Less than two months from the start of the 2013 college football season! And it does indeed seem to be that time of year — when college football blogs like this one and so many others start churning out season preview materials. We’ll be holding off until August for the team-by-team season previews, but in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at each position on the field and evaluating ACC squads’ respective strengths and weaknesses.
This week, we’re on to the offensive lines (check out previous rankings of ACC quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers/tight ends). The conference has been churning out pro prospects across the offensive line for years, and this season also possesses at least a few (if not more) players who will be suiting up on Sundays within the next few years.
Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual center/tackle/guard is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of offensive linemen is (though it certainly does help). Also note: Louisville (as has been the case since November) is included here, despite playing in the American this season. Additionally, since these are completely subjective rankings, the difference between one number to the following one is almost entirely negligible. Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.
ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Offensive Line
1. Miami Hurricanes: This is the group responsible for Duke Johnson‘s breakout 2012 campaign, and will ultimately decide just how far the ‘Canes go this fall as well. You could dub guard Brandon Linder the “leader” of this line, but then you’d also be selling the other four returning starters short. In Linder and fellow senior Seantrel Henderson, Miami has as experienced and solid a right side of the line as you’ll find anywhere in the country. If you’re looking for prospective NFL players, this is the spot, with Linder and Henderson as the clear highlights.
2. Florida State Seminoles: In center Bryan Stork and guard Tre’ Jackson, Florida State returns two of the conference’s best offensive linemen — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Four out of five starters from 2012’s group are back in total and the only addition is right tackle Bobby Hart, who saw significant playing time last season as well. They’ll be challenged this year, protecting an inexperienced passer, while also receiving the luxury of two veteran running backs to help improve upon last year’s 24th-ranked rushing offense.
3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: When you have the run-heavy triple-option attack that Georgia Tech does, you need as many big bodies on the line as possible. Lucky for this year’s squad, they’ve got plenty of those, and experienced ones at that. All five starters have at least a season’s-worth of time in their current roles, with guard Will Jackson starting since his freshman season (at both guard and tackle). Should the team pass the ball more this year (seems likely), it may be a slight mindset adjustment. But considering Tech only allowed 14 sacks all of last season — even on fewer dropbacks — it may end up being a simple transition.
4. Clemson Tigers: Clemson lost its anchor, center Dalton Freeman, to the NFL Draft, but there’s still plenty of talent left on the offensive line for the Tigers this fall. The team is at least two-deep at every position, which could come in handy given the rate of plays Clemson runs on offense (1,062; seventh in the country). The key piece of the puzzle, though, is All-ACC left tackle Brandon Thomas. Hungry for further accolades, the 6’3″ 305-pound senior could be headed for a breakout year.
5. North Carolina Tar Heels: UNC loses three starters from last season, but the group that returns should learn quickly on the job. Left tackle James Hurst projects as one of the nation’s best at the position, and with a 6’7″ 290-pound frame, who are you to doubt that assessment? Outside of Hurst and center Russell Bodine, there’s not a whole lot of experience on the current roster, though there’s a whole lot of upside for the unit, most of whom are all athletic 300-pounders.
6. Duke Blue Devils: Why everyone continues to see the Blue Devils as a team in decline is beyond me. Just look at the offensive line, its four returning starters and all the depth behind them, too. Yes, they’ve struggled with run blocking in the past (Duke had just 3.71 yards per carry last season), but with a more mobile quarterback in Anthony Boone, that figure looks as if it’s on the rise. Expect big things from guard Laken Tomlinson and tackle Perry Simmons this season, as they hold down the right side of the line.
7. Virginia Cavaliers: If there’s anything that can cover up Virginia’s indecisiveness at quarterback this fall, it might just end up being their offensive line. They bring back four of five players from last season, and the impressive Morgan Moses moves over to left tackle to replace the departed Oday Aboushi, which should be a huge load off for the Hoos. Moses is a massive, physical blocker standing at 6’6″ and 325 pounds, and his presence alone should help ease the transition to a new offensive scheme.
8. Syracuse Orange: The Orange lost starting tackle Justin Pugh to the first round of the NFL Draft; that can’t be overlooked. But the line he left behind still brings plenty to the table as well. Macky MacPherson and Sean Hickey have starting experience, plus the size and wherewithal to pick up where Pugh and guard Zach Chibane left off. Syracuse doesn’t have the heaviest offensive line just yet (less than half top the 290-pound mark), but bring height to the table instead. Over half of the O-linemen on the roster are 6’3″ or taller.
9. Boston College Eagles: “O-Line U” isn’t back to normal just yet — plenty still left to sort out following the Spaz era — but Steve Addazio’s certainly changing things quickly. Replacing both tackles from last year, Addazio brought in Florida transfer Matt Patchan, who could very well be the most surprising offensive lineman in the conference. The other spot may be manned by Seth Betancourt, another rising tackle anxious to continue the BC tradition of churning out elite linemen.
10. Louisville Cardinals: The Cards have a real opportunity to go undefeated this season, and the offensive line will be a major part of that goal. Returning three of last year’s starters, the team has little significant depth beyond that, however, the competition Louisville is up against (I mean, look at that schedule) may hide that fact a bit. Big tackle Jamon Brown (6’6″ 340 pounds) and co. have their work cut out for them, though, to reduce last year’s 30 sacks for this pass-happy offense.
11. Virginia Tech Hokies: Last year’s biggest issue on the offensive line was inexperience, and it showed throughout a miserable campaign on that side of the ball. This year, things may be no better either, though. With the team now under the tutelage of Jeff Grimes, the outlook may appear different, but they’re still replacing another three players on an already green line. Andrew Miller‘s the only sure thing they’ve got, but he missed most of 2012 with an ankle injury. It could be another long season in Blacksburg…
12. Maryland Terrapins: Maryland possesses an interesting group of linemen, built almost entirely on potential. Athlon feels that left tackle Mike Madaras could be a future star, but we’ll need to wait until September to see if his 6’5″ 293-pound frame can consistently be turned loose on opposing defenders. With a more mobile quarterback system this year, all five linemen will need to be on their game if the Terps want to get the most out of quarterback C.J. Brown‘s various talents.
13. Pittsburgh Panthers: Pittsburgh has a lot of uncertainty along the line, but there’s ample opportunity for everything to come together. Two freshman — Adam Bisnowaty and Gabe Roberts — could end up starting, which automatically raises a few red flags. However, it’s Paul Chryst’s hope that there’s ample leadership elsewhere to make up for it. He’s also employing reformed defensive linemen T.J. Clemmings at tackle, which could either turn out to be a fantastically bad or good idea.
14. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Health issues leave the Demon Deacons scrambling for bodies on the line this fall, and you could end up seeing as many as three different freshman lining up in various guard and tackle spots. Center Whit Barnes and guard Frank Souza will be leaned on heavily as the experienced seniors, while Wake hopes Steven Chase can return from injury in time to play significant time come September. There are a lot of moving parts here, and there’s no guarantee everything will end up fitting properly.
15. NC State Wolfpack: Youth and inexperience are large parts of the story for NC State’s offensive line this year, begging the question of why pundits appear high on the Wolfpack (more on that come August). A the same time, both tackle spots are secured, courtesy of veterans Rob Crisp and Tyson Chandler, respectively, while senior guard Duran Christophe brings further experience at left guard. One injury to any of those three though, and the floodgates open for untested sophomores and freshman (on top of the ones already manning starting jobs).