We're taking the watch lists as they come and today the Ray Guy Award watch list came out for our dissection.
Last year's winner, Ryan Allen, and both finalists, Steven Clark and Jackson Rice, are all on the list for 2012's award. There are also two punters who many folks thought deserved a shot a season ago—Brad Wing of LSU and Quinn Sharp from Oklahoma State—making their presence felt early.
Last season, the finalists for the award were under scrutiny, as impact players like Brad Wing were omitted from the list and the nation's big leader on the stat sheet, Shawn Powell, was left off as well. ESPN's Heather Dinnich exposed the issue with the early voting in 2012; when they make their lists after the first week of November, a guy like Powell gets dropped from contention.
With the Ray Guy award, the four criteria utilized are percentage of punts not returned, average return yardage, net punting average and punts downed inside the 20.
It is going to take a strong first two months of the season for the players to get on the semifinalists list; a sad but true point when it comes to the punting award.
The punter, as it stands in college football, is a true weapon on the field and the criteria used by the Ray Guy Award voters is a solid metric by which to evaluate punters. The only true issue is that players, like Powell a season ago, are penalized for coming on strong to finish the season. In and of themselves, the criteria work. Punters control field position, they help flip the field and they neutralize the dangerous return men so many teams employ.
2012 should be interesting for the guys punting the football. The infusion of rugby-style punting has helped punters wrestle the power from the Devin Hester-type returners. The chess match that is football, coaches looking to get the ball into their best players' hands while the other sideline tries to keep it away from them, continues this year.
As teams push to get their returners more touches against many of the punters named to the watch list, look for two-returner formations and more aggressive punt rushes to secure an earlier kick.
With special teams coaches going for the back-and-forth, we'll have to see which punters rise to the occasion.