The game of football is a war, and going into battle without a strong, dependable front line leads to defeat more times than not. Any good coach, no matter what position he favors or played back in his heyday, will not hesitate to say that games are won and lost in the trenches. An offensive line is not only just there to protect the quarterback, but also to create lanes for the running game. Whether you call them the “Big Uglies”, “Hog Mollies,” or just fat guys in shoulder pads, these hard-nosed young men are the foundation of any dynamic offense. So, as you sit at home or work counting down the days until kickoff, I have countdown of my own for you… Here are, from ten to one, the best 2017 Big 12 offensive lines.
10. Texas Tech
Projected starters: LT Travis Bruffy, LG Jacob Hines, C Paul Stawarz, RG Jack Anderson, Terence Steele
Returning starters: (2 of 5) C Paul Stawarz, RT Terence Steele
Combined starts: 20
Anchor: RT Terence Steele
Weakness: Experience across the line & Run blocking
Someone had to be last on this last and Texas Tech will have to take the fall on this one. This unit has the least combined returning starts in the entire conference with 20. RT Terence Steel will have to anchor an offensive line that would only have a total of 8 combined starts without him. Beside Terence will be true freshman RG Jack Anderson, who is one of the most highly rated recruits Texas Tech has ever signed. C Paul Stawarz is the only other guy besides Terence Steele who has any starting experience at this level. The biggest question will be how LG Jacob Hines (who was just named a starter this week) and LT Travis Bruffy, who will be protecting QB Nic Shimonek’s blind side. I saw this group in person when I went to cover their spring game up in Frisco, TX and they did not look very good at all. Texas Tech was dead last in rushing offense in conference play last season and they will need to start paving some lanes for the run game if they want to be a little more balanced on offense this season.
Projected starters: LT Mo Porter, LG Sam Tecklenburg, C Ryan Miller, RG Blake Blackmar, RT Patrick Lawrence
Returning starters: (2 of 5) RG Blake Blackmar, RT Patrick Lawrence
Combined starts: 26
Anchor: LT Mo Porter
Weakness: Center and LG experience, Depth
This may be the most interesting line in the Big 12 this year. LT Mo Porter has not started one game in his time in Waco yet I think he will be the anchor of this entire bunch. He has been very vocal throughout the spring and it has carried over into fall camp to be that leader that this team will need down the stretch. On a more interesting note, Baylor will start a true freshman center in Ryan Miller who was a 2-star rated recruit according to 247. Also, starting LG Sam Tecklenburg has never played a game on the offensive line in his entire life. Sam is a converted tight end who had 2 starts last season there and has now found himself in a starting role up front. He beat out Ishmael Wilson for that LG spot but it is possible that we could see both guys in the rotation. The 26 starts will all come from RG Blake Blackmar and RT Patrick Lawrence, who both played well last season. The reason Baylor isn’t dead last on this list is because I feel confident that RG Blake Blackmar, RT Patrick Lawrence and LT Mo Porter will be more than capable of holding their own this season. This group will all come down to two guys inside, C Ryan Miller and LG Sam Tecklenburg. These two will be responsible for the middle of the line and will be very important in a run first offense that Matt Rhule is trying to install.
8. Iowa State
Projected starters: LT Jake Campos, LG Bobby Garcia, C Julian Good-Jones, RG Oge Odeogu, RT Bryce Meeker
Returning starters: (2 of 5) Jake Campos (injured in 2016, was starter in 2015), C Julian Good-Jones (2 of 5)
Combined starts: 35
Anchor: LT Jake Campos
After missing all of 2016 due to injury, LT Jake Campos is back and ready to Anchor and offensive line that doesn’t have a lot of starts under their belts. Right Beside Jake will be LG Robby Garcia, who was a former defensive lineman turned offensive lineman. C Julian Good-Jones is the only other battle tested lineman besides Jake Campos who has a solid amount of experience. The right side of this line will be the most important question that this group will face up front. RG Oge Udeogu had to redshirt last season to get in shape and RT Bryce Meeker only started on game in his entire career as a redshirt sophomore. I will say that head coach Matt Campbell has been giving quite a bit of praise to RT Bryce Meeker since fall camp has started, so maybe offensive line coach Tom Manning will have a few more pieces to work with this year than we expected. The biggest thing that this unit will need to do is to keep quarterback Jacob Park on his feet this year because last season Iowa State gave up 26 sacks in conference play.
