Ranking the Big Ten Offensive Lines — Legends Division
By Tony Gerdeman
After a bit of a break, we finish up the offensive line rankings with the Legends Division. The Spartans have the best offensive line in the division, followed by Nebraska and Michigan. The other three offensive lines in the division are pretty interchangeable, even though they range from seventh to twelfth.
In fact, that goes for the Leaders Division as well. Once you get to the sixth or seventh offensive line in this list, any unit can rightly argue to be ranked higher, while also deserving to be ranked lower.
It's not that there are a bunch of great offensive lines in the conference, it's that there may not be any. Greatness separates itself, mediocrity does not, and that's the trouble with ranking offensive lines.
2. Michigan State
Starters: C Travis Jackson, RG Chris McDonald, RT Fou Fonoti, LT Dan France
Possible Starters/Backups: Jack Allen, Blake Treadwell, John Deyo, Nate Klatt, Ethan Ruhland, Donavon Clark, Arthur Ray, Henry Conway, Shawn Kamm, Skyler Burkland, Michael Dennis, Benny McGowan*, Zach Higgins*, Kodi Kieler*
The Spartans lose only one starter from last year's offensive line, however, both Blake Treadwell (center) and Skyler Burkland (right tackle) started the first three games of last season before being lost to injury. Travis Jackson stepped in for Treadwell as a freshman and was named a first-team Freshman All-American. Dan France made the move from defense last season and did well for his first time on offense. He will be even better this year. Chris McDonald was an honorable mention All-Big Ten player, and Fou Fonoti stepped in for Burkland as a junior college transfer. With a new quarterback, having this much experience at offensive line could not have come at a better time. Mark Dantonio thinks this could be his best line yet. Still, they only paved the way for 3.95 yards per carry last year, which was good for tenth in the conference.
Starters: RG Spencer Long, LG Andrew Rodriguez
Possible Starters/Backups: Tyler Moore, Brent Qvale, Zach Sterup, Jeremiah Sirles, Mike Moudy, Ryne Reeves, Cole Pensick, Justin Jackson, Brandon Thompson, Ryan Klachko, Seung Hoon Choi, Paul Thurston*
Nebraska loses three starters on the offensive line, but returns five linemen with starting experience. Guards Spencer Long and Andrew Rodriguez performed well enough last year, though Rodriguez lost a good amount of time to injury. He could possibly be looked at as a tackle as well. Long is a former walk-on who was named second-team All Big Ten last year. Another former walk-on, Seung Hoon Choi, stepped in for Rodriguez after his injury and did as well as could be expected. Tyler Moore started four games as a true freshman last season and became the first true freshman to ever start a season opener on a Nebraska offensive line. Jeremiah Sirles started twelve games as a freshman in 2010, but lost his job last season. He's a near-certainty to get it back this season after being a backup last year. There is a lot of potential in this line, but depth is a question mark.
Starters: RG Patrick Omameh, LG Michael Schofield, LT Taylor Lewan
Possible Starters/Backups: Ricky Barnum, Jack Miller, Joey Burzynski, Chris Bryant, Graham Glasgow, Elliott Mealer, Erik Gunderson, Kyle Kalis*, Erik Magnuson*, Ben Braden*, Blake Bars*
While the Wolverines return three starters from last season, one of them will not be in the same spot he were last year. Michael Schofield will move from left guard to right tackle, and should be able to play as well as the last few right tackles have at Michigan. Patrick Omameh already has 29 starts under his belt, but has never had any real competition for his job. Taylor Lewan gets the publicity because he plays left tackle, but he is far from a perfect. However, he could get fairly close as he matures. Senior Ricky Barnum enters 2012 with nine games under his belt. He will be Michigan's starting center. He did start three games at guard last year, so he's not completely inexperienced. Left guard is still up for grabs, but it appears to be a battle between walk-on Joey Burzynski, true freshman Kyle Kalis, and senior Elliott Mealer, who has played in ten games on the offensive line in his career. Not a great deal of depth, which is why Brady Hoke is trying to build it up like a mad man through recruiting.
