State needed to find a suitable replacement and quickly. So how does a school accomplish this? Recruiting the best high-school placekicker in the nation is a good place to start.

Michael Geiger arrived in East Lansing as the No. 1 kicker in the 2013 recruiting class according to Rivals, 247 Sports, and kicking guru Chris Sailer, and demonstrated quickly that the recruiting services were spot-on. As a true freshman last season, Geiger connected on 15 of his 16 field-goal attempts for an astounding 93.8-percent conversion rate. His conversion rate not only set a Michigan State single-season record but also was tops in the Big Ten and tied for the fourth-best in the nation. His only slipup of the entire season was a 36-yard miss against Iowa on only the third field-goal attempt his career. He then followed that up by making his next 13 tries, including all seven that were 40-plus yards. Geiger can put some power into his kicks, too. His long of the season was 49 yards. He has yet to attempt one from longer than 50 yards, but all evidence indicates this would not be a problem for him. Simply, not only did Geiger replace Conroy adequately, he was better than Conroy.

Next season, Geiger should be the best placekicker in the Big Ten. A strong case could be made that he was the best kicker in the conference last season, but Nebraska’s Pat Smith,  Northwestern’s Jeff Budzien, and Ohio State’s Drew Basil all made at least 90 percent of their field goals, too. However, all three of these kickers, as well as Indiana’s Mitch Ewald (81.8 pct.), Minnesota’s Chris Hawthorne (77.8 pct.), and Michigan’s Brendan Gibbons (75.0 pct.), were seniors last year. This mass exodus of kickers means that Geiger is one of the few known kicking commodities remaining in Big Ten. Although kickers are weird and all are vulnerable to strange slumps, it would be a shock if Geiger did not replicate his production from his freshman season and contend for All-Big Ten first-team honors in 2014.

2. Mike Sadler, Michigan State (P) | 5th-yr Senior – 6’0″, 175 lbs
Punts Yards Average Long TB FC In-20
2013 76 3,233 42.5 69 9 19 33
2012 79 3,422 43.3 70 6 21 31
2011 61 2,509 41.1 57 7 15 25
2010 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 216 9,164 42.4 70 22 55 89
(247 Sports)

(247 Sports)

Michael Geiger may be the best placekicker in the Big Ten, but he is not even the best kicking specialist named Michael or Mike on his own team. That distinction belongs to Mike Sadler. Entering his fourth and final season as Michigan State’s starting punter, Sadler has cobbled together quite an impressive career. In 2011, he was just one of 14 true or redshirt freshmen starting punters nationally. It was a successful debut, but it was not until his sophomore season when he sprung into the spotlight. In 2012, Sadler was named to the coaches’ All-Big Ten first team. Sadler then proceeded to be honored as not only a member of the All-Big Ten first team for the second straight season as a junior but also a member of select All-American squads and a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award, which is given to the nation’s top punter. Undoubtedly, Sadler is one of college football’s most decorated and distinguished punters.

What makes Sadler such a special-teams stud is his ability to flip field position. Although his per-punt average dipped from 43.3 to 42.5 yards, the percentage of times he backed his opponent up against its goal line spiked last season. In 2012, Sadler pinned his opponent inside the 20-yard line 39.2 percent of the time and the 10-yard line 21.5 percent of the time. These percentages increased to 43.4 and 31.6 percent, respectively, in 2013, the latter of which was the best in the nation. He also dropped a remarkable eight punts inside the five-yard line, including three at the one-yard line, last year. Plus, Sadler could hit the deep ball when Michigan State was on its own side of the field. Over 21 percent of his punts sailed at least 50 yards—one of the higher figures in the Big Ten. Accordingly, Michigan State was fourth in the nation in Opponent Starting Field Position, which is the average distance of yards from the end zone an opponent begins its offensive, non-garbage possessions. It is already well-known that the Spartans arguably had the best defense in the nation last year, but not as many understand how vital of a role Sadler played in putting that defense in a position wreak havoc game in and game out.

