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Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Big Ten year-end offensive line rankings (team)

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'll pick up my year-end rankings with the offensive line before heading over to the defensive side and wrapping up with the specialists. Much like the preseason rankings, these will be split into two parts: team and individual.

Let's begin with the team rankings, which mean more at this position than any other on the field.

1. Penn State -- Far and away the best group in the league, with no real weak spot along the front. Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley led the way at center, and left tackle Gerald Cadogan and guard Rich Ohrnberger also earned first-team All-Big Ten selections. Penn State led the league in most offensive categories and will have a hard time replacing Shipley, Cadogan and Ohrnberger in 2009.

2. Iowa -- Much like the running back position, the question marks about this group faded as the season progressed. Center Rob Bruggeman and guards Seth Olsen and Julian Vandervelde formed arguably the Big Ten's top interior trio. Tackle Bryan Bulaga is a budding star, and Iowa should enter 2009 with the Big Ten's top offensive front.

3. Wisconsin -- The Badgers were a major disappointment this fall, but the offensive line still proved to be a valuable group as Wisconsin led the league in rushing (212 yards per game). Speed trumps size in today's college football, but the Badgers' mammoth front created holes for P.J. Hill and John Clay. Losing All-Big Ten guards Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp will sting, but Wisconsin has bigger problems, like finding a quarterback.

4. Illinois -- There are several reasons why Illinois missed a bowl game, but the offensive line isn't one of them. The Illini finished second in the league in offense and tied for third in scoring, and center Ryan McDonald and tackle Xavier Fulton both earned All-Big Ten honors. Losing McDonald and Fulton will sting, but freshman tackle Jeff Allen is a budding star.

5. Ohio State -- The group underperformed for most of the season before coming on strong late. Injuries and a quarterback change didn't help matters, but Ohio State expected better things from a veteran-laden group left by left tackle Alex Boone. The Buckeyes ran the ball well at times but weren't consistent enough.

6. Michigan State -- Javon Ringer had a tremendous year, in part due to the offensive line, but Michigan State actually ranked ninth in the league in rushing and seventh in total offense. Not good. A mix of veterans and younger players jelled nicely, but this wasn't the most talented group in the league and could be better in 2009.

7. Purdue -- The Boilermakers' offense generated yards but not enough points, and the rushing game was nearly nonexistent despite the presence of a pretty decent back (Kory Sheets). Injuries hurt the group, which should be better in 2009.

8. Northwestern -- The league's youngest line certainly had its growing pains, and new coordinator Mick McCall likely adjusted his scheme to limit backfield damage. Northwestern allowed only 17 sacks and received strong play from center Ben Burkett and others, but the Wildcats struggled to run the ball consistently and broke down toward the end of the Alamo Bowl.

9. Michigan -- Like the rest of the offense, the line had its problems this fall. Four new starters and a fluid situation at quarterback didn't help, but Michigan never generated the push needed to execute Rich Rodriguez's scheme. The front five will be more experienced in 2009 and should improve with the right pieces around it.

10. Indiana -- The injury bug that ravaged the roster didn't spare the line, which lost several key pieces. Indiana ran the ball well at times with Marcus Thigpen and Kellen Lewis but allowed a Big Ten-worst 28 sacks. Defense hurt Indiana more than anything else, but the offensive line needs to be upgraded for next fall.

11. Minnesota -- Minnesota's problems up front were exposed in the final six games, all losses. Youth and an inability to create running lanes hurt the Gophers, who finished last in the league in rushing. New offensive line coach Tim Davis should get this group turned around for next season, when the power run will be a greater part of the offense.