This is part of a summer-long preview put together by the Armchair Big Ten department. We vote weekly on the best players at each position and will provide the ranking every Monday.
Here at Armchair Big Ten, we’re officially moving out of the glamour positions, or skill positions if you want to get technical. This week, we head to the trenches.
The Big Ten is well known for producing top-tier offensive linemen. This season’s batch, while perhaps not wielding the biggest names, still possesses plenty of talent. Statistics don’t tell the tale for offensive linemen like for other positions. It’s all about the eye test and the observable influence these guys have for their teams.
To repeat, it’s difficult to assess an offensive lineman’s contributions. He’s one of a minimum of five, sometimes more with tight ends on the line. Regardless of the work, the skill position guys get the glory. Nobody better exemplifies that concept than Brendan Mahon, who returns as one of the conference’s best, paving the way for Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley.
Mahon is a behemoth of a human and a versatile one, too. He’s gone up and down the line, even playing at tackle on both sides of the center when he was one of Penn State’s best linemen last season. Wherever he lines up, he is immense for the success of the Nittany Lions. If Barkley, or even McSorley as a dark horse, want to launch a Heisman campaign, they’ll be moving behind Mahon quite often.
Big Billy Price returns for his curtain call as an All-American and certainly one of the conference’s best. According to Ohio State’s website, Price is mirroring the move made by Pat Elflein last season by moving from guard to center. There is presumably a motive behind this for the Buckeyes, and it likely revolves around Price being one of the nation’s most talented linemen, regardless of where he’s blocking.
Another nugget from the Buckeyes’ website shows not only Price’s ability, but his consistency as well. The Austintown, Ohio, native has started 41 consecutive games and, barring unforeseen events, could break Luke Fickell’s record for consecutive starts at 50. Longevity is just as important as short-term skill, and Price has both. Perhaps he and J.T. Barrett will have to work on snaps, but Barrett needn’t worry about anyone getting by Price.
Allen finds himself in a situation similar to that of Price’s. Able to play across the line, there is a chance he lines up at center. While it’s more likely he plays in a familiar guard spot, Allen is one of the lesser-known talents in the Big Ten. That probably has something to do with their 1-8 conference record last season (3-9 overall).
Allen hasn’t been a career starter, but has been involved in all his seasons in East Lansing so far. Before, he was blocking for Connor Cook on a perennial contender for the conference title. Last season’s horror show aside, the Spartans have had great success recently, and there’s little reason they won’t return to that. With Allen spearheading the offensive line, things will come a little easier.
4Mason Cole, Michigan
While applauding Price for his accomplishments in 41 straight appearances, Cole is not far behind him. The senior-to-be has made 38 consecutive starts for the Wolverines, playing a multitude of positions. A candidate for the Rimington Trophy, Cole has one more season to show what he can do.
Things have changed since Cole was recruited to Michigan by Brady Hoke. Though the pro-style offense was supposed to come, it was more of a mess. Under Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines have some stability on offense, especially in the run game, and a lot of that falls on Cole, who is a terrific blocker. There’s a reason he became Michigan’s first-ever true freshman to start a season opener on the offensive line. He’s got so much talent, and while he may not be No. 1 on this list, he’s still among the best.
He may not have quite the resume his teammate Price has, but Jamarco Jones enters his second season as a starter for the Buckeyes with plenty to marvel at. He’s 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds and he follows many Ohio State greats at the left tackle position with great success.
He was voted Second-Team All-Big Ten by the coaches and the media, and while it may not be the greatest honor, it shows that, even as second fiddle on a loaded line, Jones’ prowess couldn’t be missed. Now, with a year of experience under his belt, things could get even better for Jones. Don’t bet on Barrett getting sacked from the blind side too often in 2017.
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NEXT WEEK: DEFENSIVE LINE