- Brian Bennett, College Football
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It's time to wrap up the offensive side of the ball in our preseason rankings of the best players by position in the Big Ten for 2012.
Remember that these rankings are weighed heavily on past performance while taking potential into account. We've already gone over all the skill players; now we turn to the guys who do the dirty work in the trenches to make those big plays possible. Our offensive linemen rankings will give an edge to tackles over interior players since those positions are harder to man.
Here's how we see the best Big Ten big uglies (we say that with love) right now:
1. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan, junior: Lewan was a big key to the Wolverines' success last year, and if he continues to mature on and off the field, he could be an All-American. The 6-foot-8, 302-pounder is already being projected as a first-round pick in next year's draft.
2. Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin, senior: Bret Bielema likes to point out that every left tackle who has started for him has won the Outland Trophy. Wagner has a chance to keep that going in his second year guarding the blind side for the Badgers. The 6-6, 322-pounder doesn't talk a whole lot, but he says a lot with his play. Some have projected him as a top-five pick in next year's draft.
3. Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin, junior: Frederick was a second-team All-Big Ten performer last year, which doesn't fully denote his value. He started 11 games at guard, then moved to center for two games when Peter Konz was injured, including a start in the Big Ten championship game. Frederick will start the season at center this year, and if he makes as much improvement as Wisconsin linemen often do, he could be in line for national awards.
4. Chris McDonald, G, Michigan State: While the Spartans' offensive line went through some upheaval last season, McDonald provided an anchor. He started every game and played more snaps than any other lineman on the team, surrendering only one sack on the season. He has started 17 consecutive games at right guard and 26 overall.
5. Spencer Long, G, Nebraska, junior: Long is a former walk-on who didn't play in 2010 but started every game in 2011. And he made quite an impression, helping pave the way for the Huskers' powerful running attack. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder is expected to be a leader on the Nebraska line this year.
6. James Ferentz, C, Iowa, senior: Ferentz is more than just the coach's son; he's one of the most valuable offensive linemen in the league. An honorable mention All-Big Ten performer last year, he started in all 13 games and played just about every offensive down for the second straight season. With some new starters moving into place on the line, Ferentz will need to be a leader this year, and we know he's got that in his genes.
7. Graham Pocic, C, Illinois, senior: Pocic is awfully big for a center at 6-7 and 310 pounds and likely projects as a guard at the next level. But he's doing a great job at his current position, starting the past 26 games for the Illini. He was named the team's offensive MVP this spring and looks poised for a big season.
8. Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State, junior: Mewhort moved around last year for the Buckeyes, starting at right and left guard while also playing some right tackle. He'll start at left tackle this season, taking over for NFL second-round pick Mike Adams. At 6-6 and 310 pounds, he's got ideal size for the position.
9. Patrick Omameh, G, Michigan, senior: Along with Lewan, Omameh is one of the leaders of Michigan's offensive line. He has started 29 consecutive games at right guard and is as dependable as they come.
10. Will Matte, C, Indiana, senior: Matte has been one of the bright spots for the Hoosiers the past few years. He started the first 32 games of his career before getting injured in Week 8 against Wisconsin last year. He was a frequent game captain in 2011 and will be counted on to help guide his young teammates.
It's time to wrap up the offensive side of the ball in our preseason rankings of the best players by position in the Big Ten for 2012.Remember that these rankings are weighed heavily on past performance while taking potential into account.