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Daniel Carlson’s Quest for the Lou Groza Award

He nearly won it last year, and he might win it this year. But he has some stiff competition.

NCAA Football: Arkansas State at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Daniel Carlson’s fantastic season of kicking footballs through the uprights inspired me to take a closer look at just how good he was. Basic measures like percentage of attempts made and the number good kicks over 50 yards didn’t tell the whole story in my opinion.

I wanted a single rating to compare every college kicker to the average college kicker, so I made it.

A quick reminder: I pulled together every field goal attempt from 2005 to 2014 to see how often those attempts were good from any given distance and, therefore, how many points a certain length attempt was worth on average. The result was this.

Average Points per FG Trendline

A 20-yard attempt averages 2.8 points per attempt. A 50-yard attempt averages 1.36 points per attempt.

If a kicker makes a 50-yarder, he just earned his team three points, but he earned 1.64 points more than the average kicker would have (over the course of several attempts, obviously). If he misses it, his team earned zero points, but he actually lost the 1.36 points and average kicker would have made.

Add all the makes and misses up, average them over the number of attempts, and you get how many points a kicker earns per attempt compared to what an average kicker would have done. It's just a way to add the difficulty of the kicks to the equation.

Here are last year’s Lou Groza finalists before the bowl games.

Kicker Team Points over average
per attempt
Ka'limi Fairbairn UCLA 0.49
Daniel Carlson Auburn 0.47
Jake Elliot Memphis 0.41

Last year, for every field goal attempt, Carlson gave Auburn 0.47 points more than an average kicker would have.

Now, my data source has dried up this year, so I’m not ranking every team, but here are the numbers for the four kickers in the country who have attempted 20+ field goals and missed no more than than two.

Kicker Team Points over average
per attempt
Zane Gonzalez Arizona State 1.03
Daniel Carlson Auburn 0.72
Austin Rehkow Idaho 0.58
Gary Wunderlich Ole Miss 0.57

Oh, look. Daniel Carlson is even better than last year, with 0.72 points over average per attempt. Idaho’s Austin Rehkow and Gary Wunderlich aren't quite as impressive, but still better than last year’s three Lou Groza finalists.

But look at Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez. 1.07 points over average per attempt! That’s double the finalists’ numbers from last year. There are two games to go before it goes to a vote, but there’s a decent chance Daniel Carlson becomes the Darren McFadden of the Lou Groza Award.

Daniel Carlson hasn’t actually missed a field goal yet. The two attempts that did not earn the Tigers points were actually blocked. That’s right, blocked by the opponent, through no fault of Carlson’s. Blocked by a sneaky, conniving, cadence-jumping Commodore and however in the world ULM managed to do it.

Personally, I would like to just give Carlson credit for making those, too. I mean, they were going through the uprights. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it.

But for "fairness", let’s just take those attempts off the board completely. They never happened. Turns out Rehkow has had a kick blocked as well, so he gets the same treatment. Results, please!

Kicker Team Points over average
per attempt
Zane Gonzalez Arizona State 1.03
Daniel Carlson Auburn 0.95
Austin Rehkow Idaho 0.71
Gary Wunderlich Ole Miss 0.57

Ah, much closer. Carlson is now nearly at one whole point over average per attempt. Still, Gonzalez has him beat by almost a tenth of a point.

Remember back when there were hot seats and Gus was still calling plays and he had to use gimmicks to beat Sun Belt teams and Art Briles was looming in shadows and Carlson turned a field goal attempt into a touchdown? That’s a lot more than the average kicker would have done. What if we give him credit for that?

That’s right, what if we give Carlson six points for a 37-yard attempt, where the average kicker only earns 2.08 points.

Kicker Team Points over average
per attempt
Daniel Carlson Auburn 1.09
Zane Gonzalez Arizona State 1.03
Austin Rehkow Idaho 0.71
Gary Wunderlich Ole Miss 0.57

Finally! Carlson just edges out Gonzalez. And no, neither Gonzalez, Rehkow, or Wunderlich have so much as a carry or catch, much less a touchdown. I checked.

Anyway, for you visual people, here’s the graphic showing each attempt and their approximate value. Greens are made field goals. Reds are misses. Yellows were blocked attempts. The size represents the value of the result, except for the blocks which I just made consistently small since they might not matter.

2016 Field Goals

Now what about kickoffs? Sure enough, Daniel Carlson is second in touchback percentage at 87.3% while Gonzalez is only at 75% and Rejkow is at a tiny 29.2%. Wunderlich has only kicked off once all season. Unfortunately, I don't think kickoffs play any part in the Lou Groza voting. The semi-finalists page doesn't show any kickoff stats.

And don’t tell me to consider extra points. All that tells you is how many touchdowns the offense scored. I would only worry about that if a kicker missed one.

Huh? What’s that? Gonzalez missed an extra point in the first game of the season? That’s too bad.

Anyway, there are still two games to go for each of these teams before the award is announced. A good number of last year’s Lou Groza semi-finalists didn’t fare so well in the last quarter of the season, so who knows how it will shake out. Just don't be surprised if these three of these kickers end up being the finalists. They certainly deserve it.