If Games Were Decided by Linemen, Who Wins in Week 1?

Javier ZavaletaContributor IAugust 18, 2011

If Games Were Decided by Linemen, Who Wins in Week 1?

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    These judgements are mostly based on the number of returning starting linemen.

    Returning starter = Started at least seven games in 2010.

    I won't count size or recruiting stars but I'll mention it when it presents itself.

    So consider the argument that games are won in the trenches.

    Sounds right. If the offensive linemen can't block, the quarterback doesn't have the time to throw. Running backs can't run over or evade the front seven, and wide receivers won't have time to run their routes

    If the defensive line doesn't rush the passer or stop the run, safeties and corner backs have to cover their receiver until the QB makes a good decision. If running, linebackers are being blocked by offensive linemen who are 50 pounds heavier because they already knocked over the D-line. If pass, rush linebackers are taking blocks that were supposed to be taken up and in coverage they have to keep up with tight ends or running backs for the whole play.

    Like all methods, it's not perfect because you always have replacements putting on a show. Returning starters could just continue to be inconsistent or all of a sudden become so.

Wake Forest @ Syracuse

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    Advantage: Even

    Both Syracuse and Wake Forest return four of their five offensive lineman from last year.

    Both O-lines were in the bottom half of the league in sacks allowed (WF - T-77th, 'Cuse - 94th). Wake averaged 18 more yards than Syracuse in rushing, which is hardly significant. Syracuse does return 2nd Team Big East, Justin Pugh.

    On defense 'Cuse returns its edge rushers, including Arthur Jones's little brother Chandler (2nd Team Big East). Wake runs a 3-4 and only returns Nikita Whitlock at nose guard. But I won't say they can't win keep up because they return both of their rush linebackers.

    Wake Forest is undersized. Whitlock, the nose guard, is 260 lbs and 5'11''. Assuming he's ripped, he's more ideal the size for a 4-3 linebacker than an interior lineman. On the other side, 'Cuse isn't exactly a bunch of big guys either and Wake Forest's O-line is huge compared to the 'Cuse D-line.

    I would put my money on the team with the better skill positions at this point. I say it'll be a shoot-out with both defenses incapable of stopping either line.

TCU @ Baylor

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    Advantage: Baylor

    Baylor returns four of its offensive linemen and three of its four linemen.

    TCU fields one O-lineman and two D-linemen.

    It seems simple. Last year, TCU brought back the same number of lineman as Baylor did. They ended up fourth in scoring offense and first in scoring defense, which held down a juggernaut Wisconsin offense that brought back all five linemen, including All-Americans G John Moffitt and T Gabe Carimi.

    Common sense says TCU gets manhandled on offense. Even if I give respect to Gary Patterson's 4-2-5 defense, the new guys on the line Braylon Broughton and Jeremy Coleman have to replace 1st Team Mountain West DE Wayne Daniels and 2nd Team NT Cory Grant.

    Even though Baylor did lose first-rounders Danny Watkins and Phil Taylor, you have to be impressed by the job that Art Briles' staff does with linemen. Beyond Watkins and Taylor, they also produced Denver's starting center JD Walton and Rams starting tackle and third overall pick Jason Smith.

Northwestern @ Boston College

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    Advantage: Northwestern

    Northwestern returns four of its offensive line versus Boston College returning only Kaleb Ramsey at left defensive tackle.

    Note that N'western returned most of its line last year and the year before. They did get nicked up here and there, but overall they haven't had the stellar production one would expect.

    Understand though that Spaziani consistently does a good job of teaching his defensive tackles gap control, allowing his linebackers to make good reads and stop up the run. Here's the but, though. Dan Persa is one of the most efficient passers in the country and saying that BC won't be able to apply the pressure needed to shake him is a very possible scenario.

    On offense, BC returns three of its front five if you count Ian White as a returning starter. They lost first-rounder LT Anthony Castonzo and RT Rich Lapham. Meanwhile, N'western brings back 2nd Team All-Big Ten Vince Browne and potential stars DE Kevin Watt and DT Jack DiNardo.

