Mercedes-Benz Stadium sits just down the street from the College Football Hall of Fame, where the Southeastern Conference held its annual Media Days event for most of the past week. Memories, though, didn’t extend quite that far, or perhaps were simply erased by the dramatic finish of the College Football Playoff Championship Game.
Except for that miraculous finish, the hero of the day might not have been Tua Tagovailoa but the equally wonderfully-named, glasses-wearing Georgia kicker, Rodrigo Blankenship. Only Tagovailoa’s completion to DeVonta Smith kept kickers from being the hero and goat of the day.
Yet, rarely, if at all, were any of the coaches in attendance asked about their kickers. Certainly there weren’t such questions in the main room. (Mea culpa: I didn’t ask either.) No one queried Auburn coach Gus Malzahn about replacing Daniel Carlson, one of the Tigers’ main offensive weapons last year. No one asked Dan Mullen, now at Florida, who would step up to replace Eddy Pineiro as the Gators’ field goal specialist.
Most of all, once the avalanche of Jalen/Tua questions began to wear thin on Nick Saban — you could definitely tell — no one asked who would be replacing JK Scott, the greatest punter in Alabama’s modern football history, much less who would be the Crimson Tide’s next placekicker. In retrospect, this was probably wise.
We all know what’s going to happen when the season starts, right? Somewhere in one of the big games — if not on opening weekend, then at least by the start of conference play, someone is going to miss a critical extra point. They are going to shank a punt or kick a line drive that someone runs back for a decisive 75-yard touchdown.
Then, the cloak of anonymity that covered every kicker in Atlanta will be torn away and everyone is going to know the poor kicker’s name. Hopefully, the pendulum will swing the other way as well, and there will be someone who makes a game-winner and rides off the field on the shoulders of his teammates.
Without any revealing information coming out of Atlanta, the assumption (at least in Tuscaloosa) goes something like this:
Auburn will be fine. In fact, they will be more than fine in that the Tigers have moved on from simply finding good kickers right under Alabama’s nose to outright genetic engineering. That’s right, AU has another Carlson — Daniel’s younger brother, Anders, who has the leg, if not the experience and assures Auburn of four more years of having a solid kicker who grew up in a family of Alabama fans. (That’s all true, as I even met the Carlson’s grandfather, a charming fellow, as he was cheering for the Alabama baseball team this spring.) Thus, if Anders is indeed as good as Daniel, that’s eight years of taunting, to say nothing of strong kicking.
As for their own kicker, Alabama fans have come to sort of grudging acceptance that the football gods don’t just hand out championships without exacting a price in return. That price is field goals — not singling out any of the kickers in particular. Some have been good enough but oddly vulnerable to supreme moments of stress.
This will likely be true of the Crimson Tide’s 2018 kickers. The front-runners, with competition still underway as Saban would remind you with a glare, are probably Joseph Bulovas at placekicker and Skyler DeLong (also a great name) at punter. There are high expectations (for the punter, it is equaling Scott; for the kicker, it is fulfilling the hope that things have got to get better eventually.)
Both remained relatively anonymous in Atlanta. Maybe if it stays that way, or is a little better, Alabama will be back in Atlanta in December.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.