[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with the 3-Point Stance, looking at offensive line tiers in the Big Ten, predicting the season records for the second-year head coaches, and wrapping up the best Power 5 commitments with the Pac-12.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]Continuing the position group tiers with offensive lineman, and starting in the Big Ten, where there's always good play at that position. This year is no different.
Elite: Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin
Paris Johnson Jr. is one of the best - if not the best - offensive lineman in America, and he anchors an Ohio State unit that is as talented as anyone in the country. Johnson and Dawand Jones form prototypical bookend tackles, while 2021 five-star Donovan Jackson looks set to take over at left guard for Johnson. Center Luke Wypler and guard Matthew Jones are both former four-stars that are above-average at worst.
Michigan has arguably the best line in the country despite losing All-American Andrew Vastardis to the draft. They've replaced him with Virginia transfer Olusegun Oluwatimi, who was all-ACC last season. He joined all-Big Ten tackle Ryan Hayes at left tackle and returning starters at guard Trevor Keegan and Zak Zinter. Former four-stars Trente Jones and Karsen Barnhart are battling for the starting right tackle spot, but former top 50 recruit Andrew Gentry has potential to be in the mix after returning from two years on a mission trip.
The Badgers return three of five starters from a unit that was not exactly a vintage Wisconsin offensive line. However, they've got a new line coach in Bob Bostad, who was the architect behind some of the best lines in program history. He's already made big changes, as last year's left tackle Tyler Beach kicks in to guard, and former four-star and high school All-American Jack Nelson moves from right guard to his natural position of left tackle. All-conference center Joe Tippmann anchors the unit in the center, but there are question marks on the right side. Former five-stars Logan Brown and Nolan Rucci are battling for right tackle, while Michael Furtney seems to have the inside track at right guard. But the guy to keep an eye out for is Tanor Bortolini - he's played nearly every position on the line, and Bostad has praised his versatility. There's a good chance he's starting at one of the two spots on the right side of the line.
Good but not Great: Northwestern, Rutgers, Maryland, Iowa
If Paris Johnson Jr. isn't the best offensive lineman in the conference, then it's Northwestern left tackle Peter Skoronski. He's as technically proficient as any lineman we've seen in a long time and extremely smooth and athletic. Outside of Skoronski, three of the four other starters from last season return, most notably Ethan Wiederkehr who pairs well with Skoronski at right tackle. On the interior, Josh Priebe and Charlie Schmidt are back at left guard and center respectively, while Conrad Rowley moves into the full-time starter role at right guard after getting his feet wet last year. But if he's not ready, the Wildcats also added Colorado State's Vincent Picozzi in the portal as insurance. A really solid group for the Wildcats.
The Scarlet Knights are leaning heavily on transfers this season, but they got some really good ones, starting with two-time FCS All-American J.D. DiRenzo from Sacred Heart. He's a lock to start and should be a very good lineman for Rutgers, while ULM transfer Willie Tyler should lock down one of the tackle spots. Another transfer, former Minnesota guard Curtis Dunlap, looks to slot in at another spot. Pierce Hollin started every game for Rutgers at right tackle as a true freshman last year and should be even better as a sophomore, while last year's starter at guard, Ireland Brown, has bumped down to center. They enter the season as one of the most underrated units in the country.
Maryland? Yes, Maryland. Jaelyn Duncan is one of the best left tackles in the conference, and right guard Spencer Anderson had the highest pass blocking grade in the Big Ten last season per PFF. Mason Lunsford and Johari Branch both return in the interior after starting every game last season, while Delmar Glaze moves to a full-time starting position at right tackle. But he could be pushed by two new players in JUCO transfer Maximus McCree and true freshman Andre Roye Jr.
Despite the loss of All-American Tyler Linderbaum, the Hawkeyes, per usual, have tons of talent and depth at offensive line. Sophomore Logan Jones is in line to take over for Linderbaum at center, but that's not completely a lock just yet, and there will be a new starter next to him as Tyler Elsbury was listed as their top right guard after spring ball. Connor Colby had a huge true freshman season and is the next great interior lineman at Iowa. He'll start at right guard next to returning starter Jack Plumb at right tackle. Finally, Mason Richman was honorable mention All-Big Ten at left tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2021, and he's got a huge ceiling. Also, be on the lookout for 2021 four-star David Davidkov to potentially push for one of the spots on the interior.