    It seems more likely that Northwestern will be able to take advantage of BC's inexperience up front than BC will be able to hold them up.

Minnesota @ USC

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    Advantage: USC

    Matt Limegrover, Minnesota's new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, had made a name for himself in the WAC for always having a power run offense.

    The only veterans at Limegrover's disposal though are Ed Olson and Chris Bunders. Left guard Bunders has been a mainstay the past two seasons and Ed Olson started nine games and did will at left tackle. Ryan Wynn started every game in 2008 and did well but missed all of 2009 on injury and he didn't see much action in 2010.

    USC lost DT Jurrell Casey, who went pro after a strong season, but they return everyone else. Nose tackle Christian Tupou started all of 2008 and became an honorable mention All-Pac-10 in 2009. In 2010, Tupou tore some knee ligaments and was sidelined the whole season. Between him and last year's starter DaJohn Harris, USC will have a capable nose tackle. At defensive tackle, Armond Armstead missed the spring with a medical condition and in his place George Uko became the star of spring. Between Tupou/Harris, Uko/Armstead, Nate Perry and Newcomer Wes Horton, USC brings not only experience but also quickness that should prove too much for Minnesota's inexperienced O-line.

    Minnesota brings back three of four starters on the defensive line against USC's two on O-line. Defensive end DJ Wilhite is more of an "if" than a "when he does good," but on the interior between Jacobs and Kirksey they're fine.

    I'll give Minnesota's four linemen the benefit of the doubt and say they are able to put some pressure on Matt Barkley.

    Here's the but. Since Minnesota has new coordinators on both sides and different philosophies, I'll give USC the edge. Note that I didn't look at Minnesota's linebacker corp, which seems more than capable of dismantling opposing offenses.

    I have a soul. I'm not a USC fan, I just do my research.

South Florida @ Notre Dame

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    Advantage: Notre Dame

    USF's lone starter on O-line is left Guard Jeremiah Warren. He and four new guys face a 3-4 Line that features Ethan Johnson, who turned out to more natural as a 3-4 DE than a 4-3 DT and did well. Kapron Lewis-Moore had 62 tackles as a 3-4 DE, a spot that doesn't always rack up the stats. Nose guard will be between Sean Cwynar, who is undersized but did well replacing an injured Ian Williams last year, and Louis Nix, who was a big-time recruit and weighing in at 340 lbs (definitely eats his breakfasts).

    USF's defensive line also returns one starter. They return nose tackle Cory Grissom and have three new starters of a defensive line responsible for finishing 22nd in the country in scoring defense. Notre Dame though returns four of its O-line from last year as compared to last year when they only returned two.

    I say Notre Dame has no problem on either front.

Brigham Young @ Ole Miss

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    Advantage: BYU

    On offense, Brigham Young returns four on its linemen and both of its tackles, while Ole Miss returns one end that suffered an ACL injury last season and none of its interiors. They return 1st Team All-MWC Matt Reynolds, honorable mention Braden Hanson and honorable mention Terence Brown.

    On Ole Miss's offense they return everyone but its right guard, including 2nd Team left tackle Bradley Sowell. BYU returns both rush linebackers, both ends and nose guard Romney Fuga, who had a good sophomore year then had a season ending injury last injury last year.

    Ole Miss can compete with BYU's defense when it comes to matching up who has the most experience on either side. The Ole Miss defense is a different story. The chemistry they need to penetrate an experienced line will come but not in the first game of the season.

Boise State vs. Georgia (Atlanta, GA)

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    Advantage: Boise State

    Georgia can be good on defense this year, as they return both of its defensive ends but not their nose guard Kwame Geathers, who measures in at 6'6'', 350 lbs. At rush linebacker, Georgia returns Cornelius Washington, who started eight games last year and Jarvis Jones, the transfer from USC, will attempt to replace Justin Houston and his 10 sacks.

