The Big Ten is carrying the reputation of being one of the weakest conferences in college football right now. Fortunately, one area where the Big Ten may be the strongest is the offensive line.
In the past three drafts, the Big Ten has had three linemen selected in the top five picks, including the No. 1 pick in 2008. 2009 is no different with All-American candidate Bryan Bulaga and many more who could surprise.
In 2008 Purdue's O-line had a lot of trouble making holes for their running game, which finished eighth in the Big Ten with 124.4 yards per game, and allowed 24 total sacks.
This year the line returns four starters, but none of them has ever started more than nine games at one position, as new offensive line coach and now head coach Danny Hope had to find where each one on the inexperienced line fit.
There are three seniors in this group in Zach Jones, Eric Hedstrom, and Jared Zwelling. Despite those three having the most experience, this group is headlined by sophomore Dennis Kelly.
Kelly was a freshman last year and burned his redshirt as he started four games at left tackle. Kelly shows promise of being the future of this offensive line.
In 2008 Michigan State returned three starters, and the line was able to cut the sack total from 30 in 2007 to 24 in 2008, but the rushing YPG dropped from 198 to 130 and 10th in the Big Ten.
This year the team loses the entire right side of its offensive line with the departure of three-year starters Roland Martin and Jesse Miller.
Center Joel Nitchman is the most experienced of the group and should be a guide for sophomore Jared McGaha, who should be replacing Roland Martin at right guard. Last year redshirt freshman Joel Foreman proved to be a solid replacement at left guard and should remain there this year.
This will be Rocco Cironi's last year playing for the Spartans, and although he has been solid, he needs to step up his game to protect the Spartans' new QB and open more holes for the new running game.
The Wildcats have made vast improvements in the past couple years on both offense and defense under head coach Pat Fitzgerald. One area that still needs to see improvements is the offensive line. In 2008 the Wildcats' sacks allowed total dropped 10 from 32 to 22, and rushing YPG increased from 120 to 142.
In 2009 the Wildcats have four starters returning but are still very young. Center Ben Burkett, right guard Doug Bartels, and left tackle Al Netter are all only sophomores. RT Kurt Mattes is the only senior on the squad but only started two games last year after starting 12 back in 2007.
The Wildcats do lose their second all-time leading rusher Tyrell Sutton, meaning their rushing YPG will likely drop, but the sack total may continue to drop, as Mike Kafka is a very good scrambler.
Illinois is very strong in all areas of offense except for one, and that is their offensive line. The Illini have three returning starters from an offensive line that allowed nine more sacks in 2008 than in 2007 and saw their rushing production drop 87 yards per game.
The right side of the line should be very strong with sophomore Jeff Allen returning at right tackle, senior Jon Asamoah returning at right guard, and senior Eric Block at center.
The left side, meanwhile, has some major question marks. Sophomore Corey Lewis will replace two-year starter Xavier Fulton at left tackle, as he played in four games in his freshman year. The vacancy at left guard will then be filled by redshirt freshman Graham Pocic.
The Illini should definitely see an increase in rushing yards with some more proven backs, but they will need to cut down the sacks.
The 2009 Indiana offensive line should be one of the best they've had in a long time.
The Hoosiers return four starters from a line that showed significant improvement in 2008. Both rushing yards per game and sack totals improved in 2008, with sacks decreasing from 31 to 28 and rushing YPG increasing from 157 to 167.
This year the group should be led by two seniors: Pete Saxon at center and Roger Saffold at left tackle. Junior James Brewer will replace departing right tackle Mike Stark. The guard position will be filled by junior Cody Faulkner at right guard and sophomore Justin Pagan at left guard.
Rushing yards are likely to drop with the departure of running back Marcus Thigpen and the dismissal of quarterback Kellen Lewis, but the sack total should continue to drop.
The Badgers' line last year struggled with injuries and rarely played at full strength. They still managed one of the better running games in the Big Ten with 211 rushing YPG but allowed 29 sacks, still down four from the year before.
This year they only have two returning starters, so they are likely to take somewhat of a step back.
Junior Gabe Carimi at left tackle is the leader of this line after having started 23 games in his first two seasons. Junior center John Moffitt is another returner who started every game at center last year.
Josh Oglesby looks to be a strong fill-in at right tackle, but junior Bill Nagy's job of filling in Kraig Urbik's spot at right guard should prove a little more difficult. Junior Jake Bscherer redshirted last year due to the Badgers' strong depth and should do a fine job filling in for left guard Andy Kemp.