That'll Do: Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue, Indiana, Illinois
The Spartans get back only one starter from last year's unit, guard JD Duplain. They're hoping that Washington State transfer Brian Greene can shore up the other guard spot and help bring first-time starter Nick Samac along at center. Jarrett Horst and Spencer Brown are in line to start at left and right tackle respectively, but neither has a ton of experience. If there's something that's going to hold the Spartans back this season, it's definitely offensive line play.
Penn State brings back two starters from last year's team, but unfortunately for them, it was two of their weaker players in center Juice Scruggs and right tackle Caedan Wallace. Wallace especially struggled in pass protection, giving up a team-high five sacks and 26 hurries. Former top-50 recruit Landon Tengwall seems set to step in at one guard spot while Sal Wormley has the inside track at the other one, but he's coming off an injury that caused him to miss all of 2021. But don't be surprised if Cornell transfer Hunter Nourzad ends up taking his spot. The biggest battle though is taking over for Rasheed Walker at left tackle. Sophomores Oluwuyima Fashanu and Jimmy Christ battled it out this spring but that position is still definitely up in the air. But No matter who wins that battle, Drew Shelton is the clear future of the position. But he'll need to put on some weight before he's ready to compete in the Big Ten.
The Boilermakers struggled at times last year on the offensive line, but they bring back four starters from last year's unit and should be at least adequate in keeping Aidan O'Connell upright. Tackles Eric Miller and Cam Craig started every game in 2021, as did center Gus Hartwig and left guard Spencer Holstege. Coming out of spring ball, it was redshirt freshman Marcus Mbow who took the upper hand on the right guard spot. But despite all the experience coming back, there's still a lot of room for improvement on the field.
Coming off of an incredibly disappointing 2021, the Hoosiers need to regroup as a team. However, the offensive line at least is a relatively veteran unit, anchored by left tackle Luke Haggard, their best player on the line last season. Guard Mike Katic and center Zach Carpenter are both coming off of injuries but were at least average starters before their seasons were cut short. Matthew Bedford kicks out to right tackle from the inside, and Tim Weaver looks to be in line to step in at guard, but four-star true freshman DJ Moore was an early enrollee and is going to push him immediately.
Illinois' unit has the chance to really move up in these rankings not only because their talent started to really flash in the second half of last season, but also because we all know that Bret Bielema is going to have an offensive line that can maul. Right tackle Alex Palczewski is definitely the leader of this unit, and he's a nasty run blocker. Opposite of him, Julian Pearl improved throughout the season at left tackle and should take a step forward as a junior. JUCO All-American Isaiah Adams should be an immediate starter and upgrade at right guard, while Alex Pihlstrom becomes the full-time starter at center. The biggest question mark remains left guard, where Jordan Slaughter is coming back from an injury that caused him to miss the entire 2021 season.
Cross Your Fingers and Pray: Minnesota, Nebraska
You're probably asking yourself how the Gophers are down here when they've got arguably the best center in the conference on their team? Well, John Michael Schmidtz can only do so much on his own, and he's got four new starters next to him and they have very little experience between them. Axel Ruschmeyer has three starts to his name at guard, while Michigan transfer Chuck Filiaga started four. Aireontae Ersery at left tackle has barely seen the field in his first two years on campus, while Quinn Carroll was buried on the depth chart at Notre Dame. A lot of question marks for the Golden Gophers.
Nebraska returns Turner Corcoran who is very good and right tackle Bryce Benhart but there are many questions marks as well. Scott Frost has to break in three new starters. Northern Colorado transfer Kevin Williams Jr. was a force at the FCS level and should be able to get up to speed relatively quickly but Teddy Prochazaka, Trent Hixson, and Broc Bando need to make big strides quickly. Oklahoma State transfer Hunter Anthony could also be in the mix for any of the open positions.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]— Tuesday I predicted the record of the first year head coaches but let’s not forget about those guys in year two. Here are my picks in alpha order.
Shane Beamer, South Carolina
Predicted Record: 7-5
There's as much buzz around South Carolina as there is around any team in the country, and it's not just because of their social media presence. The Gamecocks overachieved massively in Beamer's first season, and they're trying to ride that momentum. They get Georgia at home in week three - a win there is a statement game that could catapult them into the top of the East, but early season games at Arkansas and at Kentucky will be difficult. The back half of the schedule sees Texas A&M and Tennessee come to Williams-Brice and road trips to Clemson and Florida. Double-digit wins aren't out of the question, but it might be a little much to ask.
