Handicapping The Lou Groza Award Race


Sep 08, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Maryland Terrapins kicker Brad Craddock (15) kicks an extra point during the fourth quarter against the Temple Owls at Lincoln Financial Field. Maryland defeated Temple 36-27. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, Maryland kicker Brad Craddock was named as a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, which is awarded to the top kicker in college football. Craddock has made 15 of 18 field goal attempts, which is good for a 83.3 percent conversion rate. That mark ranks fourth in Maryland history and Craddock is only nine field goals away from former Terrapin Nick Novak’s all-time record (set in 2002 & 2003). There are 15 newcomers to the list, so it really is wide-open as far as who could potentially take home the award. I’ll handicap the field below with some of the top candidates as well everybody’s favorite Australian kicker.

– Brad Craddock: If there’s a most improved player on Maryland, Craddock would be one of the top candidates. As a true freshman, the Australian struggled mightily at times. The N.C. State game was where things went south. But to his credit, he worked hard during the offseason and has turned in a remarkable season thus far. Craddock is currently tied for fifth in the nation with those 15 field goals. His chances to be a finalist and finish near the top of the list are pretty strong. Maryland is a team that struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone, so that definitely weighs in Craddock’s favor.

Let’s take a look at Craddock’s competition:

– Ryan Bustin (Texas Tech): Junior kicker Ryan Bustin is the current clubhouse leader as he has made 19 of 22 field goals for a 86.4 percent conversion rate. Bustin only made 17 of 24 field goals last season, so he is enjoying a very strong season. The Texas native should enjoy plenty of opportunities as the Red Raiders average 414.2 yards-per-game, which ranks second in the nation. They also are in the top 20 in points-per-game (39.1), so Bustin will certainly have his chances with Texas Tech’s high-powered offense.

– Niklas Sade (N.C. State): Junior kicker Niklas Sade is not too far beyond Bustin as he has connected on 17 of 19 field goal attempts (89.5 conversion rate). Sade struggled in 2012 as he only connected on 13 of 23 attempts. However, he has bounced back to turn in a stellar campaign so far. Much like Craddock, his offense fails to put the ball in the end zone quite often. The Wolf Pack only average 23 points-per-game (99th in the country). Sade has made a field goal in all but one game. If the N.C. State offensive struggles, it could be Sade and Craddock having a chance to battle for the top honor when their teams face off in the final game of the season.

– Zane Gonzalez (Arizona State): Freshman Zane Gonzalez is sitting neck-in-neck with Sade and also has  hit 17 field goals. However, he finds himself in third place due to the fact that he has missed three field goals as opposed to Sade’s two. Arizona State scores a ton of points (46.6 per game) and has a pretty talented roster this season. Gonzalez should continue to get plenty of opportunities as the Sun Devils have the ability to go up and down the field on every drive. His team may put the ball in the end zone more than most of these other kickers’ squad, so Gonzalez may be at a bit of a disadvantage there.

– Michael Hunnicutt (Oklahoma): Junior kicker Michael Hunnicutt has converted 16 of 18 field goals, which is good for a 88.9 percent clip. Oklahoma is another that capable of scoring a large amount of points, which obviously leads to more field goal chances for Hunnicutt. The Sooners have also won a few defensive battles this season, which also plays into Hunnicutt’s favor. He’s only three behind Bustin and Hunnicutt could definitely be a dark horse to win the Lou Groza Award.

In closing, Craddock definitely has a strong chance to be at the top of the list when the dust settles. Along with Sade, the fact that their offenses have to settle for field goals in the red zone definitely plays into their hands. Craddock has a strong leg and can kick the ball 40-plus yards without hesitation. Whether or not Craddock wins the Lou Groza Award, it’s been a great season for the Australian kicker and it’s truly amazing just how far he has come from his 2012 campaign.