The truth is, nobody ever really thinks much about the kicker until he’s lined up to attempt a field goal with the game on the line.
But in reality, the kicker is a key player each and every time he comes on the field, whether he’s keeping the ball in play on a kick-off or he’s taking a crack at a long field goal in the first quarter.
Indeed, if football is a game of inches, the kicker is a significant variable in the outcome.
The following slideshow ranks the top 25 “clutch” kickers in college football history and in doing so, celebrates what is perhaps the least lauded position on the gridiron.
In the instance of this compilation, the word “clutch” is used to describe not just guys who have won games on a huge stage with a single kick (though there are a few of those included), but also those athletes whose teams, coaches and fans could count on to deliver every time they lined up behind a kick.
These are the guys who very literally changed the landscape of big games, big seasons and the history of college football in a very underwhelming way.
The Hurricanes' Matt Bosher was a sizzling 84.91 percent accurate on field goals from 2007-10 and scored a total of 262 points at Miami.
Bosher set a school record by booting 14 consecutive FG attempts early in 2010.
Super athlete Jim Thorpe played a myriad of positions at the Carlisle Indian Academy (Pennsylvania) in the early 1900’s.
In a 1911 game against then superpower Harvard (they won the national championship in 1910, 1912 and 1913), Thorpe scored all of Carlisle’s 18 points in a shattering 18-15 upset of the Crimson in Cambridge, Mass.
Twelve of these points came via field goal kicks.
Though accurate records are scant—and in reality the game of football itself was an entirely different species 100 years ago—Thorpe’s athleticism made him a clutch performer as a RB, DB, punter and yes, kicker.
Even though Mike Nugent was a lofty 81.82 percent as a field goal kicker at Ohio State from 2001-2004, what he will be best remembered for in terms of “clutch” is his 44-yard field goal in the third quarter of the 2003 BCS Championship that the Buckeyes went on to win in double overtime.
Nugent, a native of Centerville, Ohio, also drilled a 56-yard kick to ice Marshall as time expired in 2004.
Ryan White played at Memphis from 1998-2001, and though he didn’t rip it up late in his career, he co-holds the NCAA record for highest percentage of field goals made—a mark he set as as a redshirt freshman.
White went 16 for 16 in 1998, giving him a perfect 100 percent season and a place in the record books.
Though Spurrier spent his collegiate years as a QB at Florida, he famously self-replaced the Gators kicker in a 1966 contest against Auburn, and then strode onto the field and delivered on a 40-yard field goal kick to ice the Tigers 30-27.
If that isn’t clutch, I don’t know what is.
Ruffin captured the Lou Groza Award in 2000 as a sophomore.
In his three-year career at Cincinnati, Ruffin earned an 85.07 percent rating in field goals, which is No. 5 among all place kickers since 2000.
Steve Little was recruited by Arkansas to play QB, but destiny decided he would become a placekicker.
Little co-holds the record for the longest field goal in FBS history with a 67-yard rocket vs. Texas on October 15, 1977 and went on to be the third highest drafted kicker in the history of the NFL.
Little was the No. 15 overall pick in the 1978 draft and went to the St. Louis Cardinals where he played for only two underwhelming seasons.
Jan Stenerud may be better known for his NFL career, but he also made his mark in the collegiate ranks.
Stenerud was recruited to the USA from Norway on a ski jumping scholarship and his kicking skills were noticed on campus and the rest is, as they say, history.
Stenerud’s numbers at MSU aren’t all-world by any stretch of the imagination (even though he booted a 59-yard field goal in 1965), but this may be due to the fact that his coach, Jim Sweeney, liked to have Jan attempt field goals in the neighborhood of 70-80 yards.
The reasoning behind the apparent insanity was that in those days the ball was placed back on the opponent’s 20-yard line after a field-goal miss, rather than at the line of scrimmage as it works now.
Legend has it that Sweeney once had Stenerud attempt an insane 113-yard kick, which marks another college football record.
Art Carmody’s 433 career points at Louisville from 2004-2007 earned him the No. 2 spot in all-time scoring by kickers in the NCAA FBS record book.
Besides this honor, Carmody owns four individual NCAA kicking records, including the most consecutive extra-points made in a single season with a whopping 77 in 2004.
Texas’ Russell Erxleben is tied for the NCAA FBS record for the longest field goal ever made at 67 yards.
Erxleben’s bomb came October 1, 1977 in a game against Rice, and besides this mark, he holds four other current NCAA kicking records, including the season/career-high benchmark for long kicks, which comes via his three 60-plus yard kicks in 1977.
A guy with as much off-field drama as on-field success, Sebastian Janikowski was a clutch player at Florida State in terms of both kicking and getting his name in the newspaper.
Janikowski was the first guy to ever capture the Lou Groza Award twice, which he did in both 1998 and 1999.
Janikowski was 16 for 21 as a freshman, 27 for 32 as a sophomore and 23 for 30 as a junior; during his final season at Florida State, he never missed an attempt from within the 45 yard line.
Alex Trlica’s nickname while at Texas Tech was “Mr. Clutch” and he co-holds the NCAA record for highest percentage of extra points made with 100 percent.
Trlica went 233 for 233 on PAT’s from 2004-2007 at Tech, and also kicked the Red Raiders into overtime in the 2006 comeback win over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl that marked the biggest comeback in college bowl history.
Perhaps Trlica’s most memorable boot was a 41-yard thriller that capped off the Red Raiders' improbable comeback over Virginia in the 2008 Gator Bowl.
