|Spartan kicker Dan Conroy|
Photo Courtesy of: Mlive.com
By Blain Bradley
August 31st is almost here and the Spartans are growing anxious as their nationally televised game verse Boise State approaches. The BCS-busting Broncos look to take down the 13th ranked Spartans. Michigan State will need to be clicking on all cylinders to beat the Broncos. The team will need all units to perform exceptionally well.
The Spartans will Need an "x-factor" in order to win the Boise game, as well as other tough games down the road (Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan, etc.). That "x-factor" will come in the form of the special teams unit. Special teams is often considered to be one of the most crucial components in a successful season. The Spartans have weapons on specials that will cause frustrations for many teams.
The biggest weapon in the Spartans' special teams arsenal is kicker Dan Conroy. In Phil Steele's 2012 College Football Preview, Spartan kicker Dan Conroy is ranked as the sixth best in the nation. The senior kicker from Wheaton, Illinois is poised and accurate. He is a fifth year senior who will be a third year starter this fall. He is a preseason favorite to earn numerous place kicking accolades (specifically the Lou Groza Award). Over his career, Conroy has made 82% of his field goal attempts. He is 93 for 94 in PAT attempts. Conroy can prove to be big in tight games. He has great range and veteran instinct. Conroy will attribute to the Spartans scoring. The Spartan offense appears to be suspect at times, with new quarterback Andrew Maxwell taking the reigns. Look for Conroy to make big plays this season.
Mark Dantonio has preached the importance of special teams during his tenure at MSU. According to msuspartans.com:
" Since Dantonio's arrival to East Lansing in 2007, a Spartan kicker or punter has earned All-Big Ten recognition six times, and MSU has also produced Big Ten leaders in kickoff returns and punt returns. In addition, MSU led the Big Ten last season with five blocked kicks and scored two touchdowns on special teams."
The proof is in the pudding. Statistics show that blocked punts/kicks increase a team's chance of winning by over 50%. Creating such a situation is key to gaining a momentum swing.
Handling the kickoff will be returning starter Kevin Muma. He is a strong leg kicker who frequently kicks for touchbacks. Muma will also be the reserve placekicker.
Mike Sadler will be punting the ball away. Sadler earned praise as a redshirt freshman last year. He will look to pin back opposing punt return teams.
Sophomore running back Nick Hill will be the return specialist. Hill is explosive and lightning quick. He has an eye for small openings in hectic return situations. Hill will fill the void left behind from the departure of Keyshawn Martin (Martin currently is playing for the Houstan Texans).
Special Teams will be key for numerous reasons this season. The Spartans are a young team with a stellar defense and questionable offense. They will find themselves forcing many teams to punt the ball away. On the other end of the spectrum, the Spartans may find themselves punting frequently too. Regardless of the situation, look for the Spartan special teams to step up at the right moments.