Heading into the 2012 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation's leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and the next fall's stars could be the headline players next April for the 2013 NFL Draft. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.
The Lou Groza Award is given to the best kicker in college football. Last year's winner was Texas A&M kicker Randy Bullock.
Lou Groza Award Winner:
Caleb Sturgis, Florida
Sturgis broke into the lineup in 2008 as the Gators kickoff specialist. He averaged 63.7 yards per kickoff with 12 touchbacks. Stugis took over as Florida's placekicker as well in 2009. The sophomore was 22-of-30 on field goal attempts and 44-of-47 on extra points.
A back injury limited Sturgis to only four games in 2010. He was 2-of-4 on field goal attempts and 19-of-21 on extra points. Sturgis bounced back last season, becoming a Second-Team All-American and the top kicker in the SEC. He made 22-of-26 field goals and 31-of-31 extra points. Sturgis had a long of 55 yards and made three field goals from over 50 yards.
The redshirt senior (5-10, 185) has a strong and accurate leg. He enters the season as the top returning kicker in the nation with the potential to be draft pick. Staying healthy is the key for Sturgis. He has been one of the best kickers in the nation and is narrowly the Lou Groza favorite entering this season.
Lou Groza Award Runner-Up:
Dustin Hopkins, Florida State
Hopkins has one of the strongest legs in the country, and he showed off that power by drilling a 60-yard field goal in Florida State's spring game. Hopkins made field goals from 52, 53 and 55 yards last year. Furthmore, the junior was good on 22-of-27 (81 percent) field goal attempts.
Hopkins made 75 percent of his kicks in his first two years of college. He missed four extra points in 2009 in his first three collegiate games. Since then Hopkins has connected for 130 straight extra points. He has also has never had a kick blocked, even in 223 career field goal attempts. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder consistently drills touchbacks on kickoffs, with 94 total in three seasons.
Hopkins and Sturgis could be running neck-and-neck for the Groza Award this season. It wouldn't be surprising if Hopkins beats out Sturgis. Working in Hopkins favor is having a senior quarterback and veteran team. The Gators, on the other hand, are a young squad that will have a sophomore starting at quarterback. Florida State's offense could make a big difference in getting the senior more kicking opportunities.
Lou Groza Award Dark Horse:
Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
Sharp was a Third-Team All-American selection last year. He was very accurate, making 22-of-25 field goals, but the junior did not attempt a kick in the 50-yard range. Sharp (6-1, 189) also served as the Cowboys punter and averaged 46.3 yards per punt, downing 12 inside the 20 last year. He led the nation with 61 touchbacks on kickoffs, too.
Even though Sharp has a strong and accurate leg, the 2011 season was his first as the kicker. Now that the senior has a year of experience, he could be even better this year.
Honorable Mentions: Nebraska kicker Brett Maher, Ohio kicker Matt Weller and Syracuse kicker Ross Krautman.