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B1G 2017 Spring Position Rankings: Offensive Line

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We are Off Tackle Empire for a Reason...

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive line is one of the most critical positions on the field, yet most fans have no idea how to gauge good play from bad. As a Penn State fan, I've seen both fantastic offensive lines and (living through the Hackenberg era) some ungodly bad play.

However, while I can tell great from suck, I'm by no means an expert at judging toffensive lines. So I'm approaching this scientifically...specifically using data from Football Outsiders (FO). I did some number crunching for last year. I'll divide it into two sections -€” run blocking and pass blocking. However, FO doesn't just give you that, they have six categories of run blocking ratings and another three categories for pass blocking. I simply averaged the national rankings and then ranked just the B1G teams.

Based on FO's data, Ohio State was the best run blocking team in the B1G. The Buckeyes were actually the fifth best run blocking team in the country in 2016.

Here's the total B1G run blocking rank for 2016:

Run Blocking

B1G Rank

Nat'l Rank

Ohio State

1

5

Iowa

2

61

Maryland

3

67

Michigan State

4

70

Wisconsin

5

77

Michigan

6

78

Nebraska

7

82

Indiana

8

85

Rutgers

9

86

Minnesota

10

91

Purdue

11

93

Northwestern

12

96

Illinois

13

102

Penn State

14

115

I need to editorialize a bit here, being a Nittany Lion...this should prove to any doubters left that Saquon Barkely is the TRUTH...because he's running behind the worst line in the league. There are only 128 teams ranked by FO...Penn State ranked an abysmal 115th. That means they were better than only 10% of college football teams.

That's terribad. Hey James, do better next season, please.

Also, my condolences to Justin Jackson, who's carrying the ball behind the third worst line in the B1G...and the 96th-worst line in football.

The list switches dramatically when it comes to pass blocking. Ohio State disappears into the middle of the pack...and our favorite farm boys from fly-over country rocket to the top of our list (no, not you Indiana...lol). Yes, Tommy Armstrong had lots of time to throw. But I wonder if he actually skewed these stats, as teams couldn't rush him as aggressively as they did other, less mobile quarterbacks.

Here's the pass blocking rankings:

Pass Blocking

B1G Rank

Nat'l Rank

Nebraska

1

15

Purdue

2

30

Minnesota

3

37

Indiana

4

41

Penn State

5

42

Michigan

6

47

Illinois

7

48

Michigan State

8

53

Wisconsin

9

74

Ohio State

10

89

Northwestern

11

92

Iowa

12

101

Rutgers

13

105

Maryland

14

122

Interesting stuff here, right? Iowa third to last, Purdue ranked second? Don't blame me...I used somebody else's data for this.

Unsurprisingly, Maryland is dead last, after giving up 49 sacks on the year. That said, 122nd in the country is terrible. Durkin has some work to do.

Interestingly, Ohio State fell to 10th in the B1G. That wasn't enough to  bump them out of the top overall spot in the aggregate rankings, as you can see below:

Total Ranking

B1G Rank

Nat'l Rank

Ohio State

1

33

Nebraska

2

60

Michigan State

3

64

Michigan

4

68

Indiana

5

71

Purdue

6

72

Minnesota

7

73

Iowa

8

75

Wisconsin

9

76

Illinois

10

84

Maryland

11

85

Penn State

12

91

Rutgers

13

92

Northwestern

14

95

I find this an interesting ranking, considering that Iowa won the Joe Moore Award ahead of Ohio State and Alabama. The award's website says:

"...[it] will annually recognize the toughest, most physical offensive line in the country, making it the only major college football award to honor a unit or group."

You all didn't come here for a retrospective. You want to know which lines are going to block the hell out of the other guys...With that in mind, I give you the top offensive lines for 2017:

#1: The Iowa Hawkeyes

The 2016 Joe Moore Award winners are deep at offensive line. I like this award, because it avoids most of the "popularity contest" stigma of many of the national awards. The committee is made up of the following:

"...college football experts, especially people who played or coached the offensive line position, including all of the current offensive line coaches at the Division I/FBS level as well as former players, coaches, colleagues of Coach Moore and select media."

