SEC Football: Power Ranking Every Team's Offensive Line
With the 2013 season fewer than three months away, preseason predictions are to be expected. The SEC has some of the nation's best scoring defenses (six of the top 20), but where do the offensive lines fit in this equation?
First, the offensive line's job is to create opportunities for the entirety of the offense. Secondly, the line is responsible for making room specifically for the running backs. Both of these responsibilities include statistical verification in the form of total offense and rushing offense.
While there are fluctuations in success rates from season to season, overall performance was determined from a four-year average. Also, many SEC teams have new head coaches, and two teams have been in the conference for only one season. Both factors were taken into consideration.
Here are the 14 SEC offensive lines, ranked from worst to best.
14. Kentucky Wildcats
Mark Stoops is the new head coach over at Kentucky, and the Wildcats have a bright future. Naturally, it will take them some time to come up from the bottom of the SEC, especially with the coaching carousel that took place following the 2012 season.
Kentucky averaged 333.5 yards per game over the last four years, but the last two were the worst of the four by far. Kentucky may be heading up in the pecking order soon, but it's not going to happen magically overnight.
Expect Kentucky to struggle for a year or two before building quality trenches that will compete in the nation's strongest conference.
13. Vanderbilt Commodores
Vanderbilt has some advantages on offense, but those players are not on the offensive line. In a straight-up offensive line battle between any other SEC team and Vanderbilt, the Commodores would lose on almost every occasion.
Of course, this does not mean that Vanderbilt won't win any games. There are many parts of a football team, and the offensive line is just one of those pieces.
Vanderbilt will simply have more obstacles to overcome than many other teams. Over the past four seasons, the Commodores have averaged 331 yards per game in total offense.
Overall, they have steadily improved over each of the past two seasons, but the offensive line is still one of the weakest in the conference.
12. Auburn Tigers
Auburn has been taken over by Gus Malzahn, who was the offensive coordinator during the 2010 national championship run. That means Auburn stands to improve quickly over the next few seasons.
In fact, Auburn should get a lot better just over the course of the coming season. However, the Tigers simply aren't going to be ready to consistently win in the SEC in 2013.
They are a deadly threat to upset any given team in the conference, but sustained success takes depth and excellent habits. Former coach Gene Chizik did not build excellence on the field while he was there, so Malzahn will have his work cut out for him.
Auburn has two sophomores, a redshirt freshman and one junior on the offensive line. Considering that everyone who isn't a true freshman was influenced by Chizik, give the Tigers a bye season before getting your hopes up.
11. Missouri Tigers
Missouri had a horrible experience during its inaugural run through the SEC in 2012. Fortunately for the 2013 squad, injury played a large part in the lack of success last year. Hopefully, that will not happen again this coming season.
Missouri returns two seniors and a junior to the offensive line, but the Tigers are going to have to buckle down and get used to working together as a first-string unit. Again, that isn't nearly as daunting a task as it may seem.
The Tigers will be ready to fight in the SEC this fall, and they will have a decent offensive line to pave the way for quarterback James Franklin and tailback Marcus Murphy.
10. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Mississippi State averaged 377 yards per game over the past four years, and the 2012 season came in just above that average at 381.9 yards. The Bulldogs are doing well in the SEC at the moment, but a lot of that was due to defense.
They return one of the most experienced offensive lines in the conference, with three out of five lineman registered as juniors or seniors. That said, Mississippi State doesn't have any stars on the line; it simply has a good collection of team players.
Mississippi State may or may not do well in 2013, but the big questions will be answered by the defense and the skill positions on offense, not the offensive line.
9. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee's 2013 season won't be as potent as it was in 2012, considering the loss of Tyler Bray. However, the Tennessee offense has averaged 389 yards per game over the past four years, which includes the entire tenure of Derek Dooley.
With Butch Jones at the helm, Tennessee should make a jump up from the bottom of the conference this coming season. He'll make improvements on the defense that will finally allow the offense to win games.
It will take time for Tennessee to return to championship form, but the offensive line will be one of the strongest units on this team. Loaded with juniors, expect Tennessee to have a lot of success in the trenches against most of its competition.
Whether that will translate to wins is another question entirely.
8. South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina's strengths lie on defense and at the quarterback position. The offensive line is good but not necessarily elite. While South Carolina will likely enter the season as a Top 10 contender, its ranking by pure offensive line talent would be much lower. (Unless the Gamecocks moved Jadeveon Clowney to that side of the ball.)
South Carolina does have one of the bigger lines in the conference, weighing in at an average of 319.2 pounds, but there are more talented groups vying for the title. The good news for South Carolina is that not many teams are more complete from top to bottom.
Even with a middle-of-the-pack offensive line, the Gamecocks are one of the top teams in the SEC. If the Gamecocks ever get a truly elite line, the rest of the SEC may not be as worried about Alabama anymore.
