Who are the rising stars in the trenches?
Offensive linemen are the most underrated players in college football. The players in the trenches never get enough credit for their performance, but the five blockers up front set the stage for the skill players to have success. Recruiting and developing offensive linemen is never easy. However, there’s always a new wave of stars ready to emerge in the trenches. With the 2016 season getting closer, it’s never too early to think about next year and some of the faces that can make an impact up front. Here are 20 offensive linemen on the rise for next season:
College Football's Top 20 Offensive Linemen on the Rise for 2016
Trey Adams, OT, Washington
The Huskies went with a youth movement on offense last season, and coach Chris Petersen should see plenty of dividends in 2016. Adams is one of the promising linemen in place for the Huskies. The Washington native started nine games at left tackle last season and should be even better as a sophomore.
Brian Allen, OL, Michigan State
The Spartans are looking for new leaders up front after the departure of center Jack Allen and left tackle Jack Conklin. The cupboard isn’t bare for coach Mark Dantonio, as there’s experience and talent in place. Brian Allen is one of the rising stars in the trenches for Dantonio and has been a key cog in the offensive line over the last two years. Allen played in all 14 games last season and made 12 starts. The junior’s versatility is a key asset, as he could start at guard or center in 2016.
Kyle Bosch, OG, West Virginia
With four starters back in the trenches, West Virginia should have one of the Big 12’s top offensive lines next season. Bosch started his career at Michigan but transferred to Morgantown and won an appeal to play immediately in 2015. The Illinois native started all 13 games at right guard last year and returns to anchor a solid interior for the Mountaineers.
Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
It’s no secret, but keeping quarterback Baker Mayfield healthy and upright in the pocket is critical to Oklahoma’s hopes of making the College Football Playoff once again. The line returns three starters, and the coaching staff expects Brown to take a step forward in his development after starting all 13 games for the Sooners at left tackle last year.
Geron Christian, OT, Louisville
Louisville’s offensive line had its share of ups and downs in 2015, but there is optimism for this unit going into 2016. Three full-time starters are back for coach Bobby Petrino, including Christian at left tackle. As a true freshman last year, Christian started all 13 games. He is expected to anchor the line once again next season.
Michael Deiter, OL, Wisconsin
Despite losing standout left tackle Tyler Marz, the Badgers’ offensive line should take a step forward in 2016. Deiter redshirted in his first season at Wisconsin but started all 13 games in 2015. The Ohio native received significant playing time at center and right guard as a redshirt freshman and is expected to challenge for All-Big Ten honors.
Brandon Fanaika, OG, Stanford
Stanford’s line was hit hard by offseason departures. Standout center Graham Shuler chose not to return for his final year, while guard Joshua Garnett and tackle Kyle Murphy expired their eligibility. Could Fanaika be the next standout up front? The former four-star recruit played in 13 games last season and is penciled in at one of the guard spots for 2016.
Nick Gates, OT, Nebraska
Coach Mike Riley is counting on Gates to become one of the anchors for Nebraska’s offensive line. Gates started 10 games as a redshirt freshman at right tackle last year and is slated to slide to the left side and replace Alex Lewis in 2016.
Derwin Gray/Damian Prince, OL, Maryland
Maryland enters spring practice needing to shore up its offensive line. Gray and Prince are two of the answers for new coach D.J. Durkin. Both players were big-time pickups on the recruiting trail and received some snaps last year. Prince had a bigger role last season, as he started six games and played in 10 contests. Both players should claim a starting job this spring.
Martez Ivey, OT, Florida
Ivey was a cornerstone of Florida’s 2015 signing class and is a future star on the offensive line for coach Jim McElwain. The Apopka native was a five-star recruit and wasted no time making an impact. Ivey played in 12 games and started the last eight at left guard.
Darius James, OL, Auburn
The Tigers lost both starting tackles from last year’s offensive line, but help is on the way in the form of a transfer from Texas. James was a five-star recruit out of high school and played in six games with the Longhorns in 2014. After sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer rules, James is ready to push for a starting job.
Greg Little, OT, Ole Miss
Little won’t hit campus until this summer, but the incoming freshman is already projected to fill a huge void for coach Hugh Freeze. The Texas native ranked as a five-star recruit in the 2016 signing class and is slated to fill the void left behind by Laremy Tunsil.
Quenton Nelson, LG, Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish will miss Ronnie Stanley’s presence at left tackle, but coach Brian Kelly has recruited well and a huge drop off isn’t anticipated in 2016. Nelson is one of the rising stars for Kelly after starting 11 games for the Fighting Irish in 2015. Nelson was a top-100 recruit in the 2014 signing class and is a player to watch this fall.
Ross Pierschbacher, OL, Alabama
Pierschbacher started all 15 games for the Crimson Tide as a redshirt freshman last season. The Iowa native should emerge as one of the leaders for Alabama’s offensive line in 2016 and could start at center after spending all of last year at left guard.
Frank Ragnow, C/G, Arkansas
The Razorbacks must replace a few standouts in the trenches this offseason, but coach Bret Bielema already has another wave of linemen ready to step up. Dan Skipper is one of the SEC’s top returning linemen, and Ragnow could push for All-SEC honors in his second full season as a starter. Ragnow played in nine games as a true freshman in 2014 and started all 13 games at right guard last year.
Bentley Spain, OT, North Carolina
Even though the Tar Heels will miss standout guard Landon Turner, the offensive line is still in great shape with four returning starters up front. After playing in 13 games as a true freshman in 2014, Spain stepped up and claimed the starting left tackle spot in spring practice prior to the 2015 campaign. He missed four games due to injury last season but started 10 games and is one of the anchors for coach Larry Fedora’s line in 2016.
Keaton Sutherland, OL, Texas A&M
The return of assistant Jim Turner should improve a Texas A&M offensive line that allowed 37 sacks last year. Another reason for optimism is Sutherland’s development after a solid freshman season. Sutherland played in 12 games last year and claimed seven starts. The former four-star recruit is poised to become a cornerstone of Texas A&M’s offensive line.
Maea Teuhema, OL, LSU
Replacing two standout tackles is no easy task for LSU’s offense this spring. However, as usual in Baton Rouge, there’s plenty of talent waiting in the wings. Teuhema is one of the next stars in the trenches for coach Les Miles. The Texas native played in 12 games as a true freshman last fall and started the final 11 at left guard. The sophomore’s versatility is a huge asset for the offense, as he could slide to tackle to help fill the voids on the outside this year.
Sean Welsh, OL, Iowa
Two starters depart up front, but Iowa should have one of the top offensive lines in the Big Ten next fall. Welsh is one of the reasons for optimism in 2016, as the Ohio native returns after starting all 14 games for the Hawkeyes last season. Welsh could start at guard or center.
Connor Williams, OT, Texas
The top offseason priority for coach Charlie Strong is to find a spark for an offense that averaged only 26.4 points a game last year. The first step in reaching that goal was hiring Sterlin Gilbert from Tulsa to call plays, and the former Baylor assistant plans on making big changes to the offense. While the passing game is a work in progress, Gilbert should be able to build an offense around the ground attack and the offensive line. Williams is one of the Big 12’s top rising stars after starting all 12 games as a true freshman at left tackle last year.