With spring ball a month away, we'll be ranking the position groups in the Big 12 over the next two weeks. These evaluations will be based on past performance, future potential and quality depth of the entire group. Our outlooks will probably be different after the spring. But this is how we see them at the moment.
We continue this series with the offensive line:
1. Baylor: The Bears lose four starters, but the returning All-Big 12 center, a tremendous track record and an outstanding recruiting class up front give them the top nod. Maurice Porter and Dominic Desouza, both 2015 juco transfers, will likely get the first cracks at the bookends, while Branton Autry, the nation's No. 1 juco guard this year, will look to slide somewhere inside. However it falls together, center Kyle Fuller will be the glue. Baylor has had several outstanding offensive lines in a row. There's no reason to doubt the 2016 edition will be any different.
2. West Virginia: The Mountaineers return four starters off what was the second-best rushing offense in the Big 12 last season. Tyler Orlosky had a terrific junior season manning center, while Adam Pankey and Kyle Bosch really settled in at the guard spots. West Virginia could stand to improve at the tackle spots. But the trio inside could set the tone for another powerful rushing attack.
3. TCU: Injuries to the frontline in 2015 should give the Horned Frogs a leg up for next season. Austin Schlottman played well in relief of Joey Hunt down the stretch last season, and should take over as the full-time center. Joseph Noteboom was solid in pass protection from the right side last year, while Aviante Collins got an extra year back and should man the tackle spot opposite Noteboom. Matt Pryor has the versatility to play either guard and tackle. Juco transfer Chris Gaynor will have a chance to nail down one of the starting guard spots.
4. Texas: The Longhorns boasted a pair of freshman All-Americans last season in left tackle Connor Williams and right guard Patrick Vahe. They'll be looking for both to take another big step forward as sophomores. Kent Perkins' veteran presence will be critical, and he can play either guard or tackle. Incoming freshman Zach Shackelford, an early enrollee, could challenge at center. The Longhorns are hoping that former juco transfers Tristan Nickelson and Brandon Hodges can chip in somewhere.
5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose a pair of all-conference interior performers in Ty Darlington and Nila Kasitati, but Orlando Brown and Dru Samia showed a ton of promise as freshman offensive tackles. Jonathan Alvarez will slide over from guard to center to replace Darlington, while Alex Dalton and Jamal Danley are the favorites to start at the guard spots. After early struggles, this group made tremendous strides last season. If they can build on that, they could turn into one of the top three or four offensive lines in the Big 12 once again.
6. Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State returns all five starters, but it isn't clear whether that's good or bad. The Cowboys ranked ninth in the Big 12 in rushing yards in 2015, and though the running backs were partly to blame, so was the offensive line. Guard was the biggest problem area, and the Pokes are hoping juco All-American Larry Williams can plug that hole immediately. This group has basically played together for two years running, with more depth now behind it. If it begins to gel, the Cowboys could be rather dangerous offensively.
7. Kansas State: The Wildcats were wiped out by graduation up front, including Cody Whitehair, who could be the top guard taken in the NFL draft. Dalton Risner is the only returning starter, but he was the best young center in the league last year. Competition will be wide open elsewhere, but the Wildcats are counting on redshirt freshman Scott Frantz to step into the starting spot at tackle.
8. Texas Tech: Though the Red Raiders basically lost their entire starting line, they're excited about the potential of tackle Madison Akamnonu and guard Conner Dyer. Veterans Justin Murphy and Baylen Brown are back from injury, as well. This will be a much younger group than last season, but could improve quickly, if Akamnonu and Dyer are ready.
9. Iowa State: The Cyclones are yet another Big 12 team decimated on the line by graduation, with left tackle Jake Campos the only returning starter. Campos, however, is a good piece to rebuild around with 23 consecutive starts. After that it's hard to predict what the rest of the depth chart might look like, especially with the new staff. Juco transfers Oge Udeogu and Karson Green and former juco transfer Patrick Scoggins, who missed last year with injury, could bridge the gap as younger players such as incoming freshman tackle Sean Foster develop.
10. Kansas: Clyde McCauley III and Larry Hughes both saw time as freshmen last year. It's important for the Jayhawks they improve. Senior Jordan Shelley-Smith figures to be the anchor at left tackle. Former ESPN 300 signee Jacob Bragg has been solid inside for Kansas, which quietly has a nice foundation up front.