Projected starters: LT Hakeem Adeniji, LG Jayson Rhodes, C Mesa Ribordy, RG Larry Hughes, RT Antione Frazier
Returning starters: (4 of 5) LT Hakeem Adeniji, LG Jayson Rhodes, C Mesa Ribordy, RG Larry Hughes
Combined starts: 48
Anchor: LT Hakeem Adeniji
Weakness: RT and Run Blocking
I know what you are thinking, Kansas isn’t last in something football related! This is true for this group as they return a lot of starters back from last season. It all starts with LT Hakeem Adeniji, who started every game last season as a true freshman and exceeded expectations. They also have 3 other returning starters on the interior line with LG Jayson Rhodes, C Mesa Ribordy and RG Larry Hughes. These three provide a very interesting trio for the Jayhawks because Jayson and Larry do their best work in the run game while C Mesa Ribordy is one of the best pass blockers on the roster. Overall, this experience from last season should help improve this unit on the field this season. There is some work that needs to be done because last season Kansas had the second worst rushing attack in conference play last season, averaging 3.4 yards per carry and 123.4 yards per game. The other concern will be the RT position which is currently held by Antione Frazier. The word out of fall camp is that the coaches seem to be high on him and is ahead of former Alabama transfer Charles Baldwin. By the time the season starts it could be likely that Charles Baldwin may get the nod at RT if he can start improving more on the practice field.
6. Kansas State
Projected starters: LT Scott Frantz, LG Tyler Mitchell, C Adam Holtorf, RG Breontae Matthews, RT Dalton Risner
Returning starters: (3 of 5) LT Scott Frantz, LG Tyler Mitchell, RT Dalton Risner
Combined starts: 45
Anchor: LT Dalton Risner
Weakness: C and RG experience
Two-time team captain and 2016 1st team All-Big 12 selection Dalton Risner will once again lead the Wildcats on the frontlines. He has 26 of the 45-combined career starts that the Wildcats bring back this season. The next best player up front will be opposite of Dalton with LT Scott Frantz, who started 13 games in 2016 and did a heck of a job blocking Myles Garret (2017 #1 overall pick) in the Texas Bowl. While RG Tyler Mitchell did have a few starts last season, he is still a bit unproven at this point and the same goes for newcomers’ C Adam Holtorf and RG Breontae Matthews. Adam Holtorf will have some big shoes to fill because before fall camp, this was Reid Najvar’s job before he decided to call it quits playing football. Overall this group always over achieves with offensive line coach Charlie Dickey, who has been the Wildcats offensive line coach for the last 9 seasons. Kansas State is lucky to have a guy like Charlie who can turn a two-star guy into an all-conference player.
5. West Virginia
Projected starters: LT Yodny Cajuste, LG Kyle Bosch, C Matt Jones, RG Grant Lingafelter, RT Colton McKivitz
Returning starters: (3 of 5) Yodny Cajuster (2015 starter, injured for all of 2016), LG Kyle Bosch, RT Colton McKivitz
Combined starts: 42
Anchor: LG Kyle Bosch
Weakness: C and RG
This West Virginia offensive line will look a bit different but they will be returning some key pieces from last year’s squad. The Mountaineers have a duo of outstanding tackles with LT Yodney Cajuste and RT Colton McKivitz. Yodney went down with a season ending injury in 2016 in their first game and Colton McKivtiz filled in his place and did an outstanding job, earning him a starting spot on the right side of the line. Don’t get confused by that statement because LG Kyle Bosch is one of the best guards in the entire conference earning a vote from me on the preseason All-Big 12 ballot. He is true road grader and can pull like very few guards can in the entire country. There is a reason Kyle has started 26 straight games in his career. As for the two newcomers’ C Matt jones and RG Grant Lingafeller (should be on the Big-12 all name list), they have never started a game in their careers. The good news for Grant is that he has seen action in 22 games but C Matt Jones has only been on the field for one game in his career.
Projected starters: LT Joseph Noteboom, LG Patrick Morris, C Austin Schlottman, RG Matt Pryor, RT Lucas Niang
Returning starters: (4 of 5) LT Joseph Noteboom, LG Patrick Morris, C Austin Schlottman, RG Matt Pryor,
Combined starts: 70
Anchor: C Austin Schlottman
Weakness: Run Blocking
Overall experience is what gets this group into my top 4 and with 4 returning starters (all 4 are seniors), now is the time for them to take that next step as a unit. The leader of this bunch is 2nd team All-Big 12 selection, Austin Schlottman who has 15 starts in his career. Beside Austin, there still some question marks even though guards Patrick Morris and Matt Pryor have starting experience. For Matt Pryor, his size at (6’7-358) has taken some time for his skill set to get adjusted to his size and Patrick Morris needs to be that road grading guard for this offense. Newcomer RT Lucas Niang played well last season as a true freshman and looks to have a bright future ahead of him at that spot. Opposite of him will be RT Joseph Noteboom, who has the most starts (26) out of any other TCU offensive lineman. The pieces are all in place for this unit, the question is will new offensive line coach Chris Thomsen get them to be more physical in the run game?
