Top Five Series: Opposing Offensive Line Units

Written By T.J. Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)

Top 5 Opponents – Offensive Line

Our “Top 5” series continues this week as we head into the trenches to determine who we think the five toughest offensive line units the Hoosiers will face this season are. None of these top 5 lists have been easy to create and it’s difficult to determine which stats and pieces of film and bits of research matter and which ones don’t. That being said, this is our first non-individual ranking (we’ll be ranking the lines and a couple of other positions as units) so this list did require a slightly different approach. To get our list, advanced stats like adjusted line yards, adjusted sack rate and power success rate were considered as was factors like experience and recent recruiting history. 

Please note, this is not a B1G power ranking. Only teams that IU plays in 2015 are being considered for these lists. So, Wisconsin and Minnesota fans, your team isn’t being slighted, they just aren’t eligible for this particular ranking. 

5. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

This is undoubtedly the weakest part of the juggernaut that is the WKU offense. The QB is terrific, the WRs are dynamic and the RBs are extremely solid and consistent. The only thing that could potentially prevent the Hilltoppers from being one of the best offenses in college football is the offensive line. It’s not bad but it doesn’t appear to be ready to be especially good either. In 2014, the line ranked 56th in adjusted line yards and just 75th in stuff rate. On the positive side, they were in the top 25 in both power success rate and adjusted sack rate. This season, the line returns four players with starting experience (combined 61 starts) including their starting LT, LG and RG. However, they have to replace all-conference tackle Cameron Clemmons most of the depth consists of former 2-star recruits. 

Western Kentucky’s offense is going to be very good, there’s no question about that. Whether or not they are one of the elite offenses in the country could be determined by this offensive line. There are some positives (four returning starters, decent numbers in 2014) and some negatives (replacing Clemmons, no experienced depth) but overall, this line is probably no better than mediocre and it could be an area that IU can exploit if the Hoosiers revamped pass rush can get going.

4. Michigan Wolverines

Michigan lands at #4, in large part, because of their recent recruiting. 8 of their top 10 returning linemen were rated as either 4 or 5-star recruits (according to 247 Composite rankings). Recruiting rankings (aka perceived talent) aren’t everything but they are often quite telling. The Wolverines O-Line also returns quite a bit of experience (74 career starts returning) and showed significant improvement in 2014. Michigan finished the 2014 season in the top 50 (barely) in Adjusted Line Yards and nearly in the Top 30 in Power Success Rate as they converted 71.9% of their power rushing attempts (defined as a run on 3rd or 4th down with less than two yards to go that achieved a first down or TD). Another factor in their favor is Jim Harbaugh. The new UM coach is known for instilling a successful running scheme and new OC Tim Drevno has proven he can instill a smashmouth mentality. Five players (Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, Mason Cole, Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson) have starting experience and I think this unit will expect to be a Top 40 offensive line.

3. Purdue Boilermakers

The Boilermakers make their first appearance on any of our “Top 5” lists as they land in 3rd thanks to a large and experienced O-line. In 2013, most everything about the Boilers was putrid and that included the offensive line. 2014 brought significant improvement for the line and they return everyone from last season’s two-deep. Purdue’s 2014 line ranked 47th in adjusted line yards, third (up a stunning 122 spots from 2013) in power success rate and 46th in adjusted sack rate. 

Purdue improved a lot from 2013 to 2014 so I think it is realistic to expect a jump this season as well. The Boilers have a very large line (no rotation player is smaller than 6’3” or 294 pounds) and a lot of experience (89 career starts returning) and this should be one of the primary strengths for Purdue.

2. Michigan State Spartans

Under Mark Dantonio, the Michigan State Spartans have transformed into one of the more consistent winners in the B1G. Part of being a consistently good team is being strong up front. In 2014, MSU was able to produce one of the program’s best offenses behind an O-Line that ranked 7th in adjusted sack rate and 28th in both adjusted line yards and stuff rate. The Spartans have to replace 2014 2nd All-Big Ten left guard Travis Jackson but they return Jack Allen (All-American center), Jack Conklin (2nd team All-Big Ten left tackle) and a total of 88 combined starts. 

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

The defending national champions have done quite well in each of our “Top 5” pieces so it should come as no surprise to see the Buckeyes at the top of this list. Ohio State returns four starters and a combined 75 starts, including All-Big Ten RG Pat Elflein and All-Big Ten LT Taylor Decker. In addition to the returning starters, Ohio State has more quality depth than anyone in the conference. Every rotation back-up is a former four-star recruit so both the present and future looks to be very well-protected for the Buckeyes.

In 2014, Ohio State’s line ranked second in adjusted line yards and 12th in stuff rate. The only negative for this unit (or for the offense in general) was the sack rate, a surprisingly low 74th. Much of that sack rate can be attributed to the mobility of OSU’s quarterbacks as dual-threat QB’s tend to take more sacks. This unit was elite last season and there’s no reason to think they won’t be just as good in 2015.

Keep coming back to Hoosier Huddle for more tremendous preseason coverage!