So who has the best offensive line in the Pac 12? Honestly I really don't have a clue because there are plenty of question marks surrounding each team in the conference going into camp this August. ASU has the numbers and experience in spades but will that equal championship performance?
Oregon and Stanford are the best two teams in the conference but will they be able to overcome some serious losses due to graduation?
Arizona State...One reason the Devils are one of the favorites to win the Pac 12 South is because they have a lot of experience returning on the offensive line. They have eleven returning linemen who were either starting or were in the two deeps in 2010. It wasn't a dominating group but you would expect that another year of experience would yield some consistent performance. Center Garth Gerhart and tackle Evan Finkenberg are potential all league type players.
"We went against so many seniors last year, and I think we held our own. We ran the ball really well. We went against (a few) defensive tackles that could up being first-round (NFL) draft picks. Now we feel like we're going to go against guys that we're going to pick on a little bit, that we're going to dominate."
Stanford...The Cardinal lose three starters from last years offensive line but they do return tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro who are on everyone's All American watch lists. Stanford recruited well under Harbaugh and I think the Cards will be reloading rather than rebuilding. Kevin Danser, Tyler Mabry and Sam Schwartzstein are the leading candidates going into fall drill to claim the open starting spots.
Last year 4 of 5 starters returned and the offensive line as a whole combined for 126 career starts. Three of them were 5th year seniors. That talent and experience is irreplaceable and makes a huge impact on how the offense performs. They allowed the 2nd fewest sacks in the nation in 2010 (and 2009) and played a huge role in the fact that Stanford had the 3rd most efficient passing game. This year just two starters return.
Oregon...Darrion Weems and Mark Asper are a very solid combination at the tackle spots. Carson York is a beast at inside. Center is a big question mark at this point with Karrington Armstrong and Hroniss Grasu fighting it out for the job. Former walk on Ramsen Golpashin played quite a bit last season and will fight it out with Ryan Clanton for the open spot at guard. Honestly this could be a rebuilding year for this unit but based on past performance I wouldn't count on it.
In the past two years, the Ducks have brought in a barge-full of talented bodies for the O-line. To expect any of those true and redshirt freshmen to be ready to contribute in 2011, however, would be asking a lot, but perhaps not of Hroniss Grasu if he impresses at center.
Colorado...Colorado is surprisingly solid across the offensive line. The Buff's return three starters led by Ryan Miller and Ethan Adkins who will be among the best guards in the conference. David Bakhtiari has started eleven games for the Buffalo's and Blake Behrens is a former starter. There is plenty of young depth behind these guys so Jon Embree is getting a bit of a gift and head start by inheriting this unit. Embree was able to steal a couple coveted lineman from UW at the last minute last season which foreshadows future recruiting success.
The numbers contradict the talent level. With all of the above players, including All-American Nate Solder, Colorado still ranked 85th in rushing offense. Total offense? 79th. Scoring offense? 84th. These are not great numbers, folks...and not the numbers one would expect from a talented offensive line. Perhaps it was the coaching or play-calling of the previous regime which was to blame for the lack of production. Until proven otherwise, however, the Colorado offensive line has to be placed under the category of "underperforming."
Utah...The Ute's return three starters. Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen could be two of the best tackles in the conference. Tevita Stevens moves over from guard to man the center position. Whittingham's teams are always tough and technically sound. It will be interesting to see how that translates to the big step up in weekly competition.
It remains to be seen whether the glass is half-full or half-empty along the offensive line. On the one hand, three starters return, including a rock-solid tandem at tackle. On the other, however, the two graduating seniors, C Zane Taylor and G Caleb Schlauderaff, made last year’s All-Mountain West First Team. While the Utes will be working around a solid foundation, depth and the two guard positions will be unknowns until proven otherwise.
California...The Bears return three starters from a line that under performed in 2010. Tackle Mitchell Schwartz will contend for Pac 10 honors. Guards Brian Schwenke, Matt Summers-Gavin, and Justin Cheadle all return. The best news for this unit is the return of offensive line coach Jim Michalczik. Jim is regarded as one of the best OL coaches in the region and his return may be the spark the offense needs to take it to the next level.
Arguably the most significant factor in improving the Cal offense next year will be the play of the offensive line. I think we've all beaten the horse straight to the glue factory about last year's struggles and our dissatisfaction with the former position coach. Fortunately, we have a proven winner riding back from the sunset to save the day. Coach Michalczik spun straw into gold and turned unheralded recruits into NFL prospects during his previous stint with the Golden Bears. All told, he had twenty-one All-Pac-10 players. Know how many we've had since he left?