3. Oklahoma State
Projected starters: LT Aaron Cochran, LG Marcus Keyes, C Brad Lundblade, RG Larry Williams, RT Zachary Crabtree
Returning starters: (4 of 5) LG Marcus Keyes, C Brad Lundblade, RG Larry Williams, RT Zachary Crabtree
Combined starts: 94
Anchor: RT Zachary Crabtree
This one was tough between Oklahoma State and TCU but I choose the Cowboys because of the overall starting experience and how well they performed down the stretch last season. Even though starting LT Aaron Cochran was at Cal last season, he started 16 games there and will be a key piece in protecting Mason Rudolph. On the other side of the line, 2nd team All-Big 12 selection Zachary Crabtree will be at RT. Zachary has the most starts out of anyone else up front with 34. He (Zachary Crabtree) and Aaron Cochran should be just fine this season doing their job and then some. On the interior line, senior C Brad Lunblade returns after an impressive 2016 campaign calling the signals for this bunch, while LG Marucs Keyes saw plenty of action as a freshman last season starting all 13 games. I am interested to see how RG Larry Williams looks this year after missing the last 9 games of last season due to injury. There aren’t a ton of question marks here but last season this bunch was kind of up and down in the beginning of the season until they hit fire down the stretch. If they can be more consistent this season, especially in the running game, this group may have the ability to really take over more of the game than in years past.
Projected starters: LT Connor Williams, LG Patrick Vahe, C Zack Shackelford, RG Jake McMillon, RT Tristian Nickelson
Returning starters: (4 of 5) LT Connor Williams, LG Patrick Vahe, C Zack Shackelford, RG Jake McMillon
Combined starts: 62
Anchor: LT Connor Williams
For a unit that was once always struggling, Texas may have their best group in recent memory. It all starts with two-time All-American LT Connor Williams, who may be the best LT in the entire country. Alongside Connor will be the physical road blocker in LG Patrick Vahe. Patrick was bench last season for a little while and was nowhere near his 2015 form. Now that a new staff has come in, maybe he will get back to his former self where he was once a freshman All-American as well. Perhaps nobody had a more difficult task than C Zack Shackelford, who started 9 games last season as a true freshman. Just like Connor and Patrick, Shackelford was selected was too selected as a freshman All-American. On the right side is where things get more interesting. RG Jake McMillon came on strong down the stretch last season becoming one of the best run blockers on the team. Now it is time for him to showcase that for an entire season. Perhaps the biggest question is the RT position which had J.P. Urquidez listed as the starter before suffering an injury that will keep him out for an unknown amount of time at this point. Texas will now have to turn to Tristen Nickelson (6’10-315) to fill in. It has not all come together for Tristen to convert his size and power on the field. If he struggles, look for Denzel Okafor to maybe help fill in if needed.
Projected starters: LT Orlando Brown, LG Ben Powers, C Erick Wren, RG Dru Samia, RT Bobby Evans
Returning starters: (5 of 5) LT Orlando Brown, LG Ben Powers, C Erick Wren, RG Dru Samia. RT Bobby Evans
Combined starts: 80
Anchor: LT Orlando Brown
This wasn’t a hard decision on my part because Oklahoma is the clear-cut number one option for this ranking. It all starts with All-Big 12 selection LT Orlando Brown who has started 26 consecutive games for the Sooners. He is the second best offensive tackle in the conference and I fully expect him to be a high draft pick whenever he decides to come out. The LG spot will feature an interesting battle between Ben Powers and Cody Ford. Cody started the first 3 games of 2016 before suffering a season ending injury. When Ben Powers filled in for Coody Ford, he turned quite a few heads earning him a 2nd team All-Big spot last year. I think you should continue with the hot hand and start Ben Powers but either guy is more than capable of playing well. C Erick Wren took over after the Ohio State meltdown and was another guy who became a staple calling out signals. Rounding out this unit will be RG Dru Samia and RT Bobby Evans who combine for a total of 34 starts. These two will be the determining factor to put this line on another level. You are not only looking at the best group in the Big 12 but maybe even in the entire country. This is the type of offensive line that can take over a game in the 4th quarter and really wear some defenses out.
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