There are four offensive linemen in the Big Ten East this year who earned a spot on one of the three All-Big Ten teams a year ago, and all four play for Michigan.
Whoever is going to contend for the Big Ten this season will need a similar contribution from their offensive line this season.
There are some serious questions about the offensive lines in the Big Ten this year, and not every coach is going to have adequate answers.
If everything starts up front, that also means nothing starts up front if the offensive line doesn’t make it happen.
The good news for the teams at the top of these ratings is that they have offensive lines that are capable of making things happen, or at least not keeping things from reaching their potential.
And given the amount of experience returning, the team at the top of the heap is no surprise.
(The number in parentheses next to the team is that team’s number of recruiting stars at that position.)
1. Michigan Wolverines (61)
The Wolverines have 18 offensive linemen on the 2019 roster who were ranked recruits, including a couple of walk-ons. They return four starters, and all four earned some type of All-Big Ten recognition last season. Senior left tackle Jon Runyan was a First-Team selection last season. Runyan’s career began a bit slowly, but has picked up steam, as is the case with many offensive linemen. The right tackle job opposite Runyan is probably going to be decided in fall camp…or even a couple of weeks into the season. Sophomore Andrew Stueber started the final two games there last season. Redshirt freshman Jalen Mayfield has earned solid reports in the competition as well. The interior may be the best in the nation with junior center Cesar Ruiz, and senior guards Michael Onwenu and Ben Bredeson. Bredeson was a Second-Team All-Big Ten selection last season. This is his fourth year as a starter. This is a seasoned group with options at right tackle. They were fourth in the conference last season in sacks allowed, but their 4.83 yards per rush was middle of the road. A more open offense could offset the inexperience at running back this season.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (53)
The Buckeyes must replace four starters from last season, but the process seems to be going about as well as could be hoped for. Junior left tackle Thayer Munford is the lone returning starter, but he missed the spring with a back issue. He is expected to be fine for fall camp. Redshirt sophomore right guard Wyatt Davis is a new starter, but that’s mostly in title. He started the final two games last year, meaning he went through bowl practices, winter conditioning, and spring ball as a starter. Left guard looks to be a competition between versatile fifth-year seniors Branden Bowen and Jonah Jackson, both with starting experience. Right tackle appears to be redshirt freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere’s job to lose. Petite-Frere was a 5-star signee in last year’s class. Redshirt sophomore Josh Myers will be replacing All-American center Michael Jordan, who left for the NFL a year early. According to his coaches, Myers could have taken over later in the season last year if they needed him to. While this is a group with four new starters, it won’t be a surprise if they are better than they were a year ago. In fact, they need to be better than they were last year when it comes to the running game, which was the worst in school history at times.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions (44)
After working so hard to build the offensive line back up to pre-sanction levels, Penn State ended up losing their two best linemen early to the NFL Draft this spring. There are options, however. One of them is redshirt freshman Rasheed Walker at left tackle. Walker was a recruiting win for Franklin over Ohio State and he will be counted on this year. Sophomores Mike Mirando and CJ Thorpe will compete for the open right guard job. Thorpe was on the defensive line last year. Three starters return to help out the young new starters. Senior Steven Gonzalez was another recruiting win over Ohio State. He was an Honorable Mention All-B1G selection last year at left guard. He has 29 career starts to his credit. Junior center Michael Menet returns as well. Junior tackle Will Fries will likely be at right tackle, where he has started 10 games over the past two seasons. Junior college transfer Anthony Whigan will also likely fit in somewhere as well. Penn State was No. 12 in the Big Ten last year in sacks allowed (2.39). Their 34 rushing touchdowns led the conference. This is an experienced group adding intriguing young talent. They will be integral this year while the Nittany Lions break in an almost entirely new batch of skill position starters.
4. Maryland Terrapins (42)
Four starters return for Maryland, and that doesn’t even include redshirt sophomore right tackle Marcus Minor, who started the first three games of the season last year before missing the rest of the season due to injury. He also started once as a true freshman, which gives you a good idea of his potential — if he can stay healthy. Junior center Johnny Jordan started six games last season and looks to be the guy there. Senior right guard Terrance Davis was recruited by everyone and is going to be a 4-year starter. He has been okay, but has also dealt with injuries. The Terps need more from him this year. Senior left guard Sean Christie is a 3-year starter. The one to watch will be redshirt freshman left tackle Jaelyn Duncan. He was a 4-star signee who redshirted last year and is being counted on this year. The Terps averaged 6.32 yards per rush in October last year, but that number dipped to 4.60 in November, and it was only that high because of the 339 yards they put on Ohio State.
5. Michigan State Spartans (52)
Michigan State returns seven offensive linemen who started at least five games last season, which is a positive as long as most of those guys can hold onto a job this year. None of those seven starters earned any kind of All-Big Ten recognition in 2018, so it’s no wonder that so much attention is being paid to incoming freshman Devontae Dobbs, who was a high 4-star signee this year for head coach Mark Dantonio. Senior left tackle Cole Chewins is now a 3-year starter, as is left guard Tyler Higby, who has played and started just about everywhere on the offensive line. Last year, the Spartans had three different starters at every position on the line except for right tackle, where Jordan Reid held things down as a true sophomore. It is impossible to build chemistry when you have nine different starting lineups on the offensive line as MSU did last year. The results showed as the Spartans were No. 13 in the Big Ten in average yards per rush (3.49) and rushing TDs (14). There were injuries last season, so health is a must. MSU also needs their starters to hold onto jobs and build the chemistry that was missing last year.
6. Indiana Hoosiers (43)
Indiana returns two starters on the offensive line from last season, and a third — center Hunter Littlejohn, who started every game in 2017 and the first four games last year. Littlejohn eventually gave way to Miami grad transfer Nick Linder, but he is now a senior himself with tons of experience. Left tackle Coy Cronk is back for his fourth year as a starter. He was a Freshman All-American, but has yet to earn any All-Big Ten recognition. Senior right guard Simon Stepaniak has started games in each of his previous three seasons, including all 12 last year. Sophomore right tackle Caleb Jones is known more right now for his size (6-8 360), but the staff loves his potential. Junior Harry Crider looks to be the best bet at left guard. Last year, the IU offensive line paved the way for freshman running back Stevie Scott’s 1,137 yards. The average per rush wasn’t great — 4.41 yards, but they did rush for 224 yards against Penn State and 190 against Michigan.
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (43)
Rutgers returns three starters from last season, and it would have been four if interior lineman Jonah Jackson hadn’t graduated and transferred to Ohio State to battle for a starting job with the Buckeyes. The Scarlet Knights do return two other multi-year starters, however. Junior center Michael Maietti has been in the lineup pretty much since he arrived. If nothing else, he has seen it all in his time. Senior right tackle Kamaal Seymour has 29 career starts to his credit. Junior Nick Krimin looks like he will replace Jonah Jackson at right guard. Left guard Zach Venesky is the third returning starter, but he only played in five games last year. Redshirt freshman Raiqwon O’Neal is the projected left tackle and there are high hopes for him. Rutgers rushed for a Big Ten-worst 12 touchdowns last season. They finished second in the conference with just 1.33 sacks allowed per game, but that’s mostly the product of a quick — and unproductive — passing game. Rutgers averaged a conference-worst 4.5 yards per attempt, which was over a yard worst than anybody else. Their five touchdown passes tied Navy for worst in the nation.