With the first three spots in our rankings occupied by offensive skill-position types, let's get serious. None of those guys could operate without the services of the often-unheralded linemen.
Well, here's the first dose of recognition for a blue-collar bruiser.
No. 22: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
Previous ranking: Not ranked
Making the case for Scherff: How is it that Iowa occupies the No. 21 spot in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 despite losing three linebackers who loomed so large in the Hawkeyes’ four-game improvement from 2012 to 2013?
Look first at the return of left tackle Brandon Scherff for his senior season. Scherff turned down the NFL and a likely spot in the early rounds of the draft this spring to return to Iowa City after a breakthrough junior season in which he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league’s coaches and ESPN.com.
The 6-foot-5, 315-pound former high school quarterback and tennis player is nimble on his feet, anchoring an offensive line that allowed a Big Ten-low 15 sacks. He earned comparisons to former Iowa stars at his position, Riley Reiff and Bryan Bulaga, by dominating at times in a rugged league.
For a glimpse of his ability to control a game, check the tape from the Hawkeyes’ 23-7 victory at Minnesota on Sept. 28, when Iowa made no secret of its plan to run behind the big guy. Scherff helped open holes for the Hawks to churn out 246 yards. It was much of the same as Iowa won 38-17 at Nebraska two months later, rushing for three touchdowns and 156 yards.
Scherff’s prowess aided the quick maturation of sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock and allowed running back Mark Weisman to rush for 975 yards. Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri also gained almost 500 yards on the ground, proving that no matter who was running out of the backfield, as long Scherff remained in place up front, the holes opened.
No. 25: Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase
No. 24: Indiana WR Cody Latimer
No. 23: Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford