Athlon Sports ranks the best Big Ten offensive linemen of the BCS Era.
The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.
The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.
So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Joe Thomas, Wisconsin (2004-06)
One of the few big-time recruits from the state of Wisconsin, Thomas was a two-time All-American and Outland Trophy winner for a team that went 31-7 during his three seasons as the starting left tackle. He has rare foot speed, agility and overall athletic ability — and it’s why he has been to the Pro Bowl in all seven of his NFL seasons. He was taken No. 3 overall in 2007 by the Cleveland Browns and is the best Big Ten offensive lineman of the BCS Era.
2. Greg Eslinger, Minnesota (2002-05)
Not many centers have an Outland Trophy on their mantle at home but Eslinger has one when he was named the best lineman in America in 2005. He was a freshman All-American in 2002, a third-team All-American as a sophomore, a first-teamer in '04 and earned consensus All-American honors as a senior. He won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center and earned Big Ten Lineman of the Year honors in ’05 as well. The best stat for Eslinger, however, is that Minnesota never had a losing record during his four-year career and he helped lead the Gophers to their first 10-win campaign since 1905.
3. Jake Long, Michigan (2004-07)
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins was a two-time All-American and Outland Trophy finalist. He was a Freshman All-American in his first year and was named Big Ten Lineman of the Year twice (junior and senior seasons) — one of just two players to accomplish this feat during the BCS Era. The 6-foot-7, 320-pounder won a Big Ten championship as a freshman and has been to four Pro Bowls in his six-year NFL career.
4. Steve Hutchinson, Michigan (1997-2000)
Starting for four seasons for the Wolverines, Hutchinson helped the Maize and Blue win the 1997 national championship. He capped his career with consensus All-American honors, was an Outland Trophy finalist and didn’t allow a sack in his final two seasons at Michigan. He was a first-round pick by the Seahawks in 2001 and earned seven Pro Bowl invites during his 12-year NFL career.
5. Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin (2007-10)
Carimi perpetuated the run of elite Badgers blockers by stepping in for the departed Joe Thomas and starting all 13 games as a freshman. By his senior season, Carimi was the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, the Outland Trophy winner as the best blocker in the nation, and was a consensus All-American. He started 49 games in his career, capping it with a Rose Bowl appearance and Big Ten championship in 2010. Carimi was a first-round pick by the Bears in 2011.
6. David Baas, Michigan (2001-04)
The interior blocker was a three-time, first-team All-Big Ten selection and capped his career with a Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center. He also earned consensus All-American honors, was named the Big Ten’s top lineman and was an Outland Trophy finalist. Baas was a second-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2005 NFL Draft.
7. Chris McIntosh, Wisconsin (1996-99)
An Outland Trophy finalist and consensus All-American, McIntosh helped pave the way for the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher and led Wisconsin to back-to-back Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships as a team captain. McIntosh was a first-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2000 NFL Draft but his career ended after just three seasons due to injury.
8. Jon Jansen, Michigan (1995-98)
Mr. Durable set a Michigan school record with 50 consecutive starts along the Wolverines' offensive line. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors twice and helped lead the Maize and Blue to the national championship in 1997. He was an All-American and Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year as a senior before being selected in the second round by the Redskins in 1999.
8. Nick Mangold, Ohio State (2002-05)
From a technique and fundamentals standpoint, Mangold is one of the best college centers to ever play the game. He was a Rimington Finalist, a three-year starter and played in eight games as a true freshman for the BCS National Champions in ’02. Mangold started 33 of 45 career games and was a first-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Jets. He has gone to five Pro Bowls.
10. Robert Gallery, Iowa (2000-03)
The massive blocker helped Iowa win a share of the Big Ten title as a junior in 2002. He won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top blocker the next year as the Hawkeyes went 21-5 over his final two years. Gallery was a two-time first-team All-Big Ten pick and the consensus All-American was the No. 2 pick in the 2004 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Despite his lackluster NFL career, Gallery remains one of the most dominant Big Ten blockers.
Just missed the cut:
11. Taylor Lewan, Michigan (2010-13)
Lewan, along with Jake Long, is one of just two players during the BCS Era to claim Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors twice. Lewan was a three-time All-Big Ten selection and two-time All-American during his time at Michigan.
12. LeCharles Bentley, Ohio State (1998-2001)
The Cleveland native was a consensus All-American in 2001 as a senior. He also won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center that year before getting drafted in the second round by the Saints in 2002.
13. David Molk, Michigan (2008-11)
The Wolverines center was a two-time, first-team All-Big Ten selection and earned Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors in a conference with Michael Brewster and Peter Konz. Molk was a consensus All-American and Rimington Trophy winner in 2011.
14. Bryan Bulaga, Iowa (2007-10)
A massive part of why the Hawkeyes won their only BCS Bowl in 2009 over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, Bulaga was a four-year contributor for Iowa. He earned Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors as a senior and was a first-round pick of the Packers in 2010.
15. Levi Brown, Penn State (2003-06)
The star left tackle played all over the field but settled in as a two-time All-Big Ten selection. He helped Penn State to its lone BCS bowl win in the Orange Bowl following the 2005 season and one of only two Big Ten titles during the BCS Era. Brown was the second overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Best of the rest:
16. A.Q. Shipley, Penn State
17. Eric Steinbach, Iowa
18. Casey Rabach, Wisconsin
19. Aaron Gibson, Wisconsin
20. Michael Brewster, Ohio State