Today I'm looking at dem punters. In a mostly coincidental twist of fate, it's my longest preview.
I'm pretty sure Zoltan Mesko doesn't still punt for Michigan. Lemme go check. Yeah, he's gone. I miss doing that Z thing with my hands. And being ruled by an emperor from space. Anyway. Now we've got Will Hagerup and Matt Wile, who, despite not having the pedigree of royalty from the Andromeda Galaxy, were both very highly regarded coming out of high school.
Hagerup's an athlete. He looks like a rugby player. He was a top-three punter nationally, and chose Michigan over tons of other schools, including some good ones, I'm sure. He slid into the starting punting job as a freshman and did very well, averaging a cool 43 yards per punt, including a 73-yard beauty in a sloggy game against Purdue that was just awesome. But then he got suspended for the beginning of the new campaign under Coach Hoke last year, and struggled to maintain his rhythm. An inconsistent season culminated in this. Best GIF ever. Though my heart literally stopped. I was in the second row about 50 yards from him at the time and I could very clearly see the expression on his face.
When Brady Hoke took the helm at Michigan, Matt Wile was basically a holy lock for the Maize and Blue. Michigan obviously needed a kicker, and Wile was one of the best in the country in high school, drilling 55+ yarders with ease, something Michigan's previous placekicking platoon (see what I did there?) couldn't do with a hurricane at their backs and a GPS. Literally his entire family went to Michigan's med school (quite seriously, numbering in the tens of thousands) and when Hoke, who recruited Wile out of California, moved to Michigan, it became a formality.
What we didn't expect was for Wile to be the starting punter and the placekicker. I figured he'd push the horrendous Brendan Gibbons (1-5 in 2010) for kicking duties, but Gibbons turned it around nicely and is now ridiculously on the Groza watchlist. No idea, man. No idea. This was excellent for Wile, as he got lots of game action without actually being counted on for points. Amazing what real coaching actually does to kickers. And safeties, but that's neither here nor there. Kickoffs were generally good, and he handled punting duties decently in Hagerup's absence. Wile ended up making the All-Big Ten Freshman Team, and Coach Hoke declared the starting punter's job "neck and neck" this offseason.
Honestly, this is one of the more interesting position battles Michigan has. I'm not a special teams expert, but this is the closest Michigan has had at a very solid special teams position group in a while. As long as their gunners tackle, Michigan's punter (whoever it is) should contend for all-conference honors this year provided they stay consistent. Hagerup's got an absolute cannon, so in my professional punting opinion, he gets the nod over Wile to start the year unless Zoltan decides to come back and break lots of NCAA rules. I wouldn't mind.
Wile gets the starting placekicker job, and hopefully gets a few chip shot field goals to bring him into the fold there too. Key to both positions is staying cool and consistent. Wile seems the more consistent of the two of them, but Hagerup's potential is higher as a punter due to leg strength. Let's just hope he can CATCH THE DAMN BALL.