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January 13, 2014
Top 25 Countdown: Matt Wile
Michigan split its kicking duties between Brendan Gibbons (field goals) and Matt Wile (punting and kickoffs) this season, and with so many opportunities to contribute both would rank among the team's most important players. Wile comes in at No. 18 in our countdown.
The Top 25 is voted on by the Staff of TheWolverine.com.
Preseason Expectations: Back in May, Michigan announced that 2012 All-Big Ten first-team punter Will Hagerup would sit out the entire 2013 season stemming from off-field issues that had led to two previous suspensions. No worry, many thought, thanks to the presence of Wile, who had filled in for Hagerup in five games in 2011 (averaging 41.6 yards per punt) and served as the pooch punter in 2012 (35.9-yard average with nine of 12 kicks dropped inside the 20-yard line).
The expectation for Wile was that he would at least be a serviceable full-time punter, that he would boom his kickoffs through the end zone consistently, and that he would continue to handle long-range field goals effectively.
His Season: It was an up-and-down year for Wile. The junior from San Diego started horribly, averaging only 32.3 yards per punt in U-M's first three games while pinning a single punt among seven attempts inside the 20-yard line.
He bounced back to average 42.4 yards at Connecticut and a season-best 51.7 yards on three punts against Minnesota, but the next eight games were a rollercoaster - 36.5- and 35.4-yard average performances as well as 40.8 and 40.9, with 48.8-, 42.5 and 44.0-yard average games in there also.
Wile showed better hang time and dropped a greater percentage inside the 20-yard line (26.3 percent over his final five games compared to 17.4 percent in his first eight contests) but he remained wildly inconsistent.
Kicking long-range field goals, Wile went 1 for 3 on the year, connecting from 49 yards but missing from 51 and 52. He took over in permanently for an injured Gibbons late in the year, and was 2 for 2 against Kansas State in the bowl game.
TheWolverine.com Analyst Phil Brabbs: "The past few years, Wile was always that emergency fill-in at punter, but it was never his gig. And now, you're suddenly handling kickoffs, punting and practicing field goals too because you're the long-range guy and the backup, and that wears on you physically and on your psyche.
"It took him awhile to figure that all out, but if you look at his games towards the end of the season, that's when he became most consistent. The interesting thing was as his punting improved, we saw some shakiness in his field-goal kicking. He missed a few down the stretch when he had been almost automatic previously in his career.
"Doing 2/3 of the kicking game already, he's proven himself a gamer and has really developed the mental preparation it takes. There is no doubt next year he wants to be the guy that takes over for Gibbons, but I don't know if it's the best thing for him or for the team to try to do all three.
"Whether Will Hagerup comes back or they develop Kenny Allen as a punter, you'd be better off just asking Matt to be the placekicker and kickoff specialist and not all three."
Sneak Peek at 2014: Wile will almost certainly handle field goals now that Gibbons has graduated. He will probably remain the kickoff specialist also. Michigan has not announced Hagerup's status, but even if Hagerup does not return, it is unlikely the Maize and Blue would ask Wile to do all three.
For the past three seasons, U-M has enjoyed consistency at the placekicker position. Gibbons converted 44 of 55 (80.0 percent) from 2011-13, and Wile must prove he's capable of connecting on 75.0 percent to stave off any competitors. He's certainly capable, but he's never been the full-time kicker before and it will be a role he must adapt to. He looked shaky at times down the stretch, but he should benefit from going into the offseason knowing he's the guy.
Top 25 Countdown