Welcome back to my ongoing Big Ten positional ratings as I try to predict the two teams who will face off in the Big Ten Championship Game this December. We’ve made it through quarterbacks, running backs, and pass catchers already and now we move to the offensive lines. You can find links to the completed positions at the end of this piece.
Every single team in the Big Ten East returns at least three starters on the offensive line, and thanks to the free year by the NCAA, a few of them return all five starters from last year. With so much talent and experience returning, it will be interesting to see if this causes more upsets or eliminates them.
At the very least, quarterbacks and running backs will have better chances to succeed this year thanks to the experience up front. And as always, defenses will be playing keep up.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes must replace two very good linemen in right guard Wyatt Davis and center Josh Myers, both of whom were All-Big Ten first-teamers. Ohio State returns its two starting tackles. Left tackle Thayer Munford was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection last year and right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere was a second-teamer. Together they are the best tackle tandem in the nation. This is Munford’s fourth year as OSU’s starting left tackle. Left guard Harry Miller returns, but he has been labeled the center of the future and the future may be now. Sophomore Paris Johnson played right guard this spring and was the No. 1 offensive line recruit in the 2020 class. He is expected to be more than fine. The fifth starting spot will come down to fourth-year junior Matthew Jones and redshirt freshman Luke Wypler, which could also possibly involve keeping Miller at left guard. The Buckeyes averaged 6 yards per carry last year (third nationally).
2. Penn State Nittany Lions
Just like the Buckeyes, Penn State must replace their starting center and a starting guard, but return their starting tackles and their returning guard could move to center. Left tackle Rasheed Walker has been good in his first two years of starting, but it’s time for him to be great. Right tackle Caedan Wallace started seven games last year as a redshirt freshman. He will be better this year now that he’s gotten more experience. Senior Mike Miranda has started the previous two years at both guard spots. He could be back at guard this year or could move to center. He was a Second-Team All-Big Ten selection last year. The other two spots will likely be manned by a combination of Juice Scruggs, Anthony Whigan, and former Harvard transfer Eric Wilson. Head coach James Franklin has done well in recruiting, so there is depth. This line was in the bottom half of the B1G in yards per carry and sacks allowed last year.
3. Michigan Wolverines
Last year was a mess in many ways for the Michigan offensive line. Injuries and COVID kept this unit from ever coming together and finding the cohesiveness that every offensive line needs. This year, things should be a bit less chaotic, and the departure of offensive line coach Ed Warinner has been seemingly received well by the Michigan offensive linemen. New coach Sherrone Moore has his players feeling more upbeat. Former walk-on Andrew Vastardis is likely the starting center again this year. Redshirt sophomore Trevor Keegan is not a returning starter but he was with the ones at left guard in the spring. Right guard looks to be Zak Zinter, who started four games there last year as a true freshman. The tackles are expected to be Ryan Hayes on the left side and Andrew Stueber on the right side. There are others with experience as well. This group allowed just eight sacks in six games last year. Overall, they’re better this year than last.
4. Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana is replacing starting center Harry Crider, but returns four other starters and a fifth who started half the season last year. Left tackle Caleb Jones has 18 career starts and has dropped 40 pounds from last year and is playing now at 355 pounds. Junior right tackle Matthew Bedford is back for his third year as a starter and should be at his best this year. A trio of guards Mackenzie Nworah, Dylan Powell, and Mike Katic combined for 16 starts last year in the Hoosiers’ eight games. Somebody needs to play center, whether it’s one of the three guards or Michigan transfer Zach Carpenter (who took part in spring ball). There is plenty of experience here and that generally bodes well for programs like Indiana that need time to build things. None of the returning starters received even Honorable Mention All-Big Ten notice last year, however. They led the B1G with just 1.25 sacks allowed per game, but were 13th in yards per carry.
5. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers returns all of their starters from last year and has increased the overall depth as well. They never really had one set lineup last year, however, and finished in the back half of the Big Ten in yards per carry and sacks allowed. There are seven players with starting experience, but head coach Greg Schiano is still searching for his top five. Once he finds his five, then he’ll figure out where everybody will play. Center Nick Krimin returns, but could end up anywhere on the interior. Reggie Sutton started nine games last year, spending time at both right tackle and right guard. He did get an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten nod last year. Left tackle Raiqwon O’Neal was also an Honorable Mention honoree. He is the only guy here who is really locked in at his position. Cedrice Paillant started seven games last year at left guard. Bryan Felter started six games at right guard and left guard last year as a freshman. There are others as well.
6. Maryland Terrapins
The Terps must replace a couple of interior starters, but do return seven others with starting experience. Some of that experience, however, is just one game. New offensive line coach Brian Braswell was a volunteer last year and has half-a-decade of NFL coaching experience. Redshirt sophomore Mason Lunford started once last year at right guard, but he was impressive this past spring and some are even saying he may be the best lineman on the team right now. Left tackle Jaelyn Duncan returns. He is a fourth-year junior with two years of starting experience and also an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten nod last year. Spencer Anderson has started five games at right tackle over the last two years, so he’s the most experienced option there. Center seems to be an open competition between past starters. Really, the same could be said for just about every job on this line. No group allowed more sacks per game (3.2) in 2021.
7. Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans return last year’s entire two-deep, featuring all seven players who started games last year. They have also added in a multi-year starter from Arkansas State in tackle Jarrett Horst. Even though the experience is definitely a plus, this group was one of the worst in the Big Ten last year. They produced the worst MSU running game in at least 75 years, and their 2.3 sacks per game allowed last year was good for 10th in the Big Ten. It’s almost pointless to go through all of the names because each of them could end up at another spot than they one they have worked at in the past. This group needs to stay healthy — which they didn’t do last year, and they need to find some consistency. Everybody will have an easier time of finding consistency this year and it wouldn’t be a surprise if injuries go down this year as well. If Michigan State is going to leave the basement this year, they need to find their best five guys up front.