Big Ten media days are around the corner, and preseason practice will begin right after. So we're getting a jump on the festivities by examining and ranking each of the position groups around the league.
Next in this series: Offensive line.
Best of the best: Ohio State and Michigan State
Flip a coin here on which team has the best offensive line in the league. Michigan State could well have two All-Americans in left tackle Jack Conklin and center Jack Allen. The Buckeyes could match that number with left tackle Taylor Decker and guard Pat Elflein. Michigan State allowed just 11 sacks all of last year, while Ohio State's front improved greatly as the year went on and helped power the team to a national title. Four starters are back for each team as well. It's no coincidence that the best two teams in the Big Ten also have the best offensive lines, and both groups should provide the engine for their teams again this season.
Next up: Minnesota
How did the Gophers nearly win the West Division despite an almost nonexistent passing attack? With a physical, run-first offense that began with the hard-nosed guys up front, that's how. Minnesota has some seriously big dudes up front like Jonah Pirsig (6-foot-9, 324 pounds), Josh Campion (6-5, 310) and Ben Lauer (6-7, 310). Ohio State transfer Brian Bobek should step in at center and help this deep group continue to bulldoze its way down the field. Indiana's underrated crew deserves mention here as well, and the always-reliable Wisconsin offensive line should rank near the top if its depth issues don't prove too costly.
Yes, the Wolverines have been below average on the offensive line for a while now, but a maturing group and a coaching change could help reverse course. Mason Cole started every game at left tackle as a true freshman and is a future star. There's lots of experience alongside him, including Kyle Kalis, Ben Braden, Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson, and new offensive coordinator/O-line coach Tim Drevno has a sterling track record. Don't be surprised to see a major turnaround here.
Problem for a contender: Penn State
It would be a shock if the Nittany Lions aren't greatly improved on the offensive line this season. The hitch is that this group has miles to make up after last year's hideous performance, the roots of which were based in a lack of depth and experience. Junior-college transfer Paris Palmer should bolster things at tackle, Andrew Nelson is burgeoning star, and some youngsters who redshirted last season will at least improve the depth. Still, losing left tackle Donovan Smith early to the NFL stings. While this position can't possibly be as bad as it was in 2014, offensive line coach Herb Hand still has a lot of work to do to get it up to Big Ten standards.