    Boise State brings back three of its linemen and although its heaviest guy is Nate Potter, they have no problem of proving they can deal with bigger teams in recent years. I'll call it even, though Georgia is probably more talented. Let's face it though, if you look at their recruiting, they've been talented the past three years and disappointed comparatively to expectations (but I'll save that for another article).

    UGA's offense took a big hit this offseason. Its senior left tackle, Trinton Sturdivant, will be out the season with a blown ACL and that puts UGA in spot they were in during the 2008 season where linemen have to be shuffled into different places. Cordy Glenn, last year's left guard is at left tackle, Kenarious Gates who played right guard moves to left guard and Justin Anderson was moved from the defensive side last spring to right tackle even though he's more of a right guard than a tackle. The only thing that could be worse is if Ben Jones gets hurt. Chris Burnette, who will be the new starting right guard, would have to move to Center.

    As fragile as that looks, Boise State will be poised with three starters back to its 4-3 defensive line on a defense that finished second in country (against the WAC, but still).

Oregon vs. LSU (Arlington, TX)

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    Advantage: LSU

    Last year Oregon gave us a great impression of their offense. With five starters returning on its offensive line, they paved the way for an efficient passing game from Darren Thoma and a 1,700 yard season from LaMichael James. So far Oregon is ranked at No. 3 on the coaches poll. This year its line returns two starters at right tackle and left guard. LSU returns both of its ends and if I'm an Oregon fan I'm hoping this freshman DT Anthony "The Freak" Johnson isn't as good as his nickname.

    On defense it's not good for the Ducks. I don't buy it when I hear that teams reload. You know when they lose everybody and they're still ranked in the top ten (see preseason rankings of No. 7 LSU in 2008, No. 13 Oklahoma [after Sam Bradford's Injury], No. 4 USC in 2009, No. 1 Alabama, No. 4 Florida and No. 5 Texas last year). That's the story of Oregon's defense, with the only man returning on its line being Terrell Turner. The replacements have to step in where stood 2nd Team Pac-10 Brandon Bair, Kenny Rowe and honorable mention Zac Clark.

    I give LSU's advantage the advantage on offense. They return four starters from last year and even though they have an offensive coordinator that isn't Steve Kragthorpe, I say this becomes the year they learn form their mistakes. Oregon's D-line might become better then LSU's at some point in the season, but not in the first game.

SMU @ Texas A&M

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    Advantage: SMU

    It's intriguing. Texas A&M will probably step up and be the premiere team in the country because four of its offensive linemen and both of its ends and a nose guard that was a starter for six games are returning. SMU is also returning everyone. All of their O-line and all of their D-line (3-4 as well). A&M won't return their right guard, a full-time nose guard or their joker (who last year was Von Miller), and the only person SMU won't return is its buck linebacker.

    Honestly I think the Aggies will be a championship contender. I think they will go toe-to-toe with a team like Oklahoma and win (provided injuries don't occur). All I'm saying is I wouldn't put money on this game.

Maryland @ Miami

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    Advantage: Even

    It'll be a Monday game. Miami is amidst investigation and all of a sudden OLB Sean Spence, DB JoJo Nicholas and QB Jacory Harris' eligibility are now in question. Scholarship losses and bowl games are now in the air.

    Miami's returning four offensive linemen and the fourth, Seantrel Henderson (started eight games, freshman All-ACC), is questionable on whether he'll play or not and if he does red shirt, freshman Malcolm Bunche will start left tackle (where Henderson is projected to play).

    Maryland will return its defensive tackles (which is deep), but its defensive end and rock rusher are new.

    On the other side, it's the same thing for Miami. Three of four defensive linemen will be returning, but Marcus Forston (started 12 games) is questionable coming off an MCL injury. If he doesn't play, sophomore Luther Robinson (two starts) will. They'll also be playing three returning starters but on Maryland's offensive line.