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June 15, 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's offensive lines

Nebraska begins the 2012 season with the Big Ten's best offensive line, but the Badgers and Wolverines, led by left tackle Taylor Lewan, are not far behind ...

The Big Ten's Best Offensive Lines

1. Nebraska: No school in the Big Ten returns all five starters, but Nebraska is close with four. Among those four, guard Spencer Long was an all-conference second-team performer a year ago and anchors one of the game's best power-running games (NU ranked 15th nationally averaging 217 YPG in 2011) along with guard Seung Hoon Choi, and tackles Jeremiah Sirles and Tyler Moore. The lone hole to be filled is at center, however, the Cornhuskers feel either Mark Pelini or Justin Jackson will step up there, and there is so much depth pushing for starting roles that the competition will bring out the best in the Big Red.

2. Wisconsin: This is how far the Badgers have come -- they return just two starters from a dominant OL but because of their track record (and because of the two they have coming back), we give them the benefit of the doubt that they'll be a monster up front again. Travis Frederick was a second-team performer at guard last year and will slide over to center this season while Ricky Wagner returns at left tackle and is considered, by many, to be the premier lineman in the league. Ryan Groy is penciled in at right guard and Rob Havenstein at right tackle, and wouldn't you know it, those four average 328.8 pounds per man. UW's biggest challenge may be adapting to a new line coach after Bob Bostad left for the NFL.

3. Michigan: Michigan has no margin for error (or injury) whatsoever to maintain its ranking or improve upon it. The Wolverines welcome back All-Big Ten second-team left tackle Taylor Lewan, who is poised to challenge for Lineman of the Year honors in the conference, plus classmate Michael Schofield at right tackle and Patrick Omameh at right guard. The Maize and Blue really like the potential of Ricky Barnum at center, but he's been injured consistently throughout his career and has to prove he can stay healthy. U-M also has very little depth, with just three scholarship athletes waiting in reserves (until four freshmen arrive). With a little luck and some good fortune, Michigan will be just fine, but one or two injuries could cripple the Wolverines. 
3. Michigan State: When the 2011 season began, Michigan State's offensive line was, arguably, the Spartans' biggest question mark.  Not so this fall. Entering 2012, MSU returns six linemen that started at least three games last year, including one of the Big Ten's best guards, Chris McDonald. Center Travis Jackson, meanwhile, was a Freshman All-American a year ago and begins his sophomore campaign a leader up front. Blake Treadwell, who was the starter at center before a season-ending knee injury in week three, is poised to fill the only vacancy at left guard. MSU's offense struggled in the ground game, though, and needs its experienced linemen to become a strength this season.
5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes find themselves in a similar predicament as Wisconsin, welcoming back just two starters (and two nowhere close to as good as the Badgers' duo), but the reason they get the nod over Illinois, Minnesota and Northwestern, which all have promising lines, is simple: Ohio State's talent is superior. By a lot. Jack Mewhort is moving from right guard to left tackle and Andrew Norwell is locked in at left guard -- the two returning starters giving OSU a solid left side. Corey Linsley has grabbed the job at center and Marcus Hall is settled in at right guard. Competition is ongoing at right tackle, but the Buckeyes will be fine because, well, they're the Buckeyes.

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