Behind the Riff Ram chant and making “Texas is Back” jokes, complaining about special teams is one of the TCU football program’s greatest traditions, especially in the last two seasons.
The 2015 season was arguably the best special teams season in recent memory. Between the kicking game — Where have you gone, Jaden Oberkrom? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you — and the emergence of a lightning bug kick returner named KaVontae Turpin, the Frogs never had to worry much about the third side of the ball.
But 2016 brought doom and gloom, and uncertainties everywhere. The Arkansas loss, in particular, could directly be blamed on poor special teams play.
For some reason, 2017 didn’t seem to lift TCU spirits much in terms of special teams. That’s a shame, because the Frogs rebounded tremendously, and nearly every specialist from last year is returning. Bill Connelly, SB Nation stats guru extraordinaire and inventor and proprietor of the S&P Plus analytics system, ranked TCU’s special teams as No. 9 in the country last year, up from 71st in 2016.
Let’s break down what the Frogs are working with this season.
KICKER: Jonathan Song, Redshirt Junior
Song has battled through injuries in his TCU career, missing all of the 2016 season. In 2017, he started as the primary kicker, but missed the final five games of the season with yet another injury.
By all reports, he’s healthy now, and he should be in line to start for the Frogs. Song’s not particularly long — his career long field goal is 39 yards — but he’s accurate, and he’s the best option for the Frogs.
Cole Bunce, another junior, took over for Song last season for the final five games. Bunce performed admirably and was named to Sports Illustrated’s All-Bowl Team for his sterling showing in the Alamo Bowl. He also handles kickoff duty for the Horned Frogs.
Bunce could push Song for the starting kicking spot, or Gary Patterson could play Kicker Roulette — the world’s most dangerous game — and alternate kickers until someone emerges as the definite starter. Either way, both can be good for the Frogs.
PUNTER: Adam Nunez, Junior
Nunez’s stats may not jump off the page, but make no mistake — he’s an outstanding punter, and a very important weapon for the Horned Frogs. He had 30 punts downed inside the 20 and only 4 touchbacks, and had 4 punts downed inside the 6-yard-line against West Virginia in the first half alone. If Texas’ Michael Dickson didn’t exist, I would’ve been leading the charge to petition the Big 12 offices to name Nunez the Punter of the Year.
As it is, Nunez will have two more years to make life miserable for opponents. We should appreciate him weekly.
KR/PR: KaVontae Turpin, Senior
Turpin puts the fear of God in every punt and kickoff coverage that he faces, and if he stays healthy, he’ll be the best returner in the conference, and maybe the nation. It’s just that simple.
Jalen Reagor is an outstanding returner as well, and although he’ll most likely be the primary receiver in TCU’s offense, he could spell Turpin in spots.
The special teams unit will once again be a strength for the Frogs. Turpin has one more semester to make magic — let’s hope he follows through.