In terms of the number of starting offensive linemen returning from last season, only four Big Ten teams rank in the top 59 nationally. Every B1G team returns of a number of players with starting experience, though only one member of last year’s First-Team All-B1G offense is back.
This is always going to be an unheralded group, but this year the notable names are even more scarce. For the team that ultimately wins this conference, those names are going to be the ones leading their respective programs into the postseason.
There will be no surprises about the teams at the top of this list.
Big Ten East
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes return four starters and have about a half-dozen former high school All-Americans to choose from to fill out the fifth spot. All-American Billy Price moves from right guard to center. He is the lone First-Team All-B1G member returning on the offensive line this year. Left tackle Jamarco Jones was a Second-Team selection last year. Left guard Michael Jordan was a Freshman All-American last season. Right tackle Isaiah Prince had a couple of bad games last season, but has all of the tools.
2. Penn State
For years we have heard about Penn State’s depth issues on the offensive line because of scholarship sanctions. Those concerns are apparently gone now, however. The Nittany Lions return at least six guys with starting experience, and many of them are even pretty good. None of those guys, however, earned even Honorable Mention All-B1G accolades last season. Expectations are high for left tackle Ryan Bates and center Connor McGovern. The rest of the returning starters have experience at multiple positions.
Michigan returns two starters from last season in sophomore guard Ben Bredeson and senior Mason Cole. Cole will move from center to left tackle. Senior Patrick Kugler is expected to be the center. He has played in all of nine games in his career, with five games being his season high. They have some confidence in him, however, or else they wouldn’t have moved Cole, who was a Second-Team All-B1G center last year. Sophomores Michael Onwenu and Jon Runyan are the favorites on the right side. There is a lot of talented youth here.
The Hoosiers return three starters, but together the entire offensive line only returns 40 total starts, which is No. 108 in the nation and tied for 13th in the Big Ten. Gone is All-American guard Dan Feeney, but there is still plenty to like here. Left tackle Coy Cronk was a Freshman All-American last season, starting every game as a true freshman. Right tackle Brandon Knight missed time due to injury but was solid. Junior guard Wes Martin has 19 career starts. Sophomore Simon Stepaniak should replace Feeney, and expectations are high.
Center Brendan Moore returns. He started all 13 games for the Terps last year and gives Maryland a cornerstone to build their fast-paced offense around. Right tackle Damian Prince is a former 5-star recruit who started every game last season as a redshirt sophomore. He hasn’t lived up to his billing yet, but it usually takes linemen a bit longer than normal people. Right guard Terrence Davis was an Under Armour All-American and eventually started nine times last year as a true freshman. The rest of the lineup is a question mark, but recruiting has helped.
6. Michigan State
Like Indiana, Michigan State returns just 40 starts on the offensive line, and 25 of them belong to senior center Brian Allen. Allen has played all over the interior, but gives the Spartans one of the Big Ten’s best centers. He is a two-time Second-Team All-Big Ten honoree. Outside of Allen, however, things get slim. Dave Beedle moves to guard after struggling in his five starts at left tackle last season. Redshirt freshman Luke Campbell is expected to start at right tackle, and sophomore Cole Chewins has people optimistic at left tackle. This is a young group.
Rutgers returns 42 career starts, with over half of them belonging to senior left guard Dorian Miller. He is a solid interior lineman for the Scarlet Knights and the unquestioned leader of the unit. Junior left tackle Tariq Cole earned Honorable Mention All-B1G accolades last year. More is obviously expected of him this season, and he should deliver. There are four names trying to replace a 4-year starter at right guard. Redshirt sophomore Kamaal Seymour started five games at right tackle last season after moving over from defense.
Big Ten West
The Iowa Hawkeyes return more starts on the offensive line than any other team in the Big Ten. Their 99 career starts are good for No. 7 in the nation. Four starters return, but they still bring back five linemen who started at least seven games last season. It’s a versatile group led by 3-year starter Sean Welsh at guard. Junior Keegan Render appears to be the other guard, and he’s the one noob who only started seven games last season. A pair of senior tackles is a luxury, and center James Daniels was very good at center last season as a sophomore.
The Badgers return 90 starts on the offensive line, which is the second-most in the Big Ten. Four starters return, but five players return who started at least seven games in 2016. Junior right guard Beau Benzschawel was a Second-Team All-B1G selection and is one to watch. Tackles Jacob Maxwell and David Edwards split the season down the middle at right tackle last year, but should be the bookends this year. Center Michael Dieter has 27 career starts in his first two seasons. Left guard Jon Dietzen started eight games as a redshirt freshman last year.
Northwestern welcomes back four starters from last year’s offensive line, and also adds junior Trey Klock who started seven games at both tackle spots for Georgia Tech over the previous two years. Junior Blake Hance had an inconsistent season last year at left tackle, and if he isn’t any better this season, then quarterback Clayton Thorson is going to feel it. He was part of the Wildcats allowing 39 sacks last year, which was second-worst in the conference. The interior is very experienced, which will help running back Justin Jackson greatly.
The Gophers return four players with starting experience, but no B1G team returns fewer starts on the offensive line than Minnesota’s 36. That number is good for No. 116 in the nation. The Minnesota offensive line has battled injuries for a few years now, so experience is spotty. Fortunately for the Gophers, they have one of the best offensive line coaches in the nation in Ed Warinner. His job will be a difficult one this season, but there is at least some pieces here. Several players have started at multiple spots, so this may be a fairly malleable situation.
The Huskers want to throw the ball more in 2017, but they need to be able to protect a quarterback who doesn’t have the mobility that Tommy Armstrong had last year. Nebraska returns four starters up front, which certainly gives them a head start. Left tackle Nick Gates was a Third-Team All-B1G selection as a sophomore last year, but there are concerns following a rough bowl game and spring. There is still a competition going on at center between sophomore Michael Decker and Cole Conrad, who started five games at right tackle last year.
Illinois returns 51 starts on the offensive line, and 31 of them belong to senior right tackle Christian DiLauro. Only six of the 13 scholarship offensive linemen here have even played before. Junior center Nick Allegretti started 11 games at left guard last year. Redshirt sophomore right guard Gabe Megginson started seven games as a rookie. He is an improving prospect. The rest of the starting five is up in the air and could even involve some true freshmen at some point this season.
The Boilermakers return two starters from an offensive line that averaged just 3.2 yards per carry, so there may be some addition by subtraction here. Junior center Kick Barron started every game last year. He has a solid handle on things. Sophomore Matt McCann started 10 games at tackle last year, but moves inside this year. Redshirt freshman Grant Hermanns has seemingly wrapped up a spot at left tackle. Other than Barron and Hermanns, however, answers are still being searched for in every corner.