ATHENS — There are a lot of good people around the country who do an admirable thing in creating and sponsoring all these national awards for college football players. Likewise, I’m sure the people of the Palm Beach County Sports Commission — who sponsor and coordinate the Lou Groza Award — are good, well-meaning folks, too. But they also get it wrong sometimes, and this year was one of those times.
They left off Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship from their list of finalists.
“The Groza” was created in 1992 to go to the player deemed to be the nation’s best place-kicker. But if Blankenship isn’t even a finalist for this year’s award, then the trophy is not worth the stainless steel plate on which they’ll engrave the winner’s name.
At first, I thought they must have made some kind of unfortunate oversight. But then I realized that couldn’t be the case because they included Blankenship among their semifinalists. Then I thought maybe there were just some really outstanding place-kickers out there that I didn’t know about who were markedly better than Georgia’s guy. Nope, that’s really not the case either.
The three finalists are: Cole Tracy, LSU; Andre Szymt, Syracuse; and Cooper Rothe, Wyoming. Only one of them deserves to be on any list that would include Blankenship. None of them could hold Blankenship’s right shoe lace.
The criteria for this award is somewhat confusing. Reading up on the Lou Groza Award website, we’re told that “accomplishments are tabulated throughout the season and the Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award committee announces its 20 semi-finalists in early November. From this list, a panel of over 300 experts selects the top three finalists for the award in late November. That same group then selects the national winner.”
So, upon closer inspection, this is a voted-on award. We’re not told who these “experts” are but apparently I’m one of them.
I realized way after the fact that I received a ballot to vote on this. Being a sports reporter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America, apparently I’m considered an “expert.” Two problems with that: One, it was sent to an ancient email address I no longer use and I was not alerted in any other way; and, two, like most responsible, objective news outlets, my employer doesn’t allow us to vote on individual awards such as the Groza or the Heisman. It’s a conflict of interest.
So the semifinalists are determined how they should be, by being recognized by the commission’s board of directors for their respective performances. Then, apparently, it’s voted on.
The truth is, this is an award that doesn’t need to be voted on. I mean, kicking is kicking, right? You’re either good at it or you’re not. And when it comes to that, none of these guys are better than Blankenship.
Need proof? Let’s turn to a stat known as “total kicking.” It’s not an official stat kept by the NCAA, but it probably should be. Total kicking takes into account all types of kicking — field goals, point-after-touchdown kicks and kickoffs. It’s a pretty simple calculation: Total points plus touchbacks divided by games played equals total kicking score.
Here’s how that looks between Blankenship and the three Groza finalists:
- Blankenship — 106 points (on 18-20 FGs/52-52 PATs) + 69 (of 81) touchbacks divided by 11 games = 15.91
- Szmyt — 135 points (28-31/51-51) + touchbacks 0 divided by 11 games = 12.27
- Cole — 99 points (22-25/33-33) + touchbacks 0 divided by 11 games = 9.0
- Rothe — 69 points (15-16/24-24) + 25 (of 49) touchbacks divided by 11 games = 8.54
Yeah, that’s right, neither Cole nor Szmyt handle kickoffs for their teams.
And I don’t know how Rothe got on there either. Guess they must have launched an intense “go vote for Cooper” campaign in Wyoming and the Big Sky Conference. Or maybe he’s the nephew of somebody on the Palm Beach Sports Commission.
Again, this is not to say that none of those other kickers are deserving of recognition. They’re all exceptional at what they do, I’m sure. But when it comes to kicking, it’s not that hard to compare and contrast.
It’s not like the Heisman Trophy where you’re trying to determine who’s the best overall player in football. Or the Lombardi Award or Outland Trophy, where you’re trying to determine who’s the better interior offensive or defensive lineman. Those awards are loaded with subjectivity.
Good kicking is much more plain to see, and they don’t get any better than Mr. Rec Specs. Even if you take away the touchbacks, to which clearly this group pays no attention, Blankenship’s field-goal kicking holds up. Especially when one considers one of his missed attempts a block. And he would also have two more field goals if his coaches weren’t so bent on him running fakes, and at the absolute worst of times.
The whole affair was summed up nicely on Twitter by Blankenship’s former teammate and Georgia punter Cameron Nizalek:
The fact that @RodTheKicker3 is not in the final 3 for the @LouGrozaAward for nations top kicker is absolutely insane. Without the blocked Fg that was not his fault, top FG % in the country and best kickoff leg in college football #RespectTheSpecs
— Cameron Nizialek (@CamNizguy) November 19, 2018
I didn’t read anything about citizenship, public service or academics being part of this award, but Blankenship has those covered, too. That’s why he’s one of the 11 members of the prestigious Allstate Good Works Team. Accordingly, Blankenship took the high road. When the three finalists were announced, he sent out a congratulatory tweet.
— Rodrigo Blankenship (@RodTheKicker3) November 20, 2018
Again, at the end of the day, these awards really don’t mean much. All these teams know the worth of their respective kickers, and Hot Rod couldn’t be more appreciated by his teammates, or his fan base. He continues to draw the largest ovation during lineup announcements at Sanford Stadium.
Perhaps Blankenship will have the last laugh by being named an All-American. Or, better yet, by bringing home a conference and/or a national championship.
You can bet those guys in the NFL don’t care whether you won the Groza or not. It’s not a stretch to think a professional contract may be in Hot Rod’s future. But we’re assuming he will wait around another year to test those waters.