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The Best of the Black and Gold: BHGP Ranks the Greatest Specialists of the Ferentz Era

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These kickers and punters put the “special” in “special teams.”

Nate Kaeding kicks an extra point Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

This offseason, Black Heart Gold Pants is undertaking the unenviable task of ranking the greatest players of the Kirk Ferentz era. From 1999-2019, we’re emptying the memory banks, popping in the highlight tapes, and embracing the controversy as we try to determine who stands out as the best of the best. We’ll start by ranking the top five players at every position group before moving on to the top 25 players regardless of position. Rankings are based on college performance and do not take professional success into account.

The final positional ranking in our Top Five series is a combined ranking of the two positions that put the “foot” in “Iowa football.” Special teams have long been a hallmark of the Ferentz era in Iowa City, and the Hawkeyes have seen some powerful legs come through the program during this period, some of which proved capable of winning incredibly memorable games.

Between the punters who help flip the field to the kickers with ice in their veins, here are our picks for the top five specialists to don the black and gold under the tutelage of Kirk Ferentz.

5. Marshall Koehn (2012-2015)

Iowa has had several kickers that were dangerous from long range over the years, but none had a stronger leg than Marshall Koehn. A touchback machine, Koehn emerged as the starting kicker as a junior in 2014 where he led the Big Ten in touchback percentage (63.2%) and his 43 touchbacks were the second most of any kicker nationally that season. The most memorable example of Koehn’s rocket-launching right foot came during his second-team All-Big Ten 2015 campaign, as Koehn hit a 57-yard field goal to defeat Pittsburgh as time expired, the longest kick in Kinnick Stadium history and the second-longest field goal of any Hawkeye kicker ever.

Koehn was more than just a strong leg, however. Koehn made 77.8% of his field goals over his career, including 80% during his senior season. He also showed versatility by doubling as an occasional punter for the Hawkeyes in 2015, punting eight times for an average of 40.9 yards per kick, including a 64-yarder against Pittsburgh. Ironically, it was the easiest kicks at which Koehn struggled the most, as he missed six PATs in 2015. Still, Koehn’s consistent highs easily outweighed the occasional frustrations associated with missed gimmies, making him an easy choice for inclusion on this list.

4. Mike Meyer (2010-2013)

Mike Meyer was a model of consistency for the Hawkeyes. A former walk-on who became a four-year starter, Meyer ranks second in program history in made field goals (61) and career scoring (324 points) and never posted a sub-70% field goal average, twice eclipsing the 80% barrier. Meyer also went over three seasons without missing an extra point, demolishing Nate Kaeding’s record of 60 consecutive PATs by nailing an incredible 122 straight.

Meyer may not have as many memorable kicks as the other players on this list, but he was nothing if not clutch over the course of his career, making 19 of his 21 field goal attempts in the fourth quarter or overtime from 2010-2013. This consistency and strong late-game performances helped Meyer earn third-team All-Conference honors in 2012 and second-team designation the following year.

3. Ryan Donahue (2007-2010)

As often as Iowa punts, it’s amazing they haven’t had more standouts at this position during the Kirk Ferentz era. Jason Baker, Dillon Kidd, and Ron Coluzzi warranted consideration for this list, but Ryan Donahue was the only Hawkeye punter to make the cut. The four-year starter made second-team All-Big Ten lists for three straight years from 2008-2010 and was one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award in 2010.

Donahue had an incredibly strong leg and was capable of flipping the field on any given kick. Donahue recorded five of the fourteen longest and two of the five longest punts in Iowa history, including a 82 yard bomb as a freshman against Michigan State in 2007 which was the second-longest punt ever recorded by a Hawkeye. Donahue also excelled at limiting returns on his long kicks and held opponents to only 3.9 return yards on his punts as a senior. BHGP has long believed that punting is winning, and Ryan Donahue’s contributions to the 34 games Iowa won over the course of his career more than earned him the #3 spot.

2. Keith Duncan (2016-Present)

Keith Duncan is the only current player to make one of our Top Five lists, and it’s easy to see why he earned a place among the best specialists in Hawkeye history. As a true freshman walk-on, Duncan made 81.8% of his field goals, none bigger than the game-winning kick that clinched Iowa’s upset victory over #3 Michigan in 2016.

After ceding the starting job to the strong-legged Miguel Recinos for two seasons, Duncan came back better than ever in 2019. Duncan was a consensus All-American and the first-team All-Big Ten kicker who was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award and the winner of the Bakken-Anderson Kicker of the Year trophy. Duncan set program and conference records by making 29 field goals in 2019, the sixth-most of any kicker in NCAA history. Duncan made 12-13 field goals on the road, none bigger than his 48-yard kick that silenced 85,000 fans in Lincoln, Nebraska and gave Iowa it’s fifth straight win over the Cornhuskers.

Duncan made four field goals in three separate games for the Hawkeyes in 2019, all games which Iowa won by fewer than ten points. Its no wonder that Duncan was named by the Big Ten Network as the conference’s best kicker of the past decade.

Duncan would be a sure-fire number one pick for almost any college football program in the nation. However, he comes in second to the greatest kicker in Iowa history, and one of the most outstanding kickers to ever play college football. As JPinIC writes about our consensus #1 pick:

“It’s possible Duncan tops him eventually, but the Iowa City native is the champ until he has the belt taken from him.”

1. Nate Kaeding (2000-2003)

Nate Kaeding’s career at Iowa can best be described by one word: dominant. Kaeding twice earned first-team All-Big Ten and All-American honors, including consensus All-American honors in 2003. He was the 2002 winner of the Lou Groza Award and set seven program records during his time in Iowa City, including most career field goal makes (67), consecutive field goals made (22), and the most points scored in a single season (120 in 2002) and over the course of his career (373).

Kaeding was a four-year starter who really grew into his own as a sophomore, cementing his Iowa legacy by kicking the game-winner to defeat Texas Tech in the 2001 Alamo Bowl in one of the four games in which he posted four made field goals over the course of his career.

From that point on, Kaeding was an absolute force for the Hawkeyes. Kaeding was accurate, making 87.5% of his field goals in 2002 and a whopping 95.2% in 2003. Kaeding was also powerful, regularly making field goals from 50+ yards, including 55-yarders in wins over Purdue and Minnesota. As if that wasn’t enough, Kaeding proved as a senior in 2003 that he could also carry the ball when called upon.

Nate Kaeding, Mr. Automatic, is one of the greatest Hawkeyes in program history and was the clear choice for the #1 spot.

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BHGP Consensus Rankings:

5th- Mike Meyer

4th- Jason Baker

3rd- Ryan Donahue

2nd- Keith Duncan

1st- Nate Kaeding

Jason Baker earned the #4 spot in our consensus rankings. Baker was a dependable four-year starter for the Hawkeyes from 1997-2000 and booted three of the ten longest punts in Iowa history before moving on to a successful NFL career. As JPinIC wrote:

“Jason Baker was an incredible punter at a school that appreciates incredible punting as much as any in the nation. He had a decade long career in the NFL and I REALLY wanted to put him #1.”

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Thanks for reading these posts over the past few months, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this series! Next up for BHGP: the rankings of the top Ferentz-era players regardless of position. Stay tuned for more details!