Thursday at 4 pm on ESPN, the Ray Guy Award will be awarded to the nation’s top punter.
Having taken the country by storm, SDSU’s Matt Araiza is the favorite. If he wins, it will be the first national award any Aztec has taken home. Should the unthinkable happen, and the committee somehow gives the highest collegiate punting honor to another player, for San Diegans, it would go down as one of the biggest snubs in city history along with the likes of Marshall Faulk in 1992 and Trevor Hoffman in 1998.
Sizing up the competition, Araiza is a finalist with Rutgers Adam Korsak and Jordan Stout of Penn State.
The recent fame of SDSU’s punter notwithstanding, there is always a bias towards Power Five schools. Since the award was first given out, only three punters outside of the autonomous conferences have taken home the award. Competing head to head with two punters from the Big Ten should give Aztec Nation plenty to worry about the next couple of days.
Taking a deeper look at the criteria for winning the award, there is even more reason for Araiza’s followers to be nervous. According to the Ray Guy Award website, “punters are evaluated on their overall statistics and contribution to the team. Particular emphasis is placed on the following statistics; net average, percentage of total punts inside the 20-yard line, and percentage of punts not returned.” Using this rubric, here is how the punters measure up in each category.
- Matt Araiza: 67 punts, 51.4-yard average, 39 punts 50+ and 15 touchbacks
- Adam Korsak: 70 punts, 45.9-yard average, 19 punts, 50+ yards, and 0 touchbacks
- Jordan Stout: 62 punts, 44.8-yard average, 25 punts 50+ and three touchbacks
Araiza’s punt average is far above the other punters, but so is his total number of touchbacks. Still, SDSU’s punter is on pace to set the NCAA record for punting average, so this category belongs to him. Korsak is second because of his consistency. He averaged more per punt than Stout despite having six fewer kicks travel over 50 yards. Korsak and Stout rank 10th and 13th respectively in punting average.
- Adam Korsak: 45.3
- Jordan Stout: 45.1
- Matt Araiza: 44.3
In the first category, the Ray Guy Award pays special attention to Araiza ranks third. The Aztecs punter’s 15 touchbacks come back to hurt him here. Korsak takes the category slightly over Stout. Net Average, however, when it is this close, has as much to do with kick coverage as it does with the punter.
Percentage of Total Punts inside the 20.
- Adam Korsak: 37 of 70 inside of the 20 (52.86%)
- Jordan Stout: 34 of 62 inside of the 20 (54.84%)
- Matt Araiza: 36 of 76 inside of the 20 (47.37%)
Araiza once again ranks last in the focus statistic. The main difference here is that more of Araiza’s punts sailed into the end zone. Fewer touchbacks and SDSU’s punter could have led in this category as well.
Percentage of Punts Returned
- Adam Korsak: 14 of 70 returned (20%)
- Jordan Stout: 14 of 62 returned (22.58%)
- Matt Araiza: 22 of 76 returned (28.95%)
This is probably where Araiza’s huge leg hurts him most. Araiza kicked more punts over 60 yards than any of the three, and many of those were returned. How much will the committee value a breakthrough player?
Contribution to the Team
- Matt Araiza: Team MVP
- Adam Korsak: Team Captain
- Jordan Stout: Big Ten Punter of the Year
Stout already defeated Korsak when he was named Big Ten Punter of the Year. Penn State, though, is a powerhouse program, and Stout’s contribution to the team, though not without significance, was not as important as Korsak was to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights finished 5-7 on the season and 2-7 in the conference, but it says a lot about Korsak’s contribution to the team that he was named a Team Captain. Araiza, though, tops them all by becoming the first punter to truly be the MVP of a team.
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The Ray Guy Award is named after a trend-setting punter. Ray Guy transformed the position. In doing so, he created a framework today’s punters are judged by. Using the pattern Guy set up, there is some argument to be made that Korsak and Stout are worthy candidates over Araiza. However, like Guy before him, Araiza has completely changed the conventional wisdom of the position.
In the past, when kicking from deep in one’s own territory, it was thought punting higher but short distance to nullify any return was the optimal result. SDSU’s punter has shown that idea no longer has merit. The next generation of punters will look to emulate the weapon Araiza was this season for the Aztecs. They will no longer be content to try and win the field position battle but will aim to flip the field and put their team at an advantage no matter where they are kicking from.
The committee’s job is not an easy one. In a day and age when experts often blindly follow statistics, Kosak and Stout might look like more accurate punters who take some kicks off in order to be more accurate. The truth is, Araiza’s high touchback numbers exist because he can reach the end zone when the other kickers cannot. One last number worth mentioning, Araiza leads SDSU in special teams tackles with five, Kosak and Stout have zero on the season. Of the three finalists, SDSU’s Matt Araiza most resembles the great Ray Guy and deserves to be recognized as the best punter in America.
My earliest sport’s memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.