USC's offensive line ranks as the Pac-12's best for 2012.
Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.
Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.
Ranking the Pac-12's Offensive Lines for 2012
1. USC – Despite the departure of left tackle Matt Kalil, the Trojans should still have the No. 1 offensive line in the Pac-12. Four starters are back from a unit that allowed only eight sacks and allowed rushers to average 4.9 yards per carry last season. Center Khaled Holmes should be in the mix for All-American honors after picking up second-team All-Pac-12 accolades last year. Kevin Graf started all 12 games at right tackle in 2011 and was in the mix to replace Kalil on the left side, but sophomore Aundrey Walker seemed to solidify that spot at the end of spring practice. The guard spots are expected to be manned by sophomore Marcus Martin and junior John Martinez. The depth of this unit will get a boost in the fall with the arrival of true freshmen (and Athlon Consensus 100 recruits) Zach Banner, Max Tuerk and Jordan Simmons.
2. Oregon – A healthy Carson York makes this a much more stable unit for Chip Kelly. Assuming he returns to the lineup at full strength, this offensive line should be as good, if not a touch better than last year’s group. Nick Cody returns to right tackle and Hroniss Grasu should be that much better as a sophomore now at center. Add to it athletic upgrades at left tackle with Jake Fisher and right guard with Ryan Clanton, and line coach Steve Greatwood has to be excited about his uptempo collection of blockers. It’s not as if this group has finished in the top six nationally in rushing and paced the Pac-12 for four straight years in rushing. Wait…
3. Stanford – Replacing Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro won’t be easy at all. They were two of the best at their positions nationally. However, left guard David Yankey is an Athlon Sports first-team All-Pac-12 pick and right tackle Cameron Fleming is a second-team all-league preseason selection. Sam Schwartzstein returns to the center position as a senior as well. And with David Shaw/Jim Harbaugh’s continued preaching of physicality, this group should be just fine once again. Kevin Danser and Cole Underwood will be atop an intense battle for the right guard and left tackle positions, respectively with arguably the greatest offensive line recruiting class ever assembled. Stanford has some losses but will be fine along the line.
4. Utah – Running back John White’s 2011 season is even more impressive when you consider the Utes didn’t have much of a passing attack after quarterback Jordan Wynn was lost for the year with a shoulder injury. Although White deserves much of the credit, the offensive line shouldn’t be overlooked. This group allowed 33 sacks last season, but also faced more pressure with the lack of a passing attack. Two key starters are gone from 2011, as tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom have finished their eligibility. Three starters are back in Salt Lake City for 2012, including seniors in center Tevita Stevens and guard Sam Brenner. Fellow senior Miles Mason is a returning starter at left guard, but is locked into a tight battle with Jeremiah Tofaeono for snaps. Junior Percy Taumoelau (left tackle) and freshman Daniel Nelson (right tackle) are expected to be in the starting lineup, but junior college recruits Charles Lozano, Marc Pouvave and Junior Salt will push for time.
5. California – Jim Michalczik is one of the Pac-12’s top offensive line coaches and should push this unit to improve in 2012. Three starters are back from last season, but gone are two key performers, including first-team All-Pac-12 selection Mitchell Schwartz. Guard Brian Schwenke is expected to contend for all-conference honors in 2012, while Dominic Galas and Matt Summers-Gavin are back after starting all 13 games last season. Senior Tyler Rigsbee and junior Bill Tyndall look like the frontrunners at left tackle, while Geoff Gibson or Jordan Rigsbee will likely get the nod at right guard. California allowed 28 sacks in 2011, but with three seniors penciled in as returning starters, this unit should cut that number in 2012.