Trlica is an unsung hero of Tech’s high-flying era of offensive explosiveness.
Louie Sakoda was 57 for 66 from 2005-2008 at Utah and his 86.36 field-goal percentage earned him the No. 3 highest accuracy rate in kickers since 2000.
Sakoda was also 137 for 140 in PATs and was a unanimous All-American first team selection in 2008.
The guy who became “Fuad-o-matic” in the NFL, Fuad Reveiz played collegiate ball at Tennessee, where he still holds two NCAA kicking records.
Most notably, the accurate Reviez holds the FBS season record for the highest percentage of field goals made from longer than fifty yards, a mark which he set in 1982 when he went 8 for 10 (80 percent) from beyond the 50.
Though you aren’t apt to see a bunch of accolades for TCU’s Chris Manfredini in college football history books, he’s the No. 2 most accurate field-goal kicker since 2000.
That’s right, Manfredini was 87.69 percent accurate from 2003-2007, making him second only to Nebraska’s Alex Henery in terms of precision.
Manfredini’s accuracy has to be at least a partial explanation for the Frogs’ 38-11 record during his time in Fort Worth.
Franklin, the famed barefoot-style kicker who went on to a long career in the NFL, got his start at Texas A&M where he became the only player in history to kick two 60-plus yard field goals in the same game.
Franklin tackled this awesome feat on October 16, 1976 when the Aggies faced Baylor and he booted three-pointers from 65 and then 64 yards.
Tony Franklin finished his collegiate career with his name on 18 NCAA records and still holds four all-time marks in the current books.
Hailing from the Zendejas kicking dynasty, Max kicked for Arizona from 1982-1985 and was named the Wildcats MVP in his senior season.
Zendejas holds the prestigious title of the NCAA FBS record holder for the highest percentage of field goals made from 50-plus yards in a career.
Zendejas was 14 for 23 (or 60.9 percent) from beyond the 50 in his career at Arizona, which makes him the most consistent or “clutch” guy from that distance in history.
Grant Ressel walked on at Mizzou in 2007 and wound up with an 83.87 field-goal percentage from 2008-2011, ranking him No. 9 in career FG percentage among kickers since 2000.
Ressel’s 2009 tour de force included him going 39 for 39 in PAT’s and making 26 of 27 FGs attempted.
Though Auburn’s Wes Byrum isn’t in the top tier of field-goal kickers in terms of career accuracy, he is all about being clutch.
Byrum booted the Tigers to victory in a 2007 thriller versus then No. 4 Florida in Gainesville, and most memorably kicked the game winner when Auburn knocked off Oregon 22-19 in the 2011 BCS title game.
Byrum’s career is stacked with game winning and game saving kicks.
Marc Primanti walked on at NC State in 1992 and by the time he graduated in 1996, he was a consensus first-team All-American, Lou Groza Award winner and held two NCAA records that still stand.
Primanti’s perfect 20 for 20 record in 1996 earned him the all-time season mark for both the highest percentage of field goals made and the best perfect record of field goals made.
Bobby Raymond actually turned down a scholarship to Florida because he said his parents were “doing just fine” and went on to become one of the most accurate kickers in the history of college football.
Raymond holds the NCAA record for highest percentage of field goals made in a career with a minimum of 45-54 attempts via his performance from 1983-1984.
Raymond went 43 of 49 over these two seasons, netting him an astonishing 87.8 percent success rate.
If “clutch” kicker means firing off consecutive successful field-goal attempts, then Chuck Nelson is your guy.
Nelson played for the Huskies from 1979-1982 and holds NCAA FBS records for most consecutive field goals made in both a single season and a career.
The single season mark was 25, which Nelson achieved by making the first 25 kicks in 1982 before missing his last attempt versus Washington State in November.
The career mark of 30 includes Nelson’s last five attempts of 1981, and then adds on the 25 consecutive field goals from 1982.
Crosby laced it up at Colorado from 2003-2006 where he was 74.74 percent accurate over four seasons of field-goal kicking.
What makes Crosby a top member of the “clutch” list is his record in the fourth quarter of collegiate games, which include a 12 for 13 record in the final period and then an awe-inspiring 10 for 10 mark inside the final nine minutes of play.
Crosby is also one of a few modern long-ballers, having hit a 60-yarder in a 2004 game against Iowa State and a 58-yard bomb in a contest with Miami (Fla.) in 2005.
Alex Henery holds the title of “most accurate kicker in college football history” due to his record setting performance at Nebraska from 2007-2010.
Henery went a whopping 68 of 76, or 89.5 percent in four seasons, earning him the career NCAA record for highest percentage of field goals made with a minimum of 55 attempts.
Henery also holds records for highest percentage of field goals made at 40 yards or more in a career with 78.8 percent (26 of 33).
He also holds the highest percentage of field goals made under 40 yards in a career with a whopping 97.7 percent (42 of 43).
Henery is about as close to a “sure thing” as we’ve ever seen, in terms of field-goal kicking, in modern college football.
Georgia’s Kevin Butler is the only kicker to have ever been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Butler’s accolades include being named an All-American in 1983 and 1984 and being included in the Sports Illustrated all-century team, the ABC all-time team and the Walter Camp all-century team.
Butler scored a total of 353 points as a collegiate kicker and most impressively was 52.4 percent accurate in kicks over 50 yards.
Kevin Butler is perhaps best remembered for his longest career kick, a 60-yarder to beat Clemson 26-23 in 1984.