Iowa leads Big Ten's offensive line rankings

Ask any coach, and he’ll tell you games are won in the trenches. So, that means teams ranked highly on this list should be in store for good seasons, right?

Check out the Big Ten offensive line unit rankings. Big uglies can be beautiful.

[ MORE: Penn State tops offensive backfield rankings ]

1. Iowa. A strong line typically always is a calling card of this program under Kirk Ferentz. This season will feature another strong wall. Left tackle Brandon Scherff is one of the best in the nation. Not bad for a high school quarterback. Fellow tackle Andrew Donnal is a mauler. Center Austin Blythe transitioned from guard and is a standout. Depth is good all the way around.

2. Wisconsin. Another year, another solid Badger line. This is a veteran group, as the projected five starters have combined for 100 games and 64 starts. Center Dan Voltz could be special. The tackle tandem of Tyler Marz (left) and Rob Havenstein (right) has few peers. Right guard Kyle Costigan is a two-year starter who locks on defenders and is relentless.

3. Ohio State. Line coach Ed Warinner has his work cut out for him. But, he’s capable. Four starters are gone, with left tackle Taylor Decker the lone starter back. Right guard Pat Elflein is a battler on the interior. Those are the lone sure starters. The other spots will be determined in camp. Keep an eye on left guard Antonio Underwood, center Jacoby Boren and right tackle Darryl Baldwin. There is no shortage of talent. This is Ohio State, remember?

4. Minnesota. With four starters back, the Gophers will be strong along the line. Left tackle Ben Lauer is a young star. Josh Campion is a classic run blocker at 6-5, 326. He engulfs foes. Tommy Olson moved from guard to center last year and excelled. Left guard Zac Epping is the grizzled vet. Line coach Matt Limegrover does a good job with this group.

5. Michigan State. This underrated unit has three holes to fill from what many feel was the best front of the Mark Dantonio era. Center Jack Allen and left tackle Jack Conklin are among the best in the Big Ten at their positions. Mean, nasty, tough … they epitomize Spartan football under Dantonio. Right tackle Kodi Kieler looks primed to be a star. Left guard Travis Jackson is a veteran hand and ex-center.

6. Nebraska. Questions loom with the loss of five players who accounted for 120 career starts. But talent is in the ranks, as many players were forced into action last year when injuries hit the unit. Colorado transfer Alex Lewis, who was a stud in spring ball, could be the best of the bunch at left tackle. Left guard Jake Cotton is the lone starter back. Rangy Zach Sterup is set at right tackle; he’ll get a push. Mark Pelini is the man at center after an apprenticeship in 2013.

[ MORE: Get all of Dienhart's 2014 schedule analysis ]

7. Michigan. The Wolverines had one of their worst offenses in over 50 years. (Let that sink in for a while.) And a big reason for that was poor line play. There seemingly are some good parts to build around on the interior in Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis and Graham Glasgow. Erik Magnuson is first up at left tackle. A new right tackle also is needed. The good news: There is one way to go: up.

8. Maryland. This group was a mess when Randy Edsall arrived. Now, it is rounding into form and epitomizes two key Edsall traits: tough and physical. Three starters are back in left tackle Ryan Doyle, right tackle Michael Dunn and center Sal Conaboy. Depth needs to be augmented.

9. Penn State. The new regime has work to do with only one starter back in left tackle Donovan Smith. Left guard Derek Dowrey and right guard Brian Gaia were moved from defense in the spring. Yes, depth was that thin. Right tackle Andrew Nelson has potential. This unit bears close scrutiny.

10. Indiana. Long a weakness, the Hoosiers front looks to be the program’s best in years. Six players with starting experience are back. Center Collin Rahrig is the best. Left tackle Jason Spriggs is athletic and savvy. Guard Bernard Taylor is a physical blocker. These guys need to get a push in the running game.

11. Northwestern. All five starters are back. Is that a good thing after the unit disappointed last year? Paul Jorgensen has flipped from right to left tackle—a move you don’t see often. He must excel. Former No. 1 left tackle Jack Konopka is battling Eric Olson at right tackle. Brandon Vitabile is one of the league’s top centers.

12. Rutgers. This remains a work in progress but has potential. Mammoth left tackle Keith Lumpkin is a future pro. Ditto left guard Kaleb Johnson. Center Betim Bujari is a veteran pivot man who can make the calls and direct traffic. Depth could be an issue. A big issue.

