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The 2019 Big Ten Position Breakdowns: Offensive Line

The Position Group that Built an Empire

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the bailiwick of Brobdingnagian brutes. This beloved game was built on shoulders of these (often) anonymous behemoths. The history of the conference’s premier programs comes from power football. Bo and Woody loved trench brawls. Tom Osborne destroyed opponents with a deceptively complicated run attack.

The progression continues with the smashmouth styles we see in today’s Iowa and Wisconsin. Capable and disciplined linemen are the foundation of a distinctively midwestern style of play. Because of linemen, we affectionately think of the Big Ten as “B1G.” May it ever be thus.

It is no small feat to get five giant twenty-somethings to do something in unison, as one might gather by how many units flounder. While the uninitiated might see a bunch of beer guts colliding, the true football fan sees a ballet of precision footwork, timing, angles, leverage, and yes—power. When it all comes together, it is just so damn beautiful.

Last year I predicted that Wisconsin and Ohio State would be dominant. I was half right. Wisconsin perpetuated its tradition of grinding Nebraska into corn dust. Ohio State did not get the most out of its line last year.

A brief recap of last year:

  • Penn State, Wisconsin, and Iowa led the conference in power success rate.
  • Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa were stuffed at the line of scrimmage the least. Surprisingly, Ohio State and Michigan State were in the lower half of the conference by this metric.
  • Northwestern made it to Indianapolis with the worst stuff rate in the league.
  • Iowa and Ohio State had the lowest sack rates, while Wisconsin and Maryland had the highest – I think it is safe to say that QB decision-making plays an important role in this statistic.
  • For a more complete overview – Wisconsin, Minnesota, Penn State, and Nebraska led the league in Line Yards. Northwestern, Michigan State, and Rutgers brought up the rear.

What can we expect this season?

Really, nobody knows. Anyone who tells you they know how an offensive line will gel is lying to you. It is a strange group dynamic where just one person can negate excellent play out of the other four. Injuries, personalities, and style of play all have an impact. With those caveats in mind, Let’s take a look at what a few selected teams have coming back.

Tier I: The Best of the Best

Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin had the most dominant line again last year—shocking, I know. However, the Sconnies lost four starters—three to graduation and one to retirement. We shall see how deep the pipeline of talent runs this year. The names to look for are LT Cole Van Lanen and C Tyler Biadasz, the most experienced of the bunch. Also fun, Kaden Lyles, a former highly-ranked recruit who played all 12 games, including seven starts on the D Line last season - because injuries, of course. There are a couple of young prospects entering the program this summer, but beez notes that Wisconsin tends to automatically redshirt young linemen. Something to watch: Do circumstances cause Chryst to break with precedent?

Tier II: The Best of the Rest

Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State has only one starter returning – LT Thayer Mumford, who started 13 of 14 games. As usual, the Buckeyes have a wealth of players with game experience, not to mention recruiting stars after their names. The first year of a coaching regime is unpredictable, but I think it is safe to say that OSU has plenty of talent. We shall see how the new staff employs it.

Michigan Wolverines

Michigan returns center Cesar Ruiz. LT Jon Runyan Jr. and RG Michael Onwenu will continue to push people around. LG Ben Bredeson will start for the fourth straight season. These guys are going to be good. Harbaugh is stocked with ample talent for another run at second place in the East.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Minnesota bullied some people last year, and was very effective in short-yardage situations. According to WSR, the lineup will be some combination of Jason Dickson and Daniel Faalele at tackles and Blaise Andries, Connor Olson, Curtis Dunlap, and John Michael Schmitz on the inside.

That is a lot of returning talent. If Minnesota is unable to lead the West in rushing with this group, it will be an abject Gopher failure. It could lead to lutefisk and other forms of self-harm.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa brings back stalwart tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs. They are beasts who can move people and move iron – in Iowa S&C tradition, including Wirfs breaking a strength record set by OTE awards snub recipient and cow thief Brandon Scherff:

Somewhere in a lonely bunker, a man is fapping to this.

Tier III: The Best of the Rest

Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State lost only one player from its playing group last year. This is one of those good news/bad news situations. The Spartans had another ridiculously high stuff rate last year – but I suspect that a lot of that has to do with a, shall we say…relentlessly predictable offensive attack. Guard Kevin Jarvis may be the best run blocker of the bunch, and he has room to improve as a true JR. Looking towards the future, Devontae Dobbs joins the program this summer as one of the highest rated MSU OL recruits in recent memory.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska is hoping that another year on Scott Frost’s system will pay dividends. The offense showed improvement through the season, but consistently had difficulty gaining short yardage. There has been talk of considerable strength and conditioning gains, but this is the off-season—everybody’s strength program is above average.

Brenden Jaimes and Matt Farniok will be the tackles. John Raridon and Boe Wilson will likely be the guards. Center is not nailed down, but former Tight End Cameron Jurgens might snap up that spot (note: he managed to pass Scott Frost on the state high school shot put charts, even while recovering from a broken ankle). As a Nebraska fan, I am hoping for the best.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State returns Steve Gonzalez at guard, Michael Menet at center, and Will Fries at tackle. There is not much experience behind these three guys, which may or may not be a bad thing. Penn State fans often wonder how good their team might be if the line were “at least average.” Nits might have to ponder that question for another year.

Tier IV: The Other Crap Teams

There it is. If I didn’t mention your team, it might be because your “writer” didn’t give me any material. It could also be because I loathe you to your core. Whichever you choose to believe.

This is by no means comprehensive. Please use the comments to highlight any linemen that I may have missed. Maybe explain an isolation play. Whatever you do, show some love to the underappreciated position group that built an empire.


Which team will have the best line this year?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    (50 votes)
  • 9%
    (24 votes)
  • 20%
    (51 votes)
  • 6%
    Ohio State
    (16 votes)
  • 10%
    Pete Mote Polytechnic
    (27 votes)
  • 8%
    (22 votes)
  • 18%
    (46 votes)
  • 4%
    Penn State
    (11 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (explain in comments)
    (6 votes)
253 votes total Vote Now