Examining which teams have the best OL in the nation
The offensive line is often the most overlooked position for any college football team. While the linemen in the trenches don’t get enough credit, they are often the most important piece to a successful offense. Flashy skill talent and quarterbacks take home all of the accolades and headlines, but neither position can thrive without a solid offensive line. Wisconsin has produced its share of standout offensive lines in recent years, and the 2018 unit ranks as the best in college football. The Badgers return all five starters from a standout 2017 group and will have no trouble clearing the way for running back Jonathan Taylor. Alabama, Georgia, Stanford and Oklahoma round out the top five offensive lines for 2018.
How did we come up with these rankings? A couple of factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2018 all factored into the rankings for the offensive line. While some teams may have experienced a down year last season, a new assistant, top recruit or a change of scheme can make a huge difference. These rankings reflect projection for 2018, not solely what teams have accomplished in 2017.
CFB's Top 25 Offensive Lines for 2018
All five starters from a dominant 2017 line return for coach Paul Chryst this season. But thanks to the development of left tackle Cole Van Lanen, the Badgers are likely to shuffle their lineup to find the right mix. That’s a scary development for the rest of the Big Ten, as the line allowed only 21 sacks last fall and paved the way for rushers to average 4.96 yards per carry. After spending last year at left tackle, Michael Deiter slides back to guard and is joined by Beau Benzschawel on the other side. Right tackle David Edwards protects the blind side of quarterback Alex Hornibrook, while Tyler Biadasz returns at center after starting all 14 games last season.
Alabama’s starting five may not be decided until the end of fall camp. Regardless of which players start, this unit isn’t short on talent. Left tackle Jonah Williams and center Ross Pierschbacher anchor this group and are both first-team Athlon Sports All-Americans for 2018. Lester Cotton and Jedrick Wills are the frontrunners to start at guard, while former five-star prospect Alex Leatherwood is expected to build off a solid performance in the national championship game and claim the job at right tackle.
The improvement of Georgia’s offensive line was a big reason why the Bulldogs won the SEC and nearly won the program’s first national title since 1980. This unit gave up only 22 sacks and cleared the way for rushers to average 5.8 yards per carry. Four starters are back for 2018, including All-America candidate Andrew Thomas, who is slated to flip from right to left tackle to replace Isaiah Wynn. Center Lamont Gaillard returns after starting all 15 games last year, while Kendall Baker and Ben Cleveland are penciled in at guard. Former five-star recruit Isaiah Wilson takes over at right tackle. Coach Kirby Smart also has reinforcements coming from his freshman class in the form of Jamaree Slayer, Cade Mays and Trey Hill.
Stanford’s powerful offensive line led the way for Bryce Love’s Heisman campaign last season. With four starters back, this unit could be even better than last year’s group that allowed only 17 sacks. Guard Nate Herbig is an Athlon Sports All-American, and center Jesse Burkett has started all 27 games over the last two years. Seniors Brandon Fanaika (guard) and A.T. Hall (tackle) man the right side. Sophomore Walker Little has the most upside of any player on this group and takes over as the full-time left tackle after starting six games last fall. Burkett and Fanaika were slowed by injuries in fall practice, so this unit could look a little different by the opener. Sophomore (and former five-star prospect) Foster Sarell is another name to watch this fall.
The Sooners will miss All-America left tackle Orlando Brown, but line coach Bill Bedenbaugh is one of the best in college football and will have this unit performing at a high level once again. Bobby Evans has spent the last two seasons at right tackle but will flip to the left side to replace Brown. Ben Powers and Dru Samia provide a proven tandem of seniors at the guard spots, while Cody Ford is expected to start at right tackle. The battle to replace Erick Wren at center is likely to go deep into fall practice. Redshirt freshman Creed Humphrey and senior Jonathan Alvarez are vying for the job.
The absence of Trey Adams was clearly felt by Washington’s offense in the second half of last season. After the dominant left tackle suffered a season-ending injury against Arizona State, the Huskies allowed nine sacks over the final four games. Adams is expected to make a full recovery for 2018, and his return bolsters a line set to return three other starters, including standout right tackle Kaleb McGary. Nick Harris slides from guard to center to replace Coleman Shelton, while Luke Wattenberg is expected to start at left guard after earning five starts in 2017. The right guard position is up for grabs in fall camp. Senior Matt James could be the answer at that position, with Henry Roberts also in the mix. This unit allowed only 20 sacks last fall and should improve on that total if Adams is healthy for the full year.
Keeping quarterback Drew Lock’s jersey clean and away from defenders is a must if Missouri wants to be a top 25 team this year. With all five starters returning up front, that shouldn’t be a problem for the Tigers’ offensive line. This unit allowed only eight sacks in SEC contests last season and helped the offense average 193.5 rushing yards a contest. Right tackle Paul Adams is an Athlon Sports second-team All-SEC selection for 2018, with Yasir Durant expected to anchor the left side. Kevin Pendleton and Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms topped the depth chart at the guard position at SEC Media Days, with sophomore Trystan Colon-Castillo at center.
8. Boston College
Coach Steve Addazio has plenty of dudes to fill out his offensive line this year. The Eagles bring back all five starters from a unit that allowed only 15 sacks and helped clear the way for running back AJ Dillon to record 1,367 rushing yards as a freshman last fall. The headliner for Addazio is right tackle Chris Lindstrom, as the senior should challenge for All-America honors in 2018. Returning starters (and seniors) Aaron Monteiro (tackle) and Sam Schmal (guard) opened fall practice on the left side of the line. The return of center Jon Baker from injury could shift Ben Petrula outside, and there’s no shortage of depth thanks to the return of Elijah Johnson (back from injury) and John Phillips.
9. Ole Miss
Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and receiver A.J. Brown are garnering most of the preseason attention in Oxford, but don’t overlook the starting five in the trenches for coach Matt Luke. Left tackle Greg Little has started 17 games over the last two years and is poised to challenge for All-America honors this fall. He’s joined by two solid performers on the interior, as center Sean Rawlings and guard Javon Patterson should push for All-SEC accolades with another season of experience. Junior Alex Givens is penciled in at right tackle, with Jordan Sims and Ben Brown vying for the job at right guard.
10. Kansas State
The strength of coach Bill Snyder’s 2018 team rests in the trenches. All five starters are back from last year’s group, including All-America tackle Dalton Risner. Center Adam Holtorf and left tackle Scott Frantz return alongside Risner to anchor the line, as both players earned a spot on Athlon Sports’ second-team All-Big 12 Team for 2018. Tyler Mitchell and Abdul Beecham are returning starters at guard, with redshirt freshman Josh Rivas expected to push for snaps on the interior or provide quality depth.
11. Ohio State
12. Notre Dame
13. Mississippi State
15. Penn State
16. Wake Forest
17. West Virginia
18. NC State
22. Michigan State
23. Texas Tech
25. San Diego State
Just Missed: Maryland, Texas, Boise State, Florida, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Syracuse, UCF, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern, FAU, Marshall, Ohio, Northern Illinois, Tulane, Utah, Florida, Kentucky, Troy