Remaining competition previews include: the third and fourth wide receivers, and the quarterbacks.
(Unless otherwise noted, each player's class designations are referenced in terms of 2012, not last season).
Position Competition #6 – KickerNo Irish kicker, present or future, will improve upon David Ruffer's astounding 2010 campaign. Ruffer drilled his first 18 field goals (and the first 23 of his career dating back to November 2009) before missing on his final attempt in the Sun Bowl (Notre Dame was ahead by 30 at the time of his miss).
A revelation in 2010, Ruffer was decidedly human last fall, hitting just 10 of 16 field goal attempts with a trio of ill-timed misses in close games/losses to South Florida, Pittsburgh, Stanford, and Florida State. (Ruffer connected on all 47 of his PAT last year, joining Brandon Walker and Nick Setta as the only kickers perfect on their points-from-placement since the millennium.)
With a challenging schedule from the outset, Notre Dame's kicking duo can't afford a combined four misses inside the 40-yard line that Ruffer suffered last fall.
Duo? For fans that figured touted 2011 recruit and 2011 kick-off specialist Kyle Brindza would win the role by default, it's important to note that a record-setting field goal kicker still resides on the Irish roster entering spring ball.
Back in the Saddle?As a freshman in 2009, Nick Tausch missed his first attempt. Two months and 14 consecutive successful field goals later, Tausch broke Notre Dame's 29-season record for consecutive field goals made – one broken a season later by Ruffer.
Tausch kicked just one field goal in 2010, hitting a 33-yarder in Ruffer's stead at the tail end of the Sun Bowl (the boot gave the Irish a 16-point lead and was under mild pressure considering Miami's late surge.)
Now a senior with two seasons of eligibility thanks to a 2011 campaign on the sidelines, Tausch enters the spring with a 15 for 18 career mark. Brindza enters with a bigger leg, but 0 for 0 in collegiate action.
Each kick this spring will be tracked and charted. Down, distance, and "pressure" situations included. (Of course, no practice penalty or team-wide admonishment for a kicker's miss can approach kicking in front of 80,000 when it matters.)
Push the Punter?Senior Ben Turk struggled early, salvaged his job and Irish field position thereafter, and then performed well late. He enters 2012 as the clear-cut leader to retain punting duties after averaging 40.3 yards per punt (despite a rough start) with 18 kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line. The Irish were forced to punt 22 times over the last three games–only one was returned for significant yardage (18 by FSU).
Brindza will enter the equation as well, but the Irish coaching staff stuck with Turk through tough times and he'll likely be afforded every opportunity to win and keep the job for his senior season.
(Brian Kelly and former special teams coordinator Mike Elston reiterated that Turk is far and away the team's best punter in practice.)
(Barely) Educated Guesses for the Kickers' Battle: Fans and Irish media will learn little about the bulk of Notre Dame's specialty units during the spring– the team's field goal kickers are the exception to that rule as both will participate in the Blue Gold Game and should be available for interviews during the spring session.
- Tausch will be the more accurate kicker during spring ball but receive a stiff test from the booming leg of Brindza in August – not unlike his 2010 battle with Ruffer.
- Tausch and Turk will emerge as the team's kicker and punter heading into the Navy contest, with Brindza earning the call on field goals in excess of Tausch's range (at this point an educated guess is the 47-50 yard range.) Brindza will win the kick-off duties with minimal challenge from his competition.
- Tausch has yet to attempt a game-winning field goal in his kicking career (including high school). The first will come in Week Four vs. Michigan next fall.
Quote to Note: "Honestly, if he would have won the job (in 2010), I think he'd have done the same thing. The competition is that close." – Ruffer regarding his record-setting season and how he was in fear of losing his job throughout to the steady Tausch.