Washington...T Cody Habben and G Ryan Tolar who had 78 starts between have graduated. Neither of these guys were close to being all conference performers but they brought a lot of experience to the table that will be missed early this season. G Colin Porter and G Eric Koehler both started a number of games as true frosh in 2010. By the end of the season Porter was the most dominant lineman on the squad. T Senio Kelemete returns for his senior season with four years of starting experience under his belt. RS T Ben Riva is the likely starter at the other tackle spot. Drew Schaefer returns as the starter at center. Keep an eye on Colin Tanigawa who will compete for a starting ob at guard this fall.
Returning starting left tackles are always valuable, and Senio Kelemete is now a three-year starter overall on the offensive line. Kelemete's value may be even a little greater than just his position, however, given his overall leadership --- he's been elected a team captain each of the past two years --- and the youth of the offensive line. It was no coincidence that the OL seemed to struggle even moreso in the spring during the time that Kelemete was sidelined with a foot injury. The good news is he should be healthy for the start of camp.
USC...This group started to slip two seasons ago and the slide will continue due to the numbers challenge brought on by probation. The Trojans return two starters from an offensive line that didn't play very well last season. T Matt Kalil and G Khaled Holmes are solid Pac 12 players but the depth behind them is pretty spotty compared to the recent glory days of Pete Carroll.
It’s no question that the offensive line is the area Trojans Head Coach Lane Kiffin and fans are worried about the most. After the 2010 season, USC lost OT Tyron Smith, C Kris O’Dowd, OG Butch Lewis and OL Mike Reardon. The Trojans have always been good about filling spots with just as talented players. However, many Trojans are injured and this is creating depth problems not just on the O-line, but throughout the entire roster.
Oregon State...The Beavers have done a great job of evaluating and developing talent over the past decade. They have also found more than a few jewels in the state of Washington while the Husky program was in turmoil. 2010 was a rebuilding year for the unit and they return four starters for 2011. Will this offensive line rebound after a year spent being knocked around?
Facts are facts. Despite the presence of a veteran center Alex Linnenkohl it was not a good 2010 for LT Michael Philipp, LG Grant Johnson, Linnenkohl, RG Burke Ellis and RT Mike Remmers. Contrary to rumor, OSU's returning O-linemen did not immediately enter into the witness protection program after the Civil War game. They were not booed in class, or told to transfer to Portland State. The Beaver Nation can be a forgiving bunch.
Arizona...The Wildcats have a record setting returning quarterback and a bevy of receivers that would make any program in the nation jealous. That won't amount to a hill of beans if a completely rebuilt offensive line doesn't jell quickly next season. Arizona will start the season with five new starters on the offensive line and that is a huge hill to climb IMHO.
With no seniors on the two deep and having the distinction of being the nation's least experienced offensive line, it was no surprise that coach Mike Stoops, when asked what quality new line coach Robert Anae needed to bring to the position, answered: "Patience." Said Anae: "We're all rookies." Center Colin Baxter and tackle Adam Grant will be missed, but the good news is that the starting group has healthy knees, is more athletic and can grow up together. "The progress that needed to be made was made," Stoops said of the spring performance of the offensive line. "This group has the potential to be really good. They have a high ceiling.
UCLA....Injuries, Mormon missions, recruiting mistakes, and attrition have just killed these guys. Is it just bad luck? Is it lightning striking twice? The problems we are observing at UCLA are pretty similar to the problems that developed at Washington during Rick Neuheisel's tenure.
So I get it. UCLA football cannot catch a break. Whenever news comes we all catch our breath to wonder if it is something bad. The reaction to news of Stan Hasiak's dismissal was the predictable. There was the usual ... here we go again ... the wheel is falling off ... blah, blah, blah ... annoying, predictable comments (reminding me of pathetic Red Sox fans before they won it all). Sorry guys, I am kidding here a bit. So don't take it too personally. But instead of just panicking like bunch of wussies, I think it is worth looking at the whole situation and see what Hasiak's dismissal will mean for all our offensive line.
WSU...The Coug's return three starters from a group that gave up 51 sacks last season. We all know how young this team is and we all know that there will be improvement. The real question is if they have developed enough depth and talent to be competitive at the Pac 12 level. Injuries from playing players way before they were ready has been a problem over the past two seasons but perhaps the Cougars are close to getting over the hump this year. if they can give Jeff Tuel a little more time he can be quite dangerous.
Without a doubt no unit has symbolized the futility of the WSU Cougars since Paul Wulff took over like the offensive line. Their numbers over the past three years haven't just been bad -- they've been staggeringly bad. Just 2.6 yards per rushing attempt -- 120th out of 120 teams in FBS. The 146 sacks allowed are also dead last, 12 more than 119th Hawaii and 30 more than than 118th. WSU allowed more than 50 sacks two of the last three years; the rest of FBS football has combined for just three such seasons.