In today's world of college football, parity has taken over. Gone are the days of dominating an entire conference, which means that often times just a few plays could mean the difference between a BCS bowl berth and a 6-6 record.
That's what makes special teams so…special.
The 2008 Texas Aggies will have one experienced weapon back on special teams this season with All-American punter Justin Brantly, who is nipping at the heels of All-Pro punter Shane Lechler's school record for average yards per kick.
Brantly returns for the Aggies this fall with a career punting average of 43.9 yards—second only to Lechler's career average of 44.7. Brantly will begin this season as a serious contender for the Ray Guy Award, presented annually to the nation's best punter. A two-time All-Big XII selection, Brantly has boomed 52 punts of 50 yards or more, including an 80-yarder against Colorado in 2005 that set a Folsom Field stadium record.
Over the fall practice, his hang time was averaging between 4.5 and 5.0 seconds, which approaching NFL type numbers. He will be a valuable weapon in close games when field position is key.
But beyond punter, the rest of the special teams unit will be made up of mostly newcomers, with a battle at place kicker to replace departed kicker Matt Syzmanski.
Fifth year senior Richie Bean, who has been effective on kickoffs over his career, with 19 touchbacks on 41 kickoffs as a freshman, has been impressive at field goal duty during fall workouts. But Randy Bullock has also drawn praise from coaches during two-a-days, hitting just about everything he's kicked within 50 yards.
At times, Bullock has struggled with low trajectory, but has shown quick improvement in just three weeks of fall practice.
Don't be surprised to see both Bullock and Bean kicking field goals at some point this season, Bullock may have the stronger leg, but the question for him remains—will he be as accurate in front of 90,000 fans as a true freshman?
The return game will be filled with new faces this year as well.
Junior defensive backs Jordan Peterson and Jordan Pugh have both proven to be the most reliable punt returners heading into the opening weekend. Peterson returned 14 punts for 108 yards in 2007, and he's looked solid throughout the fall camp.
But Jordan Pugh seems to have the extra gear and the ability to make defenders miss, making several big plays in fall practice on the return, and running a few kicks back for touchdowns. He could surprise fans this fall.
Kick returning duties will fall on senior defensive back Arkeith Brown and true freshman running back Cyrus Gray—which has fans excited heading into the 2008 season.
Both Brown and Gray have been extremely effective in practice, and Gray is one of those players that will be tough to keep off the field, whether it's special teams or offense. He has the ability to hit the home run everytime he touches the ball, and between him and the speedy Brown, the Aggies' should be able to create plays on special teams.
In addition to all of the excitement at the return positions, the Aggies have spent a lot of time this fall working on blocking kicks, having every player on the roster working on technique coming around the edge or fighting through the line, which could lead to game-changing plays throughout the season.
If the Aggies can get a block or two in critical games like Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas, that could be the difference between a 7-5 type season and a special run in the Big 12 South.
Thankfully for A&M fans, head coach Mike Sherman knows it.
COUNTDOWN 2008 - Special Teams
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