Starters: LG Matt Tobin, C James Ferentz
Possible Starters/Backups: Conor Boffeli, Brett Van Sloten, Brandon Scherff, Casey Kreiter, Austin Blythe, Jordan Walsh, Drew Clark, Casey McMillan, Nolan MacMillan, Andrew Donnal, Ryan Ward*, Eric Simmons (JC), Mitch Keppy*
For the first time since 2007, the Hawkeyes will be without a returning starter at tackle. Brandon Scherff, Andrew Donnal and Brett Van Sloten are the three main competitors for the two spots, and Scherff and Van Sloten appear to be the most likely winners. Scherff started three games at left guard in 2010, so he has some starting experience. Van Sloten performed well in spot duty in last season's bowl game, and should win the right tackle spot. Matt Tobin returns at left guard, and James Ferentz returns at center. Ferentz, a senior, has 26 career starts to his credit. Conor Boffeli is Ferentz's backup, but he's also battling redshirt freshman Austin Blythe for the right guard spot. Overall, there isn't a ton of starting experience, but there are a number of candidates who may ultimately break into the lineup. There are some talented options, but jobs may not be settled until a few weeks after the season starts.
Starters: C Brandon Vitabile, LG Brian Mulroe, RT Patrick Ward
Possible Starters/Backups: Neal Dieters, Jack Konopka, Taylor Paxton, Paul Jorgensen, Geoff Mogus, Hayden Baker, Chuck Porcelli, Adam DePietro*, Ian Park*, Kenton Playko*, Eric Olson*
Even though they are ranked eleventh on this list, the Wildcats could very well have a top six offensive line when the season is over. Three starters return, though Patrick Ward moves from right tackle to left tackle. He is entering his third year as a starter and will be asked to protect Kain Colter's blind side. Brandon Vitabile started every game at center last year as a redshirt freshman, and is a Rimington Award candidate. Brian Mulroe has started 27 games over the last three seasons, and was an honorable mention All-Big Ten recipient last year. Chuck Porcelli is the leading candidate to start on the right side. He has been a backup for the first three years of his career. Sophomore Paul Jorgensen will also get a shot at the right tackle spot. Watch out for Jack Konopka at right guard. He moved over from superback (tight end), and has pretty decent athleticism for an offensive linemen. Overall, there is some promise here, but they need to improve their Big Ten-worst 3.75 yards per carry from last season.
Starters: RG Zac Epping, LT Ed Olson
Possible Starters/Backups: Caleb Bak, Zach Mottla, Jon Christensen, Josh Campion, Foster Bush, Tommy Olson, Kyle McAvoy, Joe Bjorkland, Jimmy Gjere, Sean Ferguson, Luke McAvoy, Marek Lenkiewicz, Jonah Pirsig*, Isaac Hayes*
Along with returning starters Zac Epping and Ed Olson, four other Gophers started at least two games last season as Jerry Kill searched for a winning combination. Interestingly, with the amount of offensive linemen that Kill has brought in, Epping may not be able to keep his job because Caleb Bak, Tommy Olson and Josh Campion will also be vying for one of the two spots at guard. Junior Zach Mottla is the likely starter at center, but he's very inexperienced. Ed Olson, still just a junior, is entering his third season as a starter. He is a solid blocker, and paired with redshirt sophomore Jimmy Gjere, could form a talented bookend duo. Gjere, however, needs to be healthy. He started the first five games of the year last season, then was lost for the season due to injury. Having nine linemen start games, as Minnesota did last season, is not an indication of depth, it's an indication of a lack of a true starting five. That needs to change in 2012.
2. Michigan State
5. Ohio State
9. Penn State
Quarterbacks Leaders Legends
Running Backs Leaders Legends
Receivers Legends Leaders
Offensive Line Leaders
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