DALLAS (AP) — Quick, name the kickers at Oregon and Ohio State.
You’re not alone.
There will be plenty of stars in Monday night’s national championship game, but the kickers on these high-scoring teams might as well be in the witness-protection program.
Second-seeded Oregon (13-1) has split the job between freshman Aidan Schneider and sophomore Matt Wogan, who combined to miss four extra points and haven’t made a field goal longer than 42 yards all season. Freshman Sean Nuernberger handles the duties for the fourth-seeded Buckeyes (13-1), connecting on 13 of 20 and missing his only two fourth-quarter attempts.
None of them has faced a pressure-packed kick. The Ducks and the Buckeyes usually blow out their opponents.
That might not be the case in the title game.
“I really hope it doesn’t come down to that,” Schneider said. “I hope we’re pulling away with it at the end.”
No wonder. Oregon has endured its share of kicking nightmares.
Alejandro Maldonado missed crucial field goals in losses to Southern Cal in 2011 and Stanford in 2012, which very well may have cost the Ducks two more trips to the BCS title game. Maldonado finally lost the job to Wogan midway through the 2013 season, and coach Mark Helfrich insists there’s no carryover from those past woes.
But it hardly looks as though Oregon has the kicking game all sorted out.
“We have a ton of confidence in those guys, both those guys,” Helfrich said. “You’re like the golfer that has to go out on the 18th hole and hit a perfect drive without warming up or without being in the mix a lot, and a lot goes into that one swing.”
Oregon has gone back and forth between Schneider and Wogan, essentially letting the two compete for the position on a week-to-week basis.
Schneider handled the duties in the season opener, Wogan took over for the next six games, Schneider got the job back for three straight contests, Wogan returned to the top of the depth chart the final two weeks of the regular season, then Schneider reclaimed the job for the Pac-12 championship game, the Rose Bowl and, presumably, the national championship game.
The freshman has made 9 of 10 field goals, including the team’s two longest attempts from 40 and 42 yards. But he’s had two extra points blocked and failed on a 27-yard chip shot in the Pac-12 title game. Wogan is 7 of 9, none of them longer than 34 yards. He’s misfired from 32 and 33 yards, while also botching two extra points.
“I’m confident when I go out there to kick,” Schneider said. “I’ll be ready.”
For the most part, it hasn’t mattered who’s done the kicking for the Ducks, whose average margin of victory is more than 27 points a game. Oregon, in fact, has attempted only four field goals in the fourth quarter, and just one of those came in the final 10 minutes — a meaningless chip shot by Wogan to cap a 45-20 win over Washington.
The kicking position has been more stable at Ohio State, where Nuernberger beat out senior Kyle Clinton during fall workouts and held on to the job all season (though Clinton does handle the kickoff duties).
Much like Oregon, the Buckeyes never really put the youngster in a difficult situation, the average margin of victory nearly 26 points a game. There were a couple of close calls — most notably, a 31-24 win over Penn State in double overtime. But Nuernberger’s only testy moment was knocking through an extra point in the first extra period to keep the game going.
“I’ve had some ups and downs, but I think I’m starting to figure out a routine,” he said. “That’s one big thing I had to learn coming into college. It took me a while.”
Nuernberger has yet to make a fourth-quarter kick. He missed a 46-yarder against Indiana that didn’t really matter when his team pulled away for a 42-27 victory, and no one remembers a 29-yarder that was blocked by Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game with the Buckeyes already ahead 45-0.
But, going against a team such as Oregon, Nuernberger may be called on for a kick that really matters.
He’s already envisioned such a scenario.
“Once you get into these bigger games, you’re playing better teams,” Nuernberger said. “Every point matters.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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