Despite a strong line, look for the rushing numbers to drop a little because instead of having two dynamite backs in P.J. Hill and John Clay, they now only have Clay.
Last year, as expected with five starters returning, Penn State's offensive line was easily the most dominant in the Big Ten.
Three of the linemen made the All-Big Ten first team, including Big Ten lineman of the year and Rimington Award winner A.Q. Shipley. The other two were left tackle Gerald Cadogan and left guard Rich Ohrnberger.
All three of them are gone this year, but the Nittany Lions still have some quality starters returning.
Stefen Wisniewski, who made All-Big Ten second team at right guard, will make the shift from guard to center to replace Shipley. Dennis Landolt, who received honorable mention for All-Big Ten, will also return at right tackle.
The newcomers are junior Lou Eliades at right guard, redshirt freshman Matt Stankiewitch at left guard, and sophomore DeOn'tae Pannell at left tackle.
The line still should be good, but it likely won't lead the way for the No. 1 rushing game and only give up 13 sacks like it did in 2008.
Last year Minnesota's offensive line had to replace a couple of three-year starters and another one-year starter. As expected, both the rushing yards and sacks were much worse. Rushing yards dropped from 162 to 104, while sacks increased from 13 to 30.
This year the line returns four out of five starters, led by right guard Matt Carufel and left guard Dominic Alford. Sophomore center Ryan Wynn and junior right tackle Jeff Wills are the other returning starters. The single newcomer is senior Matt Stommes, a converted defensive lineman.
Expect the numbers to improve vastly in 2009, especially the sack total. The rushing game should also improve as the No. 1 back was injured last year.
Despite the horrendous QB play in 2008 for the Wolverines, the one area that was worse on offense was O-line play. It's not surprising as they only returned one starter.
Fortunately, it was also one area in which improvement could be seen each week, and it will be the most improved area on offense according to the coaches and those that were able to watch the team this spring.
The group returns all five starters and is led by junior Stephen Schilling, who has been playing out of position at tackle the past two years but will now move back to his more natural position at left guard.
Sophomore David Molk returns at center after taking every snap last year. David Moosman also returns at right guard after playing every snap.
Senior Mark Ortmann returns at left tackle, while right tackle remains the one position in question. Junior Perry Dorrestein started four games there last year but missed five other games with injuries and is being challenged heavily for the starting spot.
Sophomore Mark Hyuge appears to be making the strongest push, while Patrick Omameh, who is the most physically impressive lineman, could take it.
Despite the horrible play last year, Michigan only allowed 22 sacks, and that number should decrease this year with a mobile QB. Expect the rushing yards also to increase with their No. 1 and No. 2 backs healthy, unlike last year, when they were starting a freshman.
The Buckeyes' offensive line in 2008 was one of the worst in recent memory. They maintained their average rushing YPG of 192 but gave up 29 sacks—the highest number since 2003 and third highest in Jim Tressel's tenure.
This year three starters will play at different positions. Senior Jim Cordle moves to right tackle after starting nine games at left guard and three at center. Junior Bryant Browning moves to right guard after starting 13 games at right tackle.
The last returning star is sophomore Mike Brewster, who started ten games at center and will remain there.
Junior Justin Boren transferred from arch-rival Michigan and will start at left guard. Sophomore Mike Adams will likely start at left tackle after battling injuries in his freshman year.
This is one area where the Buckeyes year after year have underperformed. If they play to their ability, expect the rushing numbers to drop a bit with the departure of Beanie Wells, but expect sack totals to drop as Terrelle Pryor matures.
The Hawkeyes come into the 2009 season with a line that is easily the best in the Big Ten and is one of the top five in the nation. Last year the line paved the way for Doak Walker winner and Big Ten offensive player of the year Shonn Greene.
The group is headlined by junior left tackle Bryan Bulaga, who should be the next in a long line of premier offensive linemen coached by Kirk Ferentz, as Bulaga will challenge for an All-American nod this year at the tackle position.
Senior right tackle Kyle Calloway is another returning starter. Calloway earned All-Big Ten second team honors last year and along with Bulaga makes up the best tackle combo in the nation. Junior Julian Vandervelde is the final returner at left guard.
Senior Rafuel Eubanks will take the spot of center after playing in nine games last year, while senior Andy Kuempel will start at right guard after missing most of 2008 with injuries.
Despite the departure of Greene, expect their rushing numbers to stay pretty steady and sack total to drop even more after dropping from 46 to 27 in 2008.