13. Illinois. This has been a lackluster group in the Tim Beckman era, but potential looms with four starters back. Right tackle Michael Heitz is the bellwether; Simon Cvijanovic is a good book end. Alex Hill is capable at center and guard. Right guard Alex Karras may be the best of the bunch, a nasty blocker who plays with a defensive attitude.

14. Purdue: Center Robert Kugler is a keeper and the unquestioned stud of this front. Like Kugler, right guard Jason King is a returning starter. But questions abound after that. Most worrisome: the tackle spots. Right tackle J.J. Prince was a spring surprise. The key left tackle slot may be manned by a JC transfer who hails from Sweden. Really. Everyone in West Lafayette has their fingers—and toes, and arms, and feet–crossed.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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15 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (15 Comments)
Scott on 7/2/2014 @ 2:19pm EDT Said:

I thought that too, until I noticed that in a home game last season, Iowa compiled 23 yards on 16 rushing attempts. And no, there was not a lot of sack yardage included to bring the number down.

http://scores.espn.go.com/ncf/boxscore?gameId=332782294

Scott on 7/2/2014 @ 2:20pm EDT Said:

Oh come on. An OSU team with one starter gets ranked #3? Isn’t that silly to the point of being absurd?

Dolan Jones on 7/2/2014 @ 3:34pm EDT Said:

Wow…I thought duh goofers have the best OL in the entire nation?? http://btn.com/2014/07/02/iowa-leads-big-tens-offensive-line-rankings/

Josh on 7/2/2014 @ 6:10pm EDT Said:

Indianas line is top 5.

Doug on 7/2/2014 @ 7:40pm EDT Said:

Michigan # 7? wow i can’t imagine why you put them so high, they lose their two best starters from a bad line last year, and they will be better this year? OK

Moonunit on 7/2/2014 @ 7:55pm EDT Said:

Shocker……The Ohio State didn’t get the #1 spot on BTN. Iowa is Historically good on the O line as is whisky. Minnesota is kind of a stunner.

Scott Ludwick on 7/2/2014 @ 9:00pm EDT Said:

in A home game LAST season.. against the number 1 defense in the nation Michigan state, the fact that there were no sacks allowed against MSU literally proves Toms point

motownwalt on 7/2/2014 @ 11:04pm EDT Said:

MSU’s O-Line protected Connor Cook all season long, and the Spartans went 13-1 — and you rank them 5th? Meanwhile U-M’s QB was beaten senseless in the MSU game, and had to run for his life in most other games — and you rank U-M 7th? The Spartans should be a Top-3 unit. The Wolverines should be 14th until they prove otherwise.

Chop Boyz on 7/3/2014 @ 1:10am EDT Said:

Yeah and Rutgers is ranked 12 with every lineman returning for the past two straight years. Lumpkin, Johnson, and Bujari are NFL lineman. Once again we get spurned like we are Georgia Southern. Even they beat the Gators at home. C’mon MAN!!!!!

Ash on 7/3/2014 @ 12:42pm EDT Said:

I think it’s important to mention what kind of players are filling departures. For example, the Nebraska guys are 4th and 5th year players with significant playing time plus an all-conference caliber transfer. That’s a lot more encouraging.

Leo on 7/3/2014 @ 1:30pm EDT Said:

Come on, Indiana at #10??? Offense: 1st passing and 4th in Rushing! You’re an idiot!
Entire line returns which had significant injuries last year!

bigtengrad on 7/3/2014 @ 7:39pm EDT Said:

Come on guys, it’s Iowa. This is tom’s darling team. They do little wrong and are the greatest thing ever when they have a player like scherff. Tom can’t see past that. How Michigan is in the top 10 is beyond me. Oh wait, it’s BTN.

Doug on 7/7/2014 @ 2:10am EDT Said:

bigtengrad, M is Tom’s original darling team but since they stink so bad he had to find someone else…

Richard Barnes on 7/7/2014 @ 3:03am EDT Said:

As far as NU, we will earn the respect we get on the field, nuff said. I have also got to agree with Leo above, Indi at #10? Wow, what a slap in the face to Indiana! If you don’t believe in their talent level, that’s one thing but what they did on the field shows them to be better rather writers “feel” that way or not. They did put up the numbers, count me as a Husker fan in Indiana’s corner on that one!

IUSwingman on 7/7/2014 @ 8:36am EDT Said:

Leo, Tom’s a PU grad. Can’t exactly expect him to give IU a fair shake.