Putting these rankings together every year is never easy and it is never quick, but because I put so much care and effort into it, sometimes it works.
That’s the kind of return on investment that anybody can live with.
Today we begin our look at the offensive lines of the Big Ten, and if you don’t have a top-half offensive line, good look finishing in the top half of the final standings come late November.
A great offensive line makes every aspect of the offense better. More so than a great quarterback or great running back or great receivers. If the offensive line doesn’t hold up, it doesn’t matter how good anybody else is.
Fortunately for the teams in the Big Ten East, there are a ton of returning starters, which will lay a more formidable foundation for each program this season.
1. Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State returns five linemen with significant starting experience this year. There are 83 career starts returning, which gives the nation hope that James Franklin will soon stop using his offensive line depth as a reason for any struggles. The Nittany Lions are only replacing a right guard, but they have outstanding prospects to turn to. Tackles Chasz Wright and Ryan Bates are both two-year starters heading into 2018. Junior left guard Steven Gonzalez has 16 career starts in his first two seasons, and junior center Connor McGovern has 22 starts in that same time frame. Not only is this an experienced group, but they have played together for several years now, giving them needed cohesion. They helped lead the way for a Big Ten-high 36 rushing touchdowns last season.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State led the B1G in rushing last season (243.21), which is a credit to the offensive line. Some changes have been made, however. The Buckeyes must replace two-year starter Jamarco Jones at left tackle and Rimington winner Billy Price at center. The center job is still up for grabs, but offensive line coach Greg Studrawa likes his options. Last year’s starting guards Michael Jordan and Demetrius Knox (and Branden Bowen) all return. Right tackle Isaiah Prince returns for his third year as a starter. Thayer Munford is slated for left tackle, but that’s a lot to ask of a true sophomore. The interior is deep and talented, which could allow for some experimenting by Studrawa in camp to find his five best players. Three blue-chip signees will also bolster the depth. This could be the best line in the B1G, but let’s see it in action first.
3. Michigan State Spartans
Four starters return for Michigan State this year. They need to find a center, and it looks like redshirt sophomore Matthew Allen will get the first crack. Allen will likely become the third Allen brother (Jack, Brian) to start at center for the Spartans. Right guard Kevin Jarvis started 10 games as a true freshman last season, while right tackle Luke Campbell started 12 games as a redshirt freshman. Fourth-year junior Cole Chewins returns at left tackle, and fifth-year senior David Beedle has started at three different positions. He should be at left guard next to Chewins. Junior Tyler Higby is an interior utility man who has started half of each of the last two seasons. Despite talent at running back, the Spartans were 10th in the conference in yards per carry (3.99), and that wasn’t due to sacks, because MSU was second in sacks allowed (21).
4. Michigan Wolverines
The hire of offensive line coach Ed Warinner is going to make every single offensive lineman on Michigan’s roster better. No matter what you thought of them before, expect something more this year. Left guard Ben Bredeson returns for his third year as a starter. He was a second-team All-B1G selection last year. Massive Michael Onwenu at the other guard gives Michigan another returning starter, but he’s going to have challengers. Sophomore Cesar Ruiz started five games as a true freshman at guard, but is the future at center. Warinner’s impact will need to be felt most at tackle, where Michigan has some issues. Last year, the Wolverines allowed 36 sacks, which was more than anybody else in the Big Ten except for Illinois (42).
5. Maryland Terrapins
Maryland returns all five starters (105 career starts) from 2017. Right tackle Damian Prince is responsible for 30 of those starts, and center Brendan Moore has 26. Left tackle Derwin Gray and left guard Sean Christie are both fifth-year seniors, which gives the Terps tremendous experience on the blind side. Junior right guard Terrence Davis was a recruiting win for Maryland a few years ago and he now has 21 starts to his credit. Head coach D.J. Durkin was also able to sign a strong 2018 offensive line class. They won’t be needed yet, but he’ll want to get them some experience because they’ll be losing so many veterans after this season. It’s not all great news, however. The Terps allowed 2.92 sacks per game last year, which was tied for 114th in the nation. They also averaged 84 more yards on the ground in non-conference games than conference games.
6. Indiana Hoosiers
The Indiana offensive line features eight players with significant starting experience. Sometimes that’s indicative of injuries, and other times it is indicative of an unhappy offensive line coach. For the Hoosiers, it also indicates the inclusion of Miami graduate transfer center Nick Linder, who started 26 games in his career with the Canes. There will be a battle at right guard between Mackenzie Nworah (6 starts in 2017) and Simon Stepaniak (6 starts in 2017). Left tackle Coy Cronk and right tackle Brandon Knight are solid, and left guard Wes Martin is an all-conference candidate. Hunter Littlejohn (12 starts at center last year) and Delroy Baker (4 starts) provide experienced depth across the entire line. The Hoosiers were 13th in the conference with a 3.5-yard per carry average last year.
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers returns five players with starting experience, but jobs are still very much up for grabs. Amazingly, the Scarlet Knights allowed just 1.67 sacks per B1G game, which was third in the conference last year. Fifth-year senior left tackle Tariq Cole enters his third season as a starter. He is the anchor of this offensive line and will be the blindside protector of what could be a true freshman quarterback. Redshirt sophomore Mike Lonsdorf won the left guard job in the spring. He played in just four games last year. There will be a battle at center between last year’s two starters — junior Jonah Jackson and sophomore Michael Maietti. Right guard could very well be the loser of the center battle. Fourth-year junior right tackle Kamaal Seymour missed the spring but has 17 career starts to his credit.