BIG 12 PREVIEW: Ranking the Big 12 Offensive Lines

By at July 19, 2010 | 2:44 PM | Print

In Big 12 football, the North Division can’t crow about much.

But, at least from our vantage point, it can claim most of the league’s best offensive lines in 2010.

Part of our rankings are merely a reflection of returning starters; it’s easier refine players who have game experience over those who haven’t yet made their mistakes. But our rankings also reflect an emphasis on improving the running game (Iowa State, Kansas State and Nebraska) two programs finally putting together a decent bunch (Colorado and Kansas) and perhaps the league’s most gifted collection of linemen in Missouri.

The Big 12 South still represents well with Oklahoma and Texas in the top seven, but many of the schools are trying to replace a boatload of starters, alter their offensive philosophy, or, in the case of Oklahoma State, do both.

1. Colorado
Returning Starters:
Strengths: The best line in the Big 12 is huge – tackles Bryce Givens and Nate Solder are 6-foot-6 and 6-9, respectively – and athletic. It has also has a wealth of experience heading into 2010. Poor health decimated the line in 2009, but, when healthy, this bunch should be effective running the ball and protecting the quarterback’s flank. Weaknesses: Some stats – like giving up an astonishing 44 sacks – just can’t be prevented when CU’s quarterback situation is a mess, and the Buffaloes lack wide receivers good enough to get open. An improved running game should help, but this is not the Big 12's burliest bunch.

T2. Missouri
Returning Starters:
Strengths: Center Tim Barnes is the Big 12’s best, while junior tackles Dan Hoch and Elvis Fisher combined to start 26 games last year. This bunch stayed healthy. That’s a terrific nucleus to help quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Weaknesses: Mizzou could use work in the running game. Some of the holes that were present in 2007 and 2008 weren’t there last year.

T2. Nebraska
Returning Starters:
Strengths: Because of injuries, a variety of Huskers gained valuable experience in 2008 and 2009. Thanks to guards Keith Williams and Ricky Henry, NU is excellent on trap plays and screens – when the quarterback can see over the line. Some of the young depth – guard Brent Qvale, tackle Jeremiah Sirles – is impressive, not to mention junior college transfer Yoshi Hardrick. Weaknesses: Health has been a major factor with this bunch. False-start penalties, too. Mike Caputo takes over at center for Jacob Hickman; expect a transition there. Caputo played quite a bit, however, because of Hickman’s various injuries.

4. Iowa State
Returning Starters:
Strengths: ISU’s offensive line ran the ball with gusto for much of last year, as this bunch surprisingly moved a lot of defenses off the ball. Ben Lamaak and Alex Alvarez were one of the Big 12’s best guard tandems in 2009, although Lamaak is scheduled to slide inside to center this year. Kelechi Osemele is one of the Big 12’s best left tackles. Weaknesses: The departure of All-Big 12 center Reggie Stephens. Plus, ISU’s schedule is much more challenging in 2010.

5. Oklahoma
Returning Starters:
Strengths: The league’s best overall guard in Stephen Good and one of the best centers in Ben Habern. Good right tackle in Cory Brandon, while the new left tackle projects to be LSU transfer Jarvis Jones. Weaknesses: OU couldn’t run the ball last year, and its best lineman from 2009, Trent Williams, is now in the NFL. Better pass rushes were too quick for the Sooners’ interior, which led to a lot of quick passes and bad interceptions.

T6. Kansas State
Returning Starters:
Strengths: Huge, as is typical for a Bill Snyder, as every Wildcat weighs at least 300 pounds (and JUCO stud tackle Manase Foketi is 6-5, 330). KSU can trap and drive block well, getting a solid push off of the line of scrimmage. Weaknesses: The tackles aren’t the most athletic – unless Foketi is everything K-State fans hope he’ll be – and faster defensive lines ate up the Wildcats in 2009.

T6. Kansas
Returning Starters:
Strengths: After fielding two putrid offensive line in 2008 and 2009, KU will finally turn the corner with a big, experienced bunch in 2010. The best of them is Tanner Hawkinson at left tackle; although he has some growing and learning to do, he was pretty good for a freshman in 2010. Jeremiah Hatch is an oversized (6-3, 330) center, but effective anyway. Weaknesses: Tackle Jeff Spikes went down with a season-ending injury on July 13th; KU will struggle to find a replacement.

8. Texas
Returning Starters:
Strengths: While not combining a ton of starts, the Longhorns’ line is full of upperclassmen like Tray Allen and Britt Mitchell, a converted tight end. Kyle Hix is one of the league’s better left tackles and guard Michael Huey will be a centerpiece of UT’s improved running game. Weaknesses: This bunch was badly exposed vs. Nebraska and Alabama, which showed a blitz template for rattling Texas quarterbacks. Perhaps shifting to a pro-style offense – which offers more protection options – will help the Horns out.

9. Texas A&M
Returning Starters:
Strengths: In short time, head coach Mike Sherman has recruited offensive linemen well, and 2010 ought to begin to bear some fruit. Guards Patrick Lewis and Evan Eike are a strong duo. Freshman left tackle Luke Joeckel appears ready to start from day one of his time in College Station. Weaknesses: Also breaking in a new right tackle and center. A&M will be hard-pressed to match last year’s bunch.

10. Baylor
Returning Starters: Three
Strengths: Experience at the right spots: Center and tackle. It’s a big bunch, as each player weighs more than 300 pounds. It’s year three of the Art Briles system as well. Briles had recruited this position strongly and the Bears should field one of the Big 12’s best lines in 2011. Weaknesses: The Bears are a year away; too often BU’s line was a leaky mess in 2009, giving up at least three sacks in its last five games.

11. Texas Tech
Returning Starters: Two
Strengths: The Red Raiders have big-time jaw-dropping size at tackle, as Terry McDaniel is 6-7, 335 and LaAdrian Waddle is 6-6, 350. Center Chris Olson is a returning starter with plenty of experience. Weaknesses: New scheme, a greater emphasis on running the ball, and not much experience overall.

12. Oklahoma State
Returning Starters: One
Strengths: A good offensive line coach in Joe Wickline, who is paid handsomely for his expertise. Weaknesses: A great dearth of experience. It won’t be easy to replace the Big 12’s best left tackle, Russell Okung, or the other three starters lost to graduation.

Check Out Our Full Big 12 Preview: Big 12 Coaches, Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Offensive Lines, Defensive LinesCommentary, 12 Best Players, Ten Overrated Players, Ten Underrated Players

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