All this week Husker Corner.com will be breaking down each position in the Big 10 Conference. Today we talk the building blocks, the offensive line. We will be ranking each position from 12 to 1. Twelve being the group that is lacking depth, doesn’t have any proven player, and/or needs to improve the most. One will be the strongest group of offensive line.
12. Indiana: The move to the “Pistol” offense in 2010 didn’t really help the running game like the Hoosiers had hoped. Indiana ranked 112th in rushing last season. They return 3 starters in junior Will Matte, and seniors Andrew McDonald and Justin Pagan. Indiana gave up 12 sacks in 2010, and will have a freshman in Cody Evers protecting unproven quarterback Dusty Kiel’s right side. This line needs to get better push for the run game, and will for sure need better pass blocking skills in first year head coach Kevin Wilson’s new spread attack.
11. Minnesota: The Golden Gophers have high expectations for redshirt freshman Ed Olson and the gem of the 2010 recruiting class Jimmy Gjere. These two young bucks will be the starting left and right tackles respectively. The rest of line will be anchored by seniors, Chris Bunders, Ryan Orton, at the guard spots, and Ryan Wynn at the center position. Minnesota took a step back in rushing in 2010, finishing 90th in the country.
10. Michigan Sate: The Spartans finished 2010 ranked 56th in rushing. The problem is they have to replace both starting tackles, and center. The strength of this group will be the guards. They return All-Big 10 Guard Joel Foreman, but there is a lack of experience behind him. They move former defensive tackles Dan France, who is 6-foot-6, 280 lbs, and Blake Treadwell over to the offensive line. This groups depth chart will not be filled out until the last day of fall practice, there are that many question marks in this group.
9. Penn State: Easily the most inconsistent group in 2010. The Nittany Lions finished the season 70th in rushing, and that was blocking for the all-time leading rusher in school history in Evan Royster. This season they will have a stable of younger backs to block for and really need to rely heavily on seniors Johnnie Troutman at guard and Quinn Barham and Chima Okoli at tackle. Penn State allowed 12 sacks in 2010. That could be due to lack of experience at quarterback, or holes in the offensive line.
8. Nebraska: The Huskers lose 3 starters from last season in Ricky Henry, Keith Williams and D.J. Jones, but return senior center Mike Caputo and tackles, sophomore Jeremiah Sirles and senior Jermarcus “Yoshi’ Hardrick. They also bring back senior tackle Marcel Jones. Jones is 6-foot- 7, 320 lbs who will bring the most experience to the table of the entire group Jones will be returning from a back injury in 2010. The guards are where the question marks lie, but also where the most promise is. Sophomore Andrew Rodriguez is the most athletic 6-foot-6, 325 pound guard you may ever see. He will continue the tradition of Nebraska natives playing on the offensive line at NU. Brent Qvale is 6-foot-7, 325lbs sophomore from Willston, North Dakota. He saw limited playing time in 2010, but has all the upside in the world.
7. Purdue: The Boilermakers finished last season ranked 61st in rushing in the country, and allowed 18 sacks last season. If senior Ken Plue can bounce back from a spring where he didn’t end up on the coaches good side, he could have All-Big 10 potential. He is 6-foot-7, 360 lbs and plays guard. Plue is very quick for his size, but he will have to get back in his coaches good graces after some disciplinary issues got him demoted to 2nd string in spring, despite being a starter since he was a freshman. Left Tackle Dennis Kelly could be the front runner to win All-Big 10 honors at his position.
6. Northwestern: It doesn’t get much easier to rank these groups from 6-1. Northwestern returns the most experianced group of any offensive line in the conference, with 137 total career starts. The Wildcats finished 53rd in the country in rushing, and have a couple of guys who will have the opportunity to contend for all-conference honors in senior left tackle Al Netter and center Ben Burkett. If Northwestern can get more consistent play from the rest of the line, this group could finish the season among the highest regarded offensive lines in the conference.
5. Michigan: Senior center, David Molk is arguably the best center in the conference , and up for debate for one of the best in the country. He will be the building block for this group this season if he can stay healthy. The coaches named him to the All Big-10 team last season, and he was a Rimington Award finalist despite having injury problems. 6-foot-4, 295 lb Patrick Omameh has started 16 straight games and should adapt really well to new head coach Brady Hoke’s pro-style offense. Look for Omameh’s name to be at the top of all the top offensive line awards lists at the end of the season.
4. Ohio State: Lack of depth, and the loss of All-Big 10 left tackle Mike Adams for 5 games Ohio State falls on this list from where they should be. On a positive note, the Buckeyes have arguably one of the best center in the country in Michael Brewster. He is a 3 year starter, and was awarded All-Big 10 honors last season. 6-foot-5, 308 lb Andrew Norwell, will fill in for Adams in his 5 game suspension. Those games that include Miami Fl, and Michigan State, who finished 16 and 31st in total defense in the country in 2010. They will need Norwell and senior tackle J.B. Shugarts to step up big after Ohio State had trouble with depth in the spring.
3. Illinois: Illinois finished 2010 ranked 11th in the country in rushing. The main reason for that would be a 6-foot-5, 315 lb left tackle by the name of Jeff Allen. He is the most experianced offensive lineman in the conference, starting 34 games for the Fighting Illini. Helping lead the push for the Illini will be All-Big 10 Honorable Mention Center, and second year starter Graham Pocic.
2. Iowa: This will be the strength of the Hawkeye’s team without question. Iowa returns starters at every position on the line. The group will be lead by juniors Riley Reiff at left tackle,and James Ferentz at center. Both men will be considered for All-Big 10 honors at their respective position. Helping lead this group will be seniors Markus Zusevics at right tackle, Adam Gettis, and sophomore Nolan MacMillian at the guard positions. Iowa finished 62nd in rushing in the nation in 2010, look for that number to be higher in 2011.
1. Wisconsin: No surprise with this ranking. The Badgers finished 2010 ranked 12th in rushing. Head coach Bret Bielema’s ability to rebuild offensive lines is 2nd to none in the country. Wisconsin loses Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi and fellow All-American John Moffitt, and the Badgers still have a set of talented linemen with experience. Peter Konz has started 20 games in the last two seasons. Konz sat out spring with an ankle injury, a healthy fall will be crucial for the Badgers season. Left tackle Ricky Wagner is a very long armed junior who will protect new Badger quarterback Russell Wilson’s blind side. Wagner earned All-Big 10 honorable mention in 2010 at right tackle. It will be interesting to see how smoothly he transitions to the other side of the line. Guard Kevin Zeitler also earned honorable mention on the All-Big 10 team last season. He has started 22 games in the last two seasons. Look for him to contend with Joel Foreman of Michigan State for first team honors this season.
-By Jimmie Allen