Michigan State football

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Michigan State football: Will Bryce Baringer win the Ray Guy Award?

Here’s why Michigan State football special teams star Bryce Baringer will win the Ray Guy Award for punter of the year.

Michigan State football has no shortage of legends who have played on the gridiron. They have 32 first-team All-Americans, 11 of whom were consensus, as well as a multitude of All-Big Ten honorees. However, they boast just nine players who have nabbed 13 national awards presented for achievements in a single season.

So who comprises that list? Here are the biggest names that come to mind:

Percy Snow (LB): Won the Dick Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker. He also received the Lombardi Award, which is given to the nation’s player in a lineman position (offense or defense) who best embodies the character of the legendary NFL coach. He was named player of the game in the 1988 Rose Bowl and his No. 48 is retired at Spartan Stadium.

Charles Rogers (WR): The eye-popping legend snagged both the Fred Biletnikoff Award and Paul Warfield Trophy for being the nation’s top receiver. His highlight reels speak for themselves, and there is not much debate among MSU fans that he is the best receiver to ever don the green and white.

Darqueze Dennard (DB): The cornerstone of some of MSU’s best defenses to ever take the field, and a staple Mark Dantonio kind of guy. He won the Jim Thorpe Award and the Tatum Trophy, both of which are awarded to the nation’s top defensive back. Dennard was the unquestioned leader of the defensive backfield, back when MSU had a secondary to be feared that was worthy of its “No Fly Zone” name.

Kenneth Walker III (RB): The most recent addition to this list, K9 broke on the scene his junior year after transferring from Wake Forest. He took home both the Doak Walker Award for best running back, as well as the Walter Camp Award, which is given to the college player of the year. Most would argue that he also deserved a nod to be invited to New York as a Heisman Finalist, but we will leave that argument for another day.

You can also look at guys like Connor Cook, who took home the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given to the top upperclassman QB, as well as Kenny Willekes who took home the recently established Burlsworth Trophy for the nation’s best former walk-on player.

Could the Ray Guy Award be next?

Bryce Baringer, the fearless punting specialist known for his thick-rimmed glasses and legendary mustache, might be the next Spartan to land on this list.

This year has certainly been a forgettable one for MSU which now sits at 5-6 in danger of missing a bowl. But Baringer has a chance to enshrine his name among some MSU greats.

For the past 22 seasons, Ray Guy Award has been presented to the nation’s best punter. It’s named after the legendary Southern Miss punter who went on to a 14-year career with the Raiders in the NFL. The winner is selected by a voting body of FBS sports information directors, national media, and former Ray Guy Award winners. 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. 

During the 2022 season, Baringer received recognition on the weekly “Ray’s 8” list five times and the “Our Guy” punter of the week twice. ESPN also named him to their midseason All-American team. And as of this week, Baringer was just listed as one of 10 semifinalists for the award.

Here is the full list:

  • Adam Korsak, Rutgers
  • Bryce Baringer, Michigan State
  • Jesse Mirco, Ohio State
  • Jon Sot, Notre Dame
  • Kai Kroger, South Carolina
  • Lou Hedley, Miami
  • Mason Fletcher, Cincinnati
  • Michael Turk, Oklahoma
  • Oscar Chapman, Auburn
  • Ty Zentner, Kansas State

So how good of a chance does Baringer stand to win the award? Let’s dig into each of the categories.

The FBS leader in average yards per punt (YPP) won the award 10 times out of 22, including each of the last four years. Additionally, in 18 out of the 22 years, the punter was in the top five in average YPP. As it stands heading into Week 13, Baringer currently leads the nation in YPP with an average of 48.4 which is 1.5 yards longer than the next player. His competition in that department is Fletcher, who comes in at No. 3, and Turk at No. 4. 

Looking at net punting yards, Baringer again leads the nation at 45.0. His competition is slightly closer here, with Fletcher at 44.8 (No. 2), Korsak at 43.5 (No. 4), and Turk at 42.3 (No. 6).

Next, let’s look at punts that have landed inside the 20-yard line — 46.7 percent of Baringer’s punts (21-of-45) have landed inside the 20, a top-10 mark in the country.

Of the semifinalists, here are the players ahead of Baringer:

1. Fletcher (51.9%)
3. Hedley (50.0%)
6. Kroger (48.8%)
7. Mirco (48.7%)
8. Sot (47.7%)
9. Baringer (46.6%)

This stat is not a dealbreaker by any means, as Baringer is still in the top 10. But it shows that the margin between the semifinalists will be slim.

It should be noted that only 68.8 percent of Baringer’s punts were not returned, which isn’t as impressive nationally (No. 66). Korsak leads the list of semifinalists in that department with a No. 2 ranking of 92.3 percent punts not returned. However, net yards and punts downed inside the 20 seem to be more heavily emphasized in the eyes of the committee.

Not explicitly listed in the criteria, but definitely worthy of note, Baringer kicked a 60-yard punt or longer in seven out of 11 games this season. In the home opener against WMU, he boomed a 70-yarder, his longest of the year.

Arguably Bryce’s best punt of the season came on the road against his former team, Illinois, when he booted a 62-yard beauty early in the fourth quarter. He pinned the ball perfectly in the corner of the field, nearly grazing the pylon as it went out of bounds at the 1-yard-line. It was a pivotal moment in the game when the MSU defense needed to keep a ranked Illinois from completing a comeback. The punt also perfectly encapsulated all the instances in the past two seasons when Bryce put the MSU defense in a better position to succeed. 

Even when you look at the tape in the games where special teams struggled, Bryce still jumps off the page. At Michigan, two consecutive long snaps sailed outside Baringer’s usual catch radius, and he was able to corral one of them in Moss-like fashion.

It’s no secret that the best punters in the nation come from the Big Ten. The famous phrase “punting is winning” has become ubiquitous for offenses that tend to struggle and then turn to their special teams units for help (see: Rutgers, Iowa). MSU’s offense, although ripe with potential and playmakers, has a tendency to stall and go three-and-out. This leaves Baringer plenty of room to operate on the field. With his cannon of a leg, he has taken full advantage and flipped the field on several key occasions this season. In a sport where field position is critical, Baringer has allowed MSU to be superior in that regard. Mel Tucker is 8-1 in one-score games at MSU, and Baringer is undoubtedly part of the reason the defense has been in a position to make the plays needed to win.

Baringer could see some stiff competition from Fletcher, Korsak, or Turk for the award. But nobody has been more valuable to their team than Baringer to MSU. That should result in him being “Our Guy” this season and adding the Ray Guy Award to MSU’s trophy case. And with any luck, an NFL team will see his potential and give him a shot to play on Sundays.

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