The award's criteria focuses on team work, which describes the Hawkeyes' team to a "T" this year.

Iowa played seven different starting groups last year. That means there are plenty of bodies with game experience for 2017. Rising seniors Ike Boettger, Boone Myers, and Sean Welsh will lead the unit. However, due to injuries, this was a young line last year. Underclassmen like James Daniel, Lucas LeGrand, and Levi Paulson will all contribute in 2017. Daniel and Welsh are returning all Big Ten players.

Despite their mediocre record, this offensive line was quite good. They converted fourth downs 65% of the time. The group that won the Moore award and came in second to Ohio State in run blocking returns relatively unscathed next year. Iowa will feature a road grader offense behind these experienced guys.

The standout drive last year, was an 8 minute, 13-running play drive for a touchdown against Nebraska. This is the strength of the Iowa team and they have a high ceiling. Like Ohio State, the main weakness last year was pass protection.  Iowa gave up 30 sacks, an unacceptably large number, which will fall next year.

#2: The Ohio State Buckeyes

The 2016 Joe Moore Award finalists look strong again. The reason that they aren't number one is that they lose Pat Elflein, one of the nation's best centers. Elflien won the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award. He was the anchor and leader of this line. Losing him is reason enough for the Buckeyes to fall...

But only to number two because they have another star lineman in Billy Price. The First Team all B1G lineman lines up Jamarco Jones, a second team all B1G tackle in 2016.  with three other returning starters to anchor a team that ranked highest in 2016.

Last year, Ohio State was the best run-blocking team in the B1G. The weakness was pass blocking. The Buckeyes

#3: The Nebraska Cornhuskers

The second-ranked offensive line will be in the hunt again in 2017. Nebraska returns nearly all of a good 2016 squad, including rising junior Nick Gates, an All Big-Ten tackle in 2016. He's joined by rising juniors Tanner Farmer (best Nebraska name EVER!), Cole Conrad, and rising senior David Knevel.

This squad is experienced and balanced. Last year's team ranked fourth in third and fourth down conversions in the B1G. They also gave up the fewest sacks of any line. That could also be due to a talented and highly mobile quarterback in Tommy A...

However, I'd put the Huskers down as a dark horse favorite to be the best line in the Big Ten next year...

#4: The Michigan Wolverines

This is a tough call, because while Michigan's offensive line was solid in 2016, they lose some starters, including both tackles and one guard. These guys were all Big Ten linemen, so there is serious turnover. However, they return some stalwarts up front, including All-Big Ten starting center Mason Cole. They return a solid cohort of experience. This is going to be a good squad again in 2017...dammit.

One to Watch Rising: The Penn State Nittany Lions

The Nittany Lions lost a pair of starters to injury last year in Brendon Mahon and Andrew Nelson. Those two both return to a group that has improved enormously from the Hackenberg years. They lose only Brian Gaia to graduation. They benefit from blocking for one of the best running backs in the country in Saquon Barkley and a smart, shifty quarterback in Trace McSorley. That definitely gives them an edge in 2017.

One to Watch Falling: The Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin had a great line last year, but a lot of their experience is gone in 2017. They lose Dan Volz and Ryan Ramczyk. The 2017 group looks very young, with the bulk of them red-shirt sophomores. The projected starter at left tackle, Cole Van Lanen, is a redshirt freshman who hasn't played a down of football yet. The projected starter at right tackle is a redshirt sophomore, David Edwards.

The lack of experience could make this a rough year for Wisconsin's quarterback and running backs this year. However, if the Badgers succeed this year, lookout down the road. This is a young squad...

The rest of the offensive lines...well you are kinda middlin'.

Your Friend,

Townie