6. Arizona – Generally speaking, coaches love it when all five starters return to an offensive line. And there's no question Rich Rodriguez, and his zone read option rushing attack has to be excited about it. Yet, this group must show improvement to come close to recreating the Pat White-Steve Slaton magic at West Virginia. Arizona finished 114th nationally in rushing and 11th in the league while ranking 59th nationally in sacks allowed. There is promise in this group as center Kyle Quinn returns as a leader on and off the field. There's also concerns about transitioning from an offense based more on the pass, to a scheme that relies more on the run. While Quinn could contend for All-Pac-12 honors, the rest of the group needs to stay focused if they expect to improve in 2012.
7. Washington – With Keith Price back at quarterback and a solid receiving corps in place, the Huskies should once again average over 30 points per game in 2012. However, there are concerns about this unit, especially after this group suffered a setback late in the spring when returning starter Colin Porter decided to retire due to injuries. Although Porter’s departure was a blow, the Huskies still return three starters up front. Colin Tanigawa is back after starting 11 games as a freshman last season, while Erik Kohler will shift from the right side to anchor the line at left tackle. Center Drew Schaefer is the leader and should push for All-Pac-12 honors in 2012. There are some injury concerns with this group, and there’s room to improve after allowing 34 sacks last year. The Huskies have the pieces in place to expect a turnaround, but left tackle Senio Kelemente and Porter will be missed.
8. UCLA – Three starters are back to lead to Jim Mora's first offensive line in Westwood. But with the return of elite recruit and early contributor Xavier Su’a-Filo from his LDS Mission, this group could be dramatically improved in 2012. Jeff Baca and Greg Capella offer some veteran leadership, while freshman Jake Brendel looks to take over at center. With the loss of Wade Yandall to medical issues, this group will certainly have some young pieces. The cupboard isn’t bare, however, as the former regime recruited well at the position. Mora and his staff simply need to assemble the right players in the right places. Su’a-Filo, if he picks up where he left off, has a chance to be a special player.
9. Arizona State – This is a rebuilding time for Arizona State’s offensive line. The good news is there is little place to go but up after finishing 85th in rushing and 73rd in sacks allowed last year. Threes starters are gone but new coach Todd Graham has been cautiously optimistic about this section of his offense. Right guard Andrew Sampson and left tackle Evan Finkenberg return as the leaders of the group and must get this collection of talent to play up to its capabilities.
10. Oregon State – Mike Riley’s teams have consistently run the football with authority for much of his time in Corvallis. But 118th in the nation isn’t get the job done. Neither is 81st in sacks allowed. But three starters are back and the former elite recruit Michael Philipp returns after missing last season due to injury. This unit was banged-up again in the spring and must develop some depth if it expects to run the football the way Riley craves. Look for a lot of names to get looks through summer camp, including top 100 freshman Isaac Seumalo.
11. Colorado – Although the Buffaloes check in at No. 11 in this ranking, there’s some promise for this group. Left tackle David Bakhtiari earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2011 and should be one of the best linemen in the conference this season. Junior Gus Handler is back after starting 10 games in 2011, while guard Ryan Dannewitz returns at right guard (11 starts last year). Sophomore Alex Lewis made one start at left tackle last season and is poised to claim the job at left guard. Jack Harris claimed the right tackle starting spot at the beginning of 2011 but suffered a broken leg and missed most of the season. Colorado has some solid pieces in place, and this unit could rank much higher on this list at the end of the year. However, the Buffaloes need to cut down on the sacks allowed from last season (31), while opening up more rushing lanes for the running backs (3.5 yards per carry in 2011).
12. Washington State – With Mike Leach’s arrival in Pullman, the Cougars are expected to be one of college football’s top passing offenses in 2012. Washington State is also expecting a big season from quarterback Jeff Tuel, who missed most of last year with injuries. However, the offense could stall if the offensive line doesn’t come together. The headliner of this group will be John Fullington. He has 18 career starts in the first two years of his career and is shifting from left guard to left tackle. Matt Goetz started the final nine games at center last year and should be the starter there in 2012. Dan Spitz is expected to start at right guard, while Wade Jacobson is back after missing most of last season. After allowing 40 sacks last year, the Cougars need to be much better up front in order to reach a winning record in 2012.
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