by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
Jeff Budzien may have gotten stiffed by the Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award committee, but the Big Ten refused to fall into the same trap, showering the Northwestern kicker with First Team All-Big Ten honors. This following a season in which Budzien made every single extra point he attempted and every single field goal he attempted, with the exception of a 53-yarder against Nebraska. If he made that potential game-winner against the Cornhuskers, a kick that twisted just wide of the upright, the Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award committee would have had no choice but to make Budzien a finalist. Instead, he literally missed out by a couple of inches.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald expressed his disgust with Budzien’s exclusion from the list of three finalists after Northwestern’s 50-14 blowout victory over Illinois on Saturday.
“How he’s not a finalist for the Groza Award makes me scratch my head,” Fitzgerald said. “I have no idea. I’m done. I’m getting off that voting. I’m not doing that anymore. He missed one field goal and it was from 50-couple. He should be a finalist for that award. He’s had a terrific year all season long.”
Ironically, Budzien finds himself in the same position as his team, making the argument that with no bad misses, he deserves to win the Lou Groza Award. Much like Northwestern, he has no signature wins. No dazzling 55-yarders or dramatic game-winners to make his case. Obviously, if Northwestern beats Michigan, it’s a different story, just like if Budzien hits that 53-yarder, it’s a different story. But he has been remarkably consistent, hitting every extra point and every kick under 50 yards, a claim that no other kicker in the nation can make. Let’s take a look at the three finalists for the Lou Groza Award and see if Fitzgerald is right about Budzien getting stiffed.
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Clearly, Cairo Santos with his perfect season has to make the list. Caleb Sturgis though has to be docked for missing two kicks of 29 yards or less. I don’t care if three of his four misses on the year were blocked. At some point, some of that responsibility probably lies on him as well. Meanwhile, Dustin Hopkins missed one-third of his attempts from 40 to 49 yards out. Budzien made all six of his tries from that distance. Hopkins’ five makes from 50-plus are impressive, but Budzien has to make the list ahead of Sturgis or Hopkins. I’ll give Fitzgerald the win on that argument although it certainly isn’t easy to pick three finalists.
The hard thing for Fitzgerald to swallow is that he probably bears as much responsibility for Budzien not making the cut as anyone. Budzien only attempted one 50-yarder all year. Santos attempted two, Sturgis attempted three and Hopkins attempted five, giving them a much better chance to show off their skills. Then again, Santos kicks for Tulane, Sturgis kicks for Florida and Hopkins kicks for Florida State, so Fitzgerald’s reticence to use Budzien on longer kicks probably has as much to do with wintry conditions in the Big Ten as anything. In some ways, then, this is just another instance of Southern kickers receiving an unfair advantage over their Northern counterparts. Buzien, oddly enough, was also the casualty of a fairly effective offense that gave him far fewer field goal tries than any of the finalists. Unfortunately for Budzien, all of the extra-point tries that Kain Colter and Venric Mark gave him fail to impress in the same way.