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Big East preseason position rankings: Offensive line

8/27/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

We started our preseason position rankings with the skill players. Now let's get to the big guys. Here are the rankings for the offensive line:

1. Rutgers: No brainer here. The Scarlet Knights return all five starters from a line that was playing great down the stretch last season. Anthony Davis is the most talented left tackle in the league, and Ryan Blaszczyk might be the best center in the Big East, while Kevin Haslam and Art Forst are both huge (each is over 6-foot-7) and talented. This should be Rutgers' main strength this season.

2. Pittsburgh: The Panthers bring four starters back from last year but have so much depth that some of the veterans might head to the bench. Jason Pinkston is a standout left tackle and John Malecki is one of the league's best guards. Sophomore Chris Jacobson is pushing senior Joe Thomas, while sophomore Lucas Nix should play a big role this season. The question mark is at center, where Robb Houser needs to show improvement or risk being replaced by Malecki.

3. Cincinnati: The Bearcats lost the right side of their line to graduation but still have left tackle Jeff Linkenbach, left guard Jason Kelce and center Chris Jurek to protect Tony Pike. And new right guard C.J. Cobb and right tackle Alex Hoffman have playing experience.

4. Connecticut: Losing All-Big East first team left tackle Will Beatty hurts, but UConn's line should still be in fine shape. Massive Dan Ryan (6-8, 313) takes over for Beatty, Moe Petrus is a potential star who's moving to center, and Zach Hurd is one of the league's better interior linemen. Can this line adapt to the no-huddle game? We'll find out.

5. West Virginia: Talent's not much of a concern, but experience is. Other than right tackle Selvish Capers, no one has started a full season on this line. A redshirt freshman, Joe Madsen, is now at center, with Eric Jobe moving to guard. The coaching staff loves sophomore Josh Jenkins, who saw time as a true freshman before getting hurt, and Don Barclay should be steady at left tackle. It may take some time for this line to gel, however.

6. South Florida: Speaking of needing time to gel, the Bulls' line might still be learning one another's names. They lost four starters from a year ago, and hardly any of the current contributors played in the spring. A junior college transfer, Jamar Bass, is starting at left guard, while former defensive lineman Sampson Genus is holding the fort at center. The first couple of games may be key for this unit to come together.

7. Louisville: Eric Wood and George Bussey were clearly the best two linemen the Cardinals had last year, and they're both gone. Mario Benavides will try to inherit Wood's large presence at center, while Byron Stingily is currently in line to start at left tackle. Greg Tomczyk, Mark Wetterer and Abdul Kuyateh all saw significant time last year, but as a whole the group needs to show improvement.

8. Syracuse: The Orange line figures to get vastly better, considering head coach Doug Marrone is a former O-linemen himself and will make sure of it. Given the Orange's very shaky performance in the spring, however, it seems this line has a ways to go. Jim McKenzie is one of the league's premier centers, however. Ryan Bartholomew and Tucker Baumbach are returning starters on the left side of the line, which has to learn yet another offensive system.