Bret Bielema, Illinois
Predicted Record: 5-7
The Illini should be improved this year with the addition of former Syracuse QB Tommy DeVito, so going to a bowl game is by no means out of the question. Their week two game with Virginia will be a measuring stick game for both programs and will tell us a lot about both. They get Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Purdue at home in their conference schedule, meaning that there's a good chance that they're underdogs in every Big Ten home game.
Jedd Fisch, Arizona
Predicted Record: 2-10
Arizona has one of the toughest schedules in the country, and Fisch is still only in year two of a rebuild where he had to strip the program down to the studs. They've got an FCS team on the schedule, but it's North Dakota State who could legitimately be favored in Tucson. Opening at San Diego State is no easy game either, and their other non-conference game brings explosive Mississippi State to the desert. There's a serious chance the only game that they are favored in is when Colorado comes to town the first weekend of October. At least the Territorial Cup is at home.
Bryan Harsin, Auburn
Predicted Record: 4-8
Auburn better get their wins in early, because starting in October they have a run of six games where there's a good chance they're double-digit underdogs in every single one. They also have an early-season non-conference matchup with Penn State that will tell us if the Tigers have any juice at all. Harsin is one of the odds-on favorite for first coach fired and it's not hard to see why.
Josh Heupel, Tennessee
Predicted Record: 8-4
Would it shock me if the Vols won 10 games and won the East? No but I'm also not going to say they're the favorite either with UGA loaded and Kentucky scary. An early season game at Pitt is a good test, but they should win that one. Alabama is still Alabama, and games at Georgia and South Carolina are both difficult as well, but they get Kentucky, Florida, and Mizzou at home.
Clark Lea, Vanderbilt
Predicted Record: 3-9
The scheduling gods were not kind to Vandy as they got Ole Miss and Alabama in their divisional crossovers, and are a lock to be underdogs in every SEC game. They lost to an FCS team at home last season, so their early game against Elon is anything from a guaranteed win. But games at Hawai'i and Northern Illinois are at least relatively easy opponents in FBS.
Lance Leipold, Kansas
Predicted Record: 4-8
Kansas is still one of the worst programs in the Power Five but Leipold has improved it by leaps in bounds in his first year at the helm. Tennessee Tech and Duke are both pretty much guaranteed wins, while a non-conference matchup at Houston will be a great test. And don't forget, they beat Texas at Texas last year - so anything is possible.
Steve Sarkisian, Texas
Predicted Record: 8-4
Sark has an opportunity very early in the season to prove that Texas is indeed back when they welcome Alabama to Austin in week two. But let's face it, that's pretty much a guaranteed loss for the Longhorns. The Red River Rivalry hasn't been kind to the Longhorns in the past decade, and road games at Oklahoma State and Kansas State to end the season are both going to be difficult. Assuming they split those, 9-3 can happen but 8-4 is more likely.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]— And finally, I wrap up my best commit Power Five series with the PAC-12.
Tall QB Brayden Dorman from Colorado is the big catch in this class so far and his ceiling is extremely high.
Recruiting is not going well for Herm Edwards but QB/ATH Israel Carter will open some eyes down the road.
DB RJ Jones from Bosco is one of the best in state gets for Cal in recent years.
WR Isaiah Hardge is explosive and had some nice offers from Florida so he will bring needed speed to the Buffs.
Michigan QB Dante Moore is a top five player nationally and will keep the Ducks offense rolling along and likely take it to new levels.
DE Kelze Howard brings swagger from Las Vegas and will help the pass rush immediately.
Big TE Jaden Platt is perfect for what David Shaw likes to do on offense.
RB Roderick Robinson II is massive and will continue the solid running back tradition in recent years at UCLA.
QB Malachi Nelson is my top player in the country so it’s hard to get better than that. He’s going to be special.
CB CJ Blocker is skinny but he’s long and the Texas native will be the next great corner for Utah.
DB Curley Reed has great size and is a very good get from Louisiana which is not a common recruiting area for the Huskies.
QB Sam Leavitt is an under the radar great get from Oregon.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]