Rutgers will be looking to fill a lot of positions vacated by players that moved on from the program after the 2015 season: left tackle, wide receiver, and linebacker just to name a few. But perhaps the most difficult vacancy to fill will be at kicker.
Just about every other position features plenty of depth, with a number of back-ups getting enough playing time in 2015 that they can be expected to hold their own in 2016. The same can't be said at kicker, where Kyle Federico has handled the vast majority of kicking duties since arriving on the banks in 2012. Of course, Federico's Rutgers career came to an end at the conclusion of the 2015 season. Now, the Scarlet Knights will need to turn a new kicker in 2016.
Enter Alex Barbir.
Widely regarded as one of the top kicking prospects in the nation, Barbir committed to Rutgers back in July, choosing the Scarlet Knights over Illinois, Navy, and others. He has one of the most powerful legs in the country, which can be seen on display in this video of Barbir nailing a 71-yard field goal. He continued to impress during his senior year for the South Forsyth War Eagles, when he boomed 78 of his 85 kickoffs (90.6%) for touchbacks, along with a 70 yard kickoff average, according to MaxPreps.
Barbir was recruited to Rutgers by Kyle Flood and his staff. The kicker was known to be a big supporter of Flood, and when the former Rutgers coach's three-game suspension was announced back in September, Barbir penned a strong message showing support from the 2016 commits.
Of course, Flood was let go as head coach following the season, and a large chunk of Rutgers' recruiting class decommitted, even after the hiring of Chris Ash. Barbir was not one of them, but he declined to immediately endorse the new coach, telling NJ.com "No comment till I even know who he is and meet him."
Ash and company wasted little time reaching out to the talented kicker, as new special teams coach Vince Okruch made an in-home visit with Barbir just days after being hired. The staff was able to get Barbir on campus on Friday for an official visit. It seems like his visit went well, and he got to check out High Point Solutions Stadium, as Barbir posted the following on Twitter on Friday evening.
But Barbir's interaction with the new coaching staff hasn't stopped speculation that he could still decommit from the program ahead of National Signing Day. What makes this even more concerning for Rutgers fans? There are two teams heavily pursuing Barbir - a rival old and a rival new.
On January 12th, Louisville made an offer to Barbir. The Cardinals are in the market for a kicker after incumbent John Wallace concluded his Louisville career at the end of the 2015 season. While the Cardinals have five other kickers already on the roster, Barbir would likely be an improvement over all of them and would probably start for the team. While it has been reported that Barbir is visiting Louisville on January 30th, he confirmed with us that he does not have an official visit scheduled.
And then there's Penn State, whose involvement is a bit more surprising. Unlike Rutgers and Louisville, the Nittany Lions already have a kicker in place. Former walk-on Joey Julius handled kicking duties for Penn State as a redshirt freshman in 2015, and did relatively well. Still, James Franklin is looking to bring in another kicker, as Quinn Nordin, the No. 1 kicker in the nation, de-committed recently from the program.
Jim Harbaugh has been making a big push for Nordin, a Michigan native. He has already had two unofficial visits, an official visit, and an in-house visit with the shirtless wonder. Now, 247's Crystal Ball has Nordin flipping to Michigan. Penn State is firmly back in the market for a top kicker like Barbir. The Nittany Lions offered him last Tuesday.
It would be a little surprising to see Barbir seriously interested in Penn State after he attended a camp in State College over the summer and was pretty much spurned by the Nittany Lions. Barbir never received an offer from Penn State, and just a couple weeks later they added Nordin to their recruiting class.
Long story short, Barbir is a major key to success for Rutgers' 2016 recruiting class. While most freshmen will have to fight for starting jobs or reserve roles, Barbir is the no-doubt starting kicker as long as he stays committed. Barbir has a ton of potential and would be a great special teams weapon for the Scarlet Knights. If he flips, Ash will have to either scramble for another kicker ahead of NSD, or turn to an inexperienced kicker already on the roster.
Ash holding on to Barbir would be a much-needed victory for Rutgers over Louisville and Penn State.