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The Ray Guy Award case for Pat O'Donnell

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The Watch List for the 2012 Ray Guy Award given to the top punter in the country was released on Wednesday. It was the first of the annual award lists to feature a UC player, P Pat O'Donnell. He finished as a semifinalist for the award last year.

POD.jpgPOD, who could bench press half this list at once, bombed punts that changed games last year. His 76-yard rocket against N.C. State flipped field position that the Wolfpack could never dig out of in the Bearcats blowout win.

At the end of the year, O'Donnell's average of 43.8 yards per punt (min 45) left him 17th nationally. In front of him were four seniors. That leaves 13 with a higher average than O'Donnell entering this season.

Yet, the Ray Guy award doesn't look for bombing punts, necessarily. Their three criteria for judging are net yards, punts returned and punts inside the 20. Remember, the goal is not to outkick the coverage. The perfect punt would be a kick that flies plus-50 and lands just out of bounds before a returner can grab it.

O'Donnell finished with a net punting average of 43.8 yards per kick, including 26 kicks dropped inside the 20 and a league-high 17 boots of 50 yards or more. His net punting average was 38.8.

Let's look at where POD currently stacks up with the Ray Guy Award List. I've included last year's semifinalists that are back on the watch list this year. This will show what areas he would be considered a front-runner and what areas he's looking to improve.

(Stats compiled from school archives/ESPN.com/NCAA.org; W=2011 winner)

Player, School, Year                    Pts Gross Net I20% Return%  50+
Pat O'Donnell, Cincinnati, Jr.       63  43.8  38.8   41%    42%     27%  
Steven Clark, Auburn, Jr.             72  40.8  38.7   46%    32%     18%
Brian Schmiedebusch, BG, Jr.    57  45.3  43.3   32%    35%     33%
Richie Leone, Houston, Jr.           51  41.1  36.2   24%    46%     23% 
Bobby Cowan, Idaho, Sr.             88  46.4  43.2   19%    19%    36%
W-Ryan Allen, La. Tech, Sr.         86 45.4   42.3   45%    33%    34%
Brad Wing, LSU, So.                    59 44.4   38.1   46%    59%    34%
Jackson Rice, Oregon, Sr.           48  45.9  38.6    35%    69%    35%
Ian Campbell, UTEP, Sr.              48  46.1   41.5   33%    52%    37%

POD Ranks: 7th Gross, 5th net, 4th I20%, 4th Return%, 6th 50+%

--- What these numbers display in relation to O'Donnell's case is that he's in the running to be a finalist if his numbers play out along the same path as last season. With the judges looking at net punting, percentage inside the 20 and return percentage, he ranks in the top five of the returning semifinalists in all three of those categories.

--- A common trend among those on this list are many have one major strength -- usually distance -- but struggle in outkicking coverage which is likely from a lack of hang time. Others are accuracy specialists without much length. O'Donnell appears to have the rare blend of both sides combining an ability to bomb it and keep the returns to a minimum.

--- While his return percentage is at the top among those who crush the ball, if he could bring it down below 40 percent into the mid 30s, he'd be a shoo-in as a finalist considering his distance. More than anything, improving the consistency of his kicks should be enough to return him to the elite punting category he ascended to last season.

--- Anybody have answers as to why Ryan Allen beat Bobby Cowan for this award last year? Is there an Idaho Vandal vendetta in the Ray Guy Award offices!?

--- Moral of the punting statistical minutia
story is that Pat O'Donnell not only belongs in the conversation with the elite punters, his numbers imply with a spike in one area he could be in the conversation as a finalist and to even win the award in a year where nine of the semifinalists from last year are returning. Likely one of the strongest fields in recent history for the position.

--- For the record, here are the others on the Watch List:
Dylan Breeding, Arkansas, Jr.
Riley Stephenson, BYU, Sr.
Darragh O'Neill, Colorado, Sr.
Pete Kontodiakos, Colorado State, Sr.
Kirby Van Der Kamp, Iowa State, So.
Ron Doherty, Kansas, Jr.
Dalton Botts, Miami, So.
Brett Maher, Nebraska, Sr.
Will Atterberry, North Texas, Sr.
Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State, Sr.
Tyler Campbell, Ole Miss, Jr.
Harrison Waid, San Jose State, So.
Jeff Locke, UCLA, Sr.
Sean Sellwood, Utah, Sr.
Tyler Bennett, Utah State, Sr.

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