Now that summer has arrived, we’re inching closer and closer to football. This post marks the start of our newest series: a look at how each of the Wildcats’ units stands put up against other units in the Big Ten. Next up is the offensive line.
After a rough showing in the early part of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Big Ten shouldn't struggle as much in the 2014 NFL Draft, and that's due mostly to the offensive line. There's a lot of talent returning on Big Ten offensive lines this year, and the group should be as strong as it normally is. While the top few lines are well above the rest, the Big Ten is actually quite deep, and the league should once again have the good crop of offensive linemen that it's known for.
Teams to Watch (NU Excluded)
Ohio State — Almost the entire group of linemen is back from a group that showed off its tremendous talent in 2012. Tackle Jack Mewhort is a stud, and he and guards Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall will form quite the duo. There's still a battle for the starting job opposite Mewhort, but this group has tons of experience and is expected by just about everyone to pace the league.
Michigan — Ohio State should have the best and deepest unit, but Michigan has arguably the best player in tackle Taylor Lewan. In fact, Lewan is expected to be one of the best tackles in the country, and he was close to leaving for the NFL Draft this season, where he would have been one of the top tackles taken. Lewan and Michael Schofield will form one of the top tackle duos in the nation, but there is a lot to replace on the interior.
Nebraska — The Cornhuskers lose two-thirds of their interior, but this should still be one of the better offensive line groups in the Big Ten. Spencer Long will be one of the favorites to repeat for All-Big Ten honors, with plenty of young talent surrounding him on the inside of the line. On the outside, tackle Jeremiah Sirles will be one of the better players in the league.
Players to Watch (NU Excluded)
Taylor Lewan, Michigan — Lewan is expected to be the best tackle in the Big Ten this year after skipping out on the NFL Draft last year, and now his quest begins to be the best in the nation. That's certainly an attainable goal for him, and he should rack up plenty of awards by the time the season ends.
Spencer Long, Nebraska — As we mentioned above, Nebraska loses two-thirds of the interior of its offensive line. However, there is a lot of depth on this year's unit, and also a bona fide star in Long. The senior should land on most All-Big Ten teams and be the best player for an all-around solid group.
Jack Mewhort, Ohio State — Mewhort is one of the stars on a group that has developed well in recent seasons and is ready to take the league's top spot. Expect Mewhort to garner All-Big Ten attention this preseason as one of the league's top tackles along with Lewan.
Michigan State — Michigan State's offense was horrendous last season, and while quarterback Andrew Maxwell and the wide receivers certainly share some of that blame, an injury-plagued Michigan State offensive line was a major part of the problem. This year, the Spartans return a lot of talent and experience, and if everyone can stay healthy and live up to their potential, this group could finish as one of the top four lines in the Big Ten. Besides having a great name, tackle Fou Fonoti is a great player coming back from injury, but the interior will be the strength, paced by All-Big Ten candidate Travis Jackson at center. There's plenty of depth, especially at guard, and this should be a bounce-back year for the Spartans.
Where Does NU Fit In?
It's really tough to say where this Northwestern team fits in. It could end up being the eighth best unit in the league, or it could finish in the top five. It's a young, but talented group that will likely follow a similar path to last year's unit — it may struggle in the early going, but should find its groove later in the year, as long as everything comes together. The Wildcats have build up a lot of solid depth over the past few years, and it's starting to show, with quality competition among very talented players at both tackle and guard. Brandon Vitabile is a staple at center, and Jack Konopka will be starting at tackle — initially at left tackle, but he could potentially switch back to the right side. The rest of the positions are up in the air for now, but if the group comes together well, it has the talent to be very successful.
Way Too Early All-Big Ten Team
Tackle — Taylor Lewan, Michigan; Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
Guard — Spencer Long, Nebraska; John Urschel, Penn State
Center — Brandon Vitabile, Northwestern
Tackle — Jeremiah Sirles, Nebraska; Ryan Groy, Wisconsin
Guard — Andrew Norwell, Ohio State; Jack Allen, Michigan State
Center — Corey Linsley, Ohio State
Way Too Early Power Rankings
1. Ohio State, 2. Nebraska, 3. Michigan, 4. Wisconsin, 5. Penn State, 6. Michigan State, 7. Northwestern, 8. Iowa, 9. Purdue, 10. Minnesota, 11. Indiana, 12. Illinois