Moving right along in our weekly series of the top players in each position group Iowa will face in 2017, it’s time to look at offensive line units. I went the unit route in this case, as it doesn’t make much sense to focus on individual lineman in terms of scouting and game-planning (Not that you, the reader, are going to be doing either of those. Unless you are Kirk Ferentz. Maybe Kirk reads BHGP. That would be pretty cool).
In any event, here’s a look at the top offensive line units on the Hawkeye football slate heading into the 2017 season.
Don’t look now, but the Cowboys return four starters from a unit that served as the road grader for one of the nation’s leading rushers and bodyguards for an elite passer in 2016. They were young a season ago, and they’ll be a little longer in the tooth when they come to Iowa City for opening weekend. Remember, Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl recruited the core of that North Dakota State team that won in Iowa City last year. The Hawkeye front seven will be tested right out of the gate, and that’s not a bad thing.
Honestly, this is a little low compared to where the Badgers would usually sit on a list like this. That said, they’ll still be a stiff test and a solid group. They return three starters, including Michael Deiter. He was an All-Big Ten honorable mention last year as a sophomore and could be one of the better centers in the country in 2017.
The Gophers are another team that returns four starters up front. On top of that, P.J. Fleck had one of the better offensive lines in the country while at Western Michigan. It’s an obvious area of focus for the new coach, and his new group figures to be one of the more aggressive units in the conference. They are led by a solid pair of tackles in Vincent Calhoun and Donnell Greene.
Mike Riley’s underrated group returns four starters from a unit that was one of the top pass-blocking teams in the country a season ago. They were in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in terms of run blocking according to Football Outsiders. I like them to improve on both fronts, mostly because of what should be less time with their quarterback holding the ball this season and a hesitation by opposing defenses to load up the box as a result of what figures to be a more effective passing game. They are led by Nick Gates, who could be the best offensive tackle in the conference.
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes lost Pat Elfein -- the best center in college football -- from a season ago. They’ll replace him with Billy Price, who was one of the top guards in the country last season. He’ll be joined on the line by offensive tackle Jamarco Jones — a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2016. They’ll be joined by fellow returning starters Michael Jordan and Isaiah Prince. A line with that sort of talent and experience protecting a backfield that includes J.T. Barrett and Mike Weber is a scary thought for anyone preparing to face the Buckeye offense.