7. LSU Tigers
While LSU already has plenty of other things to worry about in 2013, fans should not overlook the fact that the Tigers are fielding an extremely young offensive line. There are two freshmen, two sophomores and one junior.
LSU needs a lot of players to step up in order to contend for the conference, but the offensive line is going to have to grow up fast. The junior, Josh Williford, will have to make sure he's giving all the advice to the rest of the linemen that he can.
Those young ones will have to pay attention and commit to listening to Les Miles and the rest of the coaching staff. It's ridiculous to assume that Miles won't field a contender.
LSU is a great team, and it's led by a great coach. If the offensive line (and Zach Mettenberger) can grow up, LSU can win the SEC. Plus, the offensive line can prove this list wrong if it impresses early on.
6. Ole Miss Rebels
Hugh Freeze has earned a lot of respect from the rest of the SEC for what he did with the Ole Miss Rebels. The season before he took over as head coach, the Rebels won two games. In his first year, they won seven.
Out of the past four years, the Rebels' most successful season was last year, and they averaged 423.8 yards per game. That was 20 yards per game better than the second-place performance way back in 2009.
Freeze hasn't wasted any time building a great team at Ole Miss, and the Rebels field an offensive line with only one sophomore. Other than that, they have two juniors and two seniors. The Rebels aren't ready to win the SEC West next season, but this offensive line could be the catalyst to at least one major upset in 2013.
5. Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas hasn't averaged fewer than 420 yards per game in any of the past four seasons. Yes, a lot of that is due to solid play from the rest of the offense, but the line gives the rest of the offense space and time to do what it does best.
Arkansas has gone through a lot over the past 18 months, but the offensive line will return under Bret Bielema in 2013 as a force to be reckoned with. Bielema will not take his sweet time whipping everyone into shape, and Arkansas will return to form this fall.
Granted, the Razorbacks will be breaking in a new quarterback, but the line should be good enough to give him the time he needs to adjust to the collegiate tempo.
4. Florida Gators
Florida had a spectacular season in 2012, and that was a welcome change from the years immediately following Tim Tebow's departure (and Urban Meyer, for that matter). Florida had everything it needed for a national championship last season, except a quarterback.
The offensive line wasn't elite, but it paved the way for the nation's 39th-best rushing attack. The strongest part of the Florida team was the scoring defense, which finished No. 5 nationally.
Florida's offensive line is a little young at the tackle position, but everyone else lined up is at least a junior. All but one of the players tip the scales at 300-plus pounds, and Will Muschamp is ready to take home a national title if he can get his quarterback to use the time he's got wisely.
Florida's team of trench minions will do everything in its power to put the Gators in the national championship. It's really a question of whether the rest of the team can get up to speed fast enough to earn a perfect regular season.
3. Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia has steadily improved in each of its past three seasons, both in total yardage and actual win/loss success. In 2011, Georgia lost to LSU badly in the SEC title game. This past year, the Bulldogs finished four points, four yards and four seconds shy of a berth in the national championship game. (Based on Notre Dame's performance against Alabama, one would have to believe that Georgia would have claimed the national title as well.)
Georgia had a stout defense and a few spectacular players on offense. Fortunately for Georgia fans, those key offensive players are all returning in 2013. Unfortunately, Georgia's offensive line wasn't the most stellar part of the picture.
However, a major point in Georgia's favor is that the line was still great, and there are three seniors and a junior returning to hold the fort for Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall in 2013. If Georgia doesn't make it back to the SEC championship game for the third year in a row, it won't be the line's fault.
2. Texas A&M Aggies
Texas A&M is the only team to have beaten Alabama last season, and the Aggies blew through every game on their schedule except for the Florida, LSU and Louisiana Tech matches. The toughest loss for the Aggies this offseason was All-American lineman Luke Joeckel.
Of course, this is a Texas football team. All-American Jake Matthews will gladly help make up for that loss, and he will do more than just fine. His brother Mike Matthews likely will step into the starting role vacated by senior Patrick Lewis this summer.
If Mike is half as talented as his older brother, Texas A&M may have the best offensive line in the country this fall. For now, the Aggies sit at No. 2 in the SEC, largely due to the small sample size of only one season in the conference so far. They will have an opportunity to overthrow the current No. 1 in Week 3.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Nick Saban is a giant among men, but the Tide are facing a big set of challenges this coming season. There are questions in the secondary, at linebacker, and on the offensive and defensive lines.
Alabama has won three of the past four national championships, and Saban has proven himself more than capable of recovering from any number of losses to NFL rosters over the years in Tuscaloosa.
This season, three replacements step up on the line for the Tide. Arie Kouandjio will join his brother Cyrus as a starter for the first time in 2013. Ryan Kelly will replace All-World Barret Jones at center, and Austin Shepherd is the final new piece in the puzzle.
The major thing working in favor of Alabama is Nick Saban's ability to move along as if nobody ever leaves the team. As long as Alabama fights complacency, at least the offensive line will be the best in the conference.
The defense, on the other hand, has a much bigger struggle on its hands.