- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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We've previously noted that offensive line is going to be a strong position in the Pac-12 this year.
To, cough, cough, quote ourselves:
The only team that doesn't welcome back at least three starters on the line is Utah, but a big story in Salt Lake this spring has been how good the Utes' O-line has looked.
Seven teams welcome back four starters, compared to just two (Arizona and USC) a year ago. Moreover, just about every team offers up some star power, established or budding.
No team will exit the spring with serious concerns -- at least in terms of overall team priorities and uncertainties -- on the O-line, though Colorado and Washington State still are questionable, despite four returning starters each, due to yielding 52 and 57 sacks and run blocking poorly a year ago.
There were no returning first-team All-Pac-12 linemen in 2012. This year there are three, including Morris Trophy winner David Yankey of Stanford and UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo. Both are likely preseason All-Americans, and they might get joined by Oregon center Hroniss Grasu, who was first-team all-conference as a sophomore.
So how do things stack up?
Stanford: All-American David Yankey leads one of the nation's best lines. It welcomes back 82 total starts among its four returning starters. Watch out of LT Andrus Peat. He's also got All-American potential.
USC: Phil Steele ranked the Trojans' four returning starters the nation's sixth best unit. Last year, the Trojans allowed just 17 sacks, fewest in the conference. The run blocking, however, was only mediocre.
Arizona: This no-name unit, though Fabbians Ebbele is a heck of a name, welcomes back three starters from a line that led the Pac-12's second best rushing attack and yielded just 18 sacks, second fewest in the conference, though QB Matt Scott was really good at avoiding a pass rush.
Oregon State: This is a little bit of a projection forward because the Beavers' offensive line was just so-so last year -- the rushing attack ranked 10th and, well, the pass blocking in the Alamo Bowl left something to be desired. But four quality starters are back, led by freshman All-American center Isaac Seumalo. The Beavers' 90 returning starts on the line ranks 17th in the nation and first in the Pac-12.
Arizona State: Three quality starters return from a unit that was solid last year, topped by tackles Evan Finkenberg and Jamil Douglas. They did give up 38 sacks a year ago, which was tied for seventh in the conference.
UCLA: Four starters are back, and OG Xavier Sua'Filo is one of the nation's best, and the run blocking was mostly good in 2012. But, yeesh, 52 sacks. The strong incoming freshman class might push for playing time, too.
Washington: Four starters are back from a unit that seems likely to improve, as last year's injuries helped get younger guys experience, which as Huskies fans know, didn't often go well. Keith Price is the key to the Huskies' season, but how the line plays in front of him is the key to Price playing well.
California: Just two starters are back, and the Bears' total returning starts -- 28 -- ranks 117th in the nation. That said, one of the new starters is the massive, talented LT in Freddie Tagaloa. Part of the mystery here is how the Bears adopt a very different blocking scheme under Sonny Dykes.
Utah: The word out of spring camp was how well the Utes' line was playing, and LT Jeremiah Poutasi is a rising star. Still, like Cal, Utah has just two returning starters and 28 total starts coming back on its line.
Washington State: Washington State has three starters coming back, but the Cougars' line was awful last year. Perhaps the worst unit playing for a major conference team. It gave up 57 sacks, which ranked last in the nation. It led a ground game that averaged 29 yards per contest, again last in the nation. If you are looking for an A-No. 1 concern for the Cougs, this is it. Expect newcomers -- the recruiting class is strong with O-linemen -- to immediately compete for jobs.
You can see previous previews here: