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. Thanks to elite recruiting and talent development, Georgia takes the top spot in Athlon's offensive line rankings for 2019. The Bulldogs return four starters up front, including standout left tackle Andrew Thomas. Alabama, Clemson, Oregon and Washington round out the top five offensive lines for 2019.
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 2019 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 2019, not solely what teams accomplished in 2018.
CFB's Top 30 Offensive Lines for 2019
The Bulldogs return four starters from a standout line that allowed only 20 sacks over 14 games in 2018. Additionally, the massive Georgia front, which averages 330 pounds a player, cleared the way for rushers to record 5.9 yards per carry. Left tackle Andrew Thomas is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American, with rising star Isaiah Wilson anchoring the opposite edge at right tackle. Solomon Kindley is expected to start at left guard, while Ben Cleveland and Cade Mays are competing for the job on the right side. Sophomore Trey Hill has the inside track to replace standout center Lamont Gaillard.
Despite the departures of left tackle Jonah Williams and center Ross Pierschbacher, Alabama still possesses one of the top lines in the nation. Former five-star recruit Alex Leatherwood will slide from guard to tackle, joining Jedrick Wills Jr. to form one of the nation’s top combinations on the edges. The interior was unsettled exiting spring, but talent certainly isn’t an issue. Emil Ekiyor Jr., Evan Neal and Matt Womack are the key contributors at guard while Deonte Brown serves a four-game suspension. Junior Chris Owens is expected to start at center. This unit allowed only 16 sacks last fall.
The departure of left tackle Mitch Hyatt and center Justin Falcinelli leaves two significant question marks up front for Clemson. However, thanks to elite recruiting and talent development, this unit shouldn’t suffer too much of a drop-off. Former five-star recruit Jackson Carman steps into Hyatt’s old position, while guard Sean Pollard is expected to slide to center. Left guard John Simpson is among the ACC’s top returning linemen, Gage Cervenka is slated to hold the full-time role at right guard, and Tremayne Anchrum is returning at right tackle. Clemson allowed only 17 sacks on 506 pass attempts last year.
Oregon boss Mario Cristobal is an offensive line coach by trade, so it was not surprising that he pushed this group to be more physical at the point of attack last season. The Ducks made some strides in that department, but an injury to left tackle Penei Sewell prevented this unit from reaching its full potential last season. With Sewell back at left tackle, Oregon should have the Pac-12’s No. 1 offensive line in 2019. Right tackle Calvin Throckmorton is an Athlon Sports preseason All-American, while center Jake Hanson and guard Shane Lemieux enter their fourth year as starters.
Helping to ease the transition at quarterback and running back for coach Chris Petersen’s team is an offensive line that returns four starters for 2019. Left tackle Trey Adams — a preseason All-American in 2018 — missed most of last season due to injury, but he returned late in the year and took advantage of the new redshirt rule to preserve his final season of eligibility. Adams is back to anchor the left side, with Jared Hilbers flipping to right tackle to replace Kaleb McGary. The interior is in great shape with center Nick Harris and guards Luke Wattenberg and Jaxson Kirkland entrenched as starters.
The arrival of veteran assistant Ed Warinner was instrumental in Michigan’s improvement in the trenches last fall. The Wolverines allowed 23 sacks (down from 36 in 2017) and helped rushers average 4.8 yards per rush (up from 4.37). This unit is poised for another step forward with four starters back in 2019. Left tackle Jon Runyan earned All-Big Ten honors in his first full year as a starter in 2018. Center Cesar Ruiz should challenge for all-conference honors in his second season in the middle, while guard Ben Bredeson earned second-team All-America honors by Athlon Sports for 2019. Michael Onwenu is back at right guard. Andrew Stueber and Jalen Mayfield are battling to claim the right tackle job.
Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and line coach Tim Polasek will be breaking in a couple of new starters, but the transition period is eased by having one of the nation’s top tackle combinations. Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs – both All-America selections by Athlon Sports for 2019 – anchor the edges for the Hawkeyes. This duo was a big reason why Iowa tied for the fewest among of sacks (16) allowed in the Big Ten last fall. Converted defensive lineman and redshirt freshman Tyler Linderbaum is expected to start at center. Cole Banwart, Levi Paulsen and Landan Paulsen are back as the key contributors at guard. Iowa averaged only 3.95 yards per rush last season, so there’s room to improve in run blocking for 2019.
The Badgers have only one full-time starter back in the trenches from last season. However, it’s hard to have too many concerns about a starting offensive line at Wisconsin. Tyler Biadasz is the lone returning starter and ranks as the top center in college football for 2019. Left tackle Cole Van Lanen is primed for a breakout year in his first full year as a starter. Senior Jason Erdmann (40 career games) seems primed to take over at left guard, while Josh Seltzner (right guard) and Logan Bruss (right tackle) are penciled in at the other spots. The Badgers allowed only 15 sacks in Big Ten play and cleared the way for rushers to average 6.2 yards per rush last fall.
Missouri allowed the fewest sacks (13) of any team in the SEC last season. A good foundation is in place for coach Barry Odom’s group in 2019. Guard Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms is the headliner, earning third-team All-America honors by Athlon Sports for 2019. Center Trystan Colon-Castillo has started all 26 games in his career and should push for All-SEC honors this year. Left tackle Yasir Durant protected the blind side for all 13 games last fall and will do so once again for new quarterback Kelly Bryant in 2019. Two sophomores – Larry Borom (left guard) and Hyrin White (right tackle) – are expected to join the starting lineup.
The good news: Auburn returns all five starters from last year’s line. The bad news: This unit doesn’t have a ton of proven depth and needs to play with more consistency than it did last season. With the starting unit returning intact, the expectation is this group will take a step forward in 2019. Left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho and guard Marquel Harrell should push for All-SEC honors this fall, with Kaleb Kim (center), Mike Horton (right guard) and Jack Driscoll (right tackle) rounding out the starting lineup.
11. Ohio State
12. Notre Dame
13. Washington State
17. Boise State
19. Mississippi State
22. Penn State
24. Arizona State
26. Appalachian State
28. Oklahoma State
29. Texas A&M