Football Season Preview: Special teams

John Paschall, Reporter

Starters: senior Jeff Budzien, senior Brandon Williams, senior Pat Hickey and senior Venric Mark

Key reserves: freshman Hunter Niswander and junior Tony Jones

Breakout candidate: Jones

There’s no real breakout on special teams because all the positions seem to be loaded with talent and locked down. But coach Pat Fitzgerald could end up deciding to take Mark off kick- and punt-returning duties at some points in the game to save him for offense and keep him from getting banged up. Jones showed flashes of return ability and could be a solid backup option for Mark.

Season outlook

The Wildcats’ biggest strength is arguably their special teams. Mark was an All-American punt returner last year, and Budzien is a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, which is given to the best kicker in the nation. Budzien only missed one kick last year and should finish his NU career strong. Williams was consistent throughout 2012, which is all you can ask for in a punter. The big question with this unit is how often teams will actually give Mark a chance to return punts. We don’t think it’ll be too often.

– John Paschall