BEST IN THE COUNTRY? As we sit a little over two months from actual kickoff to the 2016 season, magazines, predictions and rankings are rolling out. At ESPN.com, they asked their college football contributors to rank the nation's best units. Surprise, Iowa ranks #1 in something: the offensive line.
Perhaps this is a nod to 12-0 and Kirk Ferentz's reputation more than anything else. Iowa graduated two pretty damn good players from last year's squad in Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh. Iowa was in experimental mode with the interior line during spring practice, putting returning guard and best offensive linemen Sean Welsh at center. Kirk and offensive line coach Brian Ferentz also moved last year's starting left tackle Boone Myers inside to guard. Expect a possible change to this in August when a healthy James Daniels returns to the mix as well.
The rest of the rankings include Alabama, Florida State, Clemson and Boise State. If, and it's a big if, Iowa is close to a Top 5 offensive line unit expect big things from Iowa this fall. When Kirk Ferentz teams can run the ball they win games. The 2015 team finished as the 3rd best rushing team in the KF era. The other two, 2008 and 2002, were pretty good seasons.
Still, there's plenty of reason to be skeptical as an Iowa fan. Ike Boettger, despite starting the month of September last season, lost most of the year to injury and is still inexperienced. Boone Myers was exposed at tackle versus a higher level of competition, particularly Shilique Calhoun of Michigan State. He's been replaced by Cole Croston but how much of an upgrade is that? Is Keegan Render something? Has James Daniels improved or did the time missed to injury in the spring set back his development?
There are still plenty of questions heading into the season opener for the best OL in the country. There's starting experience thanks to the injury bug that hit the line hard last year, but it's still not four five-year seniors we're talking about here. Iowa is the best offensive line in the state of Iowa, for sure. The best in the Big Ten? Maybe. The best in the country? We'll see.