This annual exercise of rating the Big Ten divisions position by position is done with the intention of figuring out which two teams will be playing in the Big Ten Championship Game.
I rank the positions then tally up all of the finishes and I pretty much spoil the entire football season for everyone. It’s a true joy of mine.
In these ratings — as in football — the better the offensive line, the better the chances of making it to Indianapolis in December.
We have already covered the offensive lines of the Big Ten East, so now we turn our attention westward to the other side of the standings.
(The number in parentheses next to the team name is the number of recruiting stars on the roster at that position.)
1. Iowa Hawkeyes (53)
The Hawkeyes return the best pair of offensive tackles in the Big Ten in juniors Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs. Jackson was a Second-Team All-Big Ten selection last year and has 24 career starts to his credit. Wirfs has 20 starts over his first two seasons and this spring set a team record with four reps of 450 pounds in the hang clean. Both get to work in practice against junior defensive end AJ Epenesa, who may be the best pass rusher in the Big Ten. Redshirt freshman Tyler Linderbaum could be the answer at center after moving over from defensive line during bowl prep. A pair of starting guards will need to be found, but there are several veterans to choose from, which will bode well for their immediate production. The Hawkeyes led the Big Ten with just 16 sacks allowed last season, but the rush offense will be determined by the production from the interior guys.
2. Minnesota Golden Gophers (41)
Three full-time starters return on the offensive line, along with two other linemen with starting experience. Sophomore Daniel Faalele, sophomore Blaise Andries, and junior Conner Olson all earned Honorable Mention All-Big Ten notice last year. Faalele is the 6-foot-9 400-pound former Australian rugby player who started eight games as a true freshman last season. Andries started all 13 games at right guard last year, but moves to left guard this season. Olson started at left guard last year, but will move to center this year. He started six games there in 2017, so this won’t be new for him. Left tackle is still open. Right guard looks like redshirt freshman Curtis Dunlap, who was able to play in four games last year, including one start. The Gophers were middle of the road in rushing and sacks allowed last year with young players. They should be better this year.
3. Wisconsin Badgers (46)
Wisconsin must replace four starters from last season, but would anybody be surprised if they still end up with one of the two or three best lines in the Big Ten? All Big Ten center Tyler Biadasz returns, which is a great start. Just a junior, Biadasz has been tremendous in his first two years in Madison. Sophomore Logan Bruss looks like the guy at right tackle. He started a handful of games last season at right tackle due to injury. There were injuries this spring, so several players experimented at different spots, which could make this a fluid and versatile group in the fall. Seniors Jason Erdmann and David Moorman have been around forever, but have just one start between them. Junior Cole Van Lanen looks to be the left tackle, which is going to make him a very important piece to this offense given the Badgers’ passing struggles.
4. Nebraska Cornhuskers (48)
Nebraska returns three starters from 2018, including Honorable Mention All-Big Ten linemen Boe Wilson and Brenden Jaimes. The junior James is back at left tackle, starting 12 games last year and eight games at right tackle as a true freshman. The potential is high with him. Wilson started nine games at right guard last year. Junior Matt Farniak returns at right tackle, but he has also started games at right guard in the past. Center is looking like redshirt freshman Cameron Jurgens, who came to Nebraska as a tight end. Jurgens has had injury issues, however, having not finished a season healthy since his junior year of high school. Sophomore walk-on Trent Hixson looks like the left guard. He played in three games last year. The Huskers’ 5.41 yards per carry was the fourth-best in the B1G and their best mark since joining the conference.
5. Illinois Fighting Illini (38)
The young Illini return four starting offensive linemen from last season. Illinois’ 5.91 yards per carry last year was the second-best mark in the Big Ten, and they did this with no passing threat to speak of. Junior center Doug Kramer enters his third year of starting, and he is joined by junior tackles Alex Palczewski and Vederian Lowe, who are also stepping into their respective third years as starters. Sophomore Kendrick Green started every game last year as a redshirt freshman. Alabama graduate transfer Richie Petitbon played in 11 games over his 3-year career with the Crimson Tide. This is going to be an offense looking for an identity — and using very different quarterbacks to find it. The offensive line is going to need to be at its best, while also being flexible enough to handle abrupt changes in style.
6. Purdue Boilermakers (40)
The Boilermakers return both tackles from last season, but have very little experience coming back on the interior. Senior Matt McCann and junior Grant Hermanns are the returnees, but they were also part of giving up 30 sacks last season, which was the third-most in the Big Ten. During the spring, head coach Jeff Brohm looked for combinations on the offensive line that would work, but that process was hindered because sophomore Viktor Beach — the expected starter at center — missed much of camp with back issues. There are no shortage of other names to fill out the rest of the starting five, but the experience behind those names is sparse. There is some flexibility, however, because the right tackle McCann also spent time this spring at guard. If they can’t find two guards but have three tackles, then McCann could slide inside.
7. Northwestern Wildcats (45)
Three starters are gone from last season, but some solid progress was made in the spring. Senior Jared Thomas is back at center. He started all 14 games for Northwestern last season and puts the offense in good hands this season. Third-Team All-Big Ten right tackle Rashawn Slater is back, but has moved to left tackle. A junior, Slater has been a starter in each of his first two seasons. Junior Gunnar Vogel is expected to step in for Slater’s departed right tackle spot. Junior Nik Urban started three games at guard last season and looks like the guy at left guard. Redshirt freshman Sam Stovall is a possible starter at right guard. Northwestern’s 2.57 sacks allowed per game last season was the worst in the conference and 93rd in the nation. The Wildcats were also dead last in the B1G in rushing last year.
Big Ten Ratings
Offensive Line — East |