- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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The first batch of big uglies are on the ranking slab Monday. No offense can operate without offensive linemen and the SEC has its share of talented big men.
Here's a look at our preseason rankings when it came to offensive lines. Let's just say we overestimated when it came to a couple of groups.
Here's what we though of after the 2011 season:
1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide line pushed around its opponents all year long. Alabama was first in the SEC in rushing (and had the Doak Walker winner in Trent Richardson) and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Alabama was equipped with Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones, who played just about every position up front and the top SEC in William Vlachos. Alabama got tremendous play out of D.J. Fluker and got a pleasant surprise out of Alfred McCullough. Alabama ranked first in the league by allowing just 17 sacks.
2. LSU: The Tigers' offense went as its running game went. And for 13 games the running game was great. The offensive line should take a lot of credit for that. With two Associated Press All-SEC members -- Will Blackwell and Chris Faulk -- LSU averaged 200.9 rushing yards against conference foes. Alex Hurst should also become a more familiar name in 2012. LSU allowed just 18 sacks and totaled only 234 negative rushing yards.
3: South Carolina: South Carolina put only one player on the All-SEC list, in Rokevious Watkins, but the Gamecocks' line had a pretty good season. Even after losing top running back Marcus Lattimore midway through the season, South Carolina finished the season third in the SEC in total rushing and rushing against conference opponents. South Carolina had to deal with Kyle Nunn's absence for most of the year as well, but found a budding star in A.J. Cann. Pass protection dipped, as South Carolina allowed 30 sacks.
4. Georgia: Before the season, the offensive line seemed to be held together by tape, but this line stayed together nicely through 14 games. The Bulldogs were fifth in the conference in rushing against SEC foes and had two All-SEC performers in Cordy Glenn, who might be a first-round draft pick, and center Ben Jones. Where Georgia's line came up short was in pass protection, as the Bulldogs were 11th in the league allowing 33 sacks.
5. Vanderbilt: The Commodores didn't put anyone on the All-SEC teams, but there's no question that this was the most improved line in 2011. Wesley Johnson proved to be one of the most underrated linemen in the league and the Commodores' offense was much more explosive than past years. Vandy was sixth in the league in rushing and had the league's No. 3 rusher in Zac Stacy. The Commodores gave up 18 sacks in SEC games.
6. Arkansas: The Razorbacks were dealing with a young line, but saw improvements as the season went on. Without Knile Davis in the lineup, the running backs were pretty inconsistent individually, but the Hogs averaged 134.3 yards in conference games. In each of Arkansas' two losses, the Razorbacks averaged just 32 rushing yards. Alvin Bailey was a second-team All-SEC member and should be star in 2012. Arkansas allowed 28 sacks, but also allowed quarterback Tyler Wilson take some punishing hits throughout the year.
7. Auburn: The Tigers could run the ball for most of the year. Auburn was fourth in the league in rushing and averaged 4.1 yards per carry against SEC play. Michael Dyer finished the year second in the league with 1,242 yards. Brandon Mosley was the only returning starter, but the Tigers got solid play out of freshman center Reese Dismukes and saw the reemergence of A.J. Greene after injury cut his 2010 season short. However, Auburn's passing game and pass protection struggled. The Tigers gave up 32 sacks in 2011 and were overwhelmed by more athletic defensive lines.
8. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs had to deal with a rash of injuries along their offensive line in 2011. Tobias Smith went out early and the Bulldogs watched as Quentin Saulsberry and James Carmon deal with injuries toward the beginning of the season. The Bulldogs were able to deliver a 1,000-yard running back in Vick Ballard, but ranked ninth in the league in rushing against SEC teams. Mississippi State gave up just under two sacks a game.
9. Tennessee: This was supposed to be a strong point for the Vols last fall, but Tennessee struggled all year to run the ball. The Vols ranked 116th nationally in rushing and averaged just 63.5 yards per game in SEC play. While Tennessee never generated much of a running game last season, its pass protection was one of the best in the league. The Vols gave up just 18 sacks on the season, despite playing three different quarterbacks.
10. Florida: The Gators experienced another year of sub par line play in 2011. With a relatively young group up front, Florida really struggled to provide much comfort in the pocket for its quarterbacks and rarely outplayed opposing SEC defensive lines. Florida's line was also flagged a bunch last fall. Florida gave up just 23 sacks, but 21 came in SEC play and Florida averaged just 3.8 yards per carry and scored nine rushing touchdowns against SEC defenses.
11. Kentucky: Before the season, we thought the Wildcats would be much higher on this list, especially considering the fact that they returned four starters. However, injuries ruined Kentucky up front. Larry Warford was Kentucky's best lineman, but for the first part of the season, the Wildcats failed to play its five original starters because of injuries. Kentucky gave up 21 sacks through the first five games and gave up a league-high 35 sacks on the year. The Wildcats also ranked 11th in the league in rushing.
12. Ole Miss: Here's another line that returned so much but did so little last fall. We look pretty silly now after ranking Ole Miss' line second in our preseason rankings because the Rebels' line didn't do much protecting all year. Ole Miss' line didn't have the injury issues that Kentucky had and was still 10th in the SEC in rushing and scored just four rushing touchdowns in league play. The Rebels also gave up 31 sacks on the season, with a league-high 26 coming against SEC defenses.