However, given the accolades Sadler has earned thus far in his career, many will be surprised that he is No. 2 on this list and not No. 1. The popular opinion circulating among college football and Big Ten circles is that Sadler is undisputedly the best punter in the conference, if not the nation. There really are no negatives to Sadler’s game. He does everything very well, whether it be booming a punt 50-plus yards, placing a punt inside the opponent’s 10-yard line, or even executing a well-designed fake. But there just so happens to be another punter in the Big Ten that does all of these things a little bit better than Sadler, although very few realize it because he is not utilized nearly as often as Sadler.

1. Cameron Johnston, Ohio State (P) | Sophomore – 6’0″, 195 lbs
Punts Yards Average Long TB FC In-20
2013 49 2,156 44.0 71 2 24 31
Career Totals 49 2,156 44.0 71 2 24 31
(Greg Bartram, USA Today Sports)

(Greg Bartram, USA Today Sports)

Maryland’s Brad Craddock is not the only Aussie on this short list. Joining him is Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston. Johnston, like Craddock, grew up playing Australian-rules football. Unlike Craddock, though, Johnston practiced American football kicking techniques before coming to the States. Johnston was accepted into Prokick Australia in Melbourne—a program which rigorously trains Australian kickers for American football for a 12-month period. His trainer at Prokick Australia, Nathan Chapman, raved about Johnston, claiming Johnston is the best player his program has produced and listing off punting distances and hang times that seem like hyperbole. Chapman just needed to find an American college that would gamble on Johnston.

In September 2012, Chapman contacted Ohio State about opening a roster spot for Johnston. The Buckeyes’ coaching staff watched his film and liked what it saw but already had received a commitment from Johnny Townsend, the second-best punter in the 2013 recruiting class according to 247 Sports’ composite rankings. Accordingly, Ohio State told Johnston and Chapman, “No thanks.” Johnston received little interest from other major programs, so it seemed likely he would need to wait another year before the right opportunity became available. However, on National Signing Day, Townsend changed his mind and flipped to Florida, leaving Ohio State without a punter in its class. The prevailing thought was that then-senior placekicker Drew Basil would pull off double duty and do the punting, too. But Ohio State’s coaching staff changed its mind in June 2013 and reached out to Johnston about playing for the Buckeyes. Johnston was on a plane to Ohio shortly thereafter.

It did not take very long for Johnston to prove that Ohio State’s decision to bring him on board was the best one. Last season as a true freshman, albeit a 21-year-old freshman, Johnston demonstrated just how explosive his leg is by leading the Big Ten with a per-punt average of 44 yards. It also did not hurt his average that his long for the season was 71 yards and 18.4 percent of his punts traveled over 50 yards. But Johnston also demonstrated that he had mastered how to pin opponents deep in their own territory. He led the nation in percentage of punts downed inside the 20-yard line at an incredible 63.3 percent and ranked second nationally with 28.6 percent of his punts downed inside the 10-yard line. Further, the hang time he put on his punts was spectacular, forcing punt returners to call a fair catch almost half the time. As a result, Ohio State finished first in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation in net punting. Johnston’s debut season in Columbus was an astonishing success.

Best Big Ten Punter? Mike Sadler-Cameron Johnston 2013 comparison
Avg/Punt Downed In-20 % Downed In-10 % Touchback % Fair Catch % 50+ %
Johnston 44.0 63.3 28.6 4.1 49.0 18.4
Sadler 42.5 43.4 31.6 11.8 25.0 21.1

Yet, despite Johnston having better numbers almost all the way across the board as shown in the foregoing table, Michigan State’s Mike Sadler was named to the All-Big Ten first team last year. Sadler is a fantastic punter and worthy of the honor, but he was selected instead of Johnston only because he punted 27 more times last season and receives more media attention for his hilarious engagement on social media. With its dynamic offense, Ohio State did not need to deploy Johnston as often as Michigan State did with Sadler, but, if a team needs a punter for just one punt, the numbers indicate that Johnston is the better option. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, Johnston will be the best punter in the Big Ten in 2014, not Sadler, especially now that Johnston will be more accustomed to American culture and football in his second year in the States.

So what do you think? Do you agree with our list? Or did we make a mistake by putting Ohio State’s Cameron Johnston ahead of Michigan State’s Mike Sadler? Did Michigan’s Matt Wile deserve to make the cut? And how do you think Michigan’s Will Hagerup will perform this season? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Later this week, we will rank who will be the five best return specialists in the Big Ten in 2014.