As the start of college football begins to edge ever closer, we continue to glimpse at what teams in the Big 12 will look like in 2019. Here, we look at position groups across the conference and rank them from best to worst.
These rankings take into account as yet unseen potential, but tend to rely heavily on the proven production of seasons past. We turn now to the offensive side of the ball, continue this series by looking into how offensive lines across the Big 12 compare.
Unlike 2018, headed into this season there really isn’t a lot of separation between the teams on this list. Much of the talent among the “big uglies” heading into this season is unproven – like the four new starters at Oklahoma – or still in the process of development.
This season will be a real test, then, for the coaches and players in the Big 12 when it comes to how these ten teams are able to grow from week to week in the fall.
An offseason with offensive line coach Herb Hand really paid off for the Longhorn linemen in 2018. Center Zach Shackelford was All-Big 12 last season, and the senior is regarded as a potential draft pick in 2020. Samuel Cosmi turned in a Freshman All-American season last year, and is regarded as having the most upside of almost any tackle in the conference.
Both players return, along with all-ACC transfer lineman Parker Braun from Georgia. Braun will have to transition from an offense that rarely ever required him to pass block, but he provides this group with its third all-conference type player.
In addition, the Longhorns bring back 91 starts this season. Their overall combination of proven production, depth and experience makes the Texas offensive line the top unit in the conference heading into 2019.
2. West Virginia
The new offensive staff in Morgantown did’t find the cupboard bare when they went to work up front. Senior Colton McKivitz is a third year starter at right tackle, and enters 2019 as probably the most likely Mountaineer to get drafted next season. Beside him will be guard Josh Sills, a second team All-Big 12 selection, who will be counted on for leadership in his third year as a starter.
Outside of McKivitz and Sills, there aren’t as many proven commodities as West Virginia looks to replace three starters gone from last season. Keep an eye on center Chase Behrndt, who might make some waves as a junior this year.
3. Oklahoma State
The ceiling may not be as high for the Pokes offensive line as it’s been in the past, but this is a steady group for Mike Gundy. Seniors Marcus Keyes and Johnny Wilson have been stalwarts as starters up front, with Keyes standing out as an All-Big 12 player in his sophomore season.
Offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, a redshirt junior, is also back as starter this season for Oklahoma State, and might have an all-conference year ahead of him in 2019. All but one starter returns for this line from last season, when youth and inexperience might have caught up to the Pokes and produced results that were merely passable at times.
With Mike Gundy having hired former Kansas State offensive line coach Charlie Dickey away from the Wildcats, though, Oklahoma State fans should be optimistic about this bunch.
4. Texas Tech
With 115 career starts returning in 2019, the Red Raiders have the most experienced offensive line in the conference, a fact that should engender a fair amount of optimism. Junior Jack Anderson has continued to progress throughout his time in Lubbock as a starting right guard, and may find himself on multiple preseason all-conference lists.
Terence Steele, another returning starter at right tackle, also projects as someone to provide a strong veteran presence along the line. Travis Bruffy, who’s regularly an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention, and Madison Akamnonu are the two seniors on the other side of the line. New head coach Matt Wells will have a very seasoned group that has seen a lot of offensive success.
The Sooners seem to always get high caliber offensive linemen to take the field on Saturdays, but this year’s squad might have a bit of a growth curve ahead of them. With so many losses from 2018, Oklahoma returns only 24 starts along the offensive line and has the least experienced unit in the entire conference.
The lone returning starter for Oklahoma is sophomore Creed Humphrey, who is regarded as a generational talent in Norman. Humphrey started 12 games last season, and earned Freshman All-American honors.
Fellow sophomore guards Marquis Hayes and Tyrese Robinson project to be NLF-caliber contributors are some point in their careers. The question for the Sooners, though, is whether this unit might see its fair share of growing pains, especially early on this fall.
6. Iowa State
Developing the offensive line has been one of Matt Campbell’s tallest tasks since he arrived Ames, and this year’s group is likely the best he’s had yet. They are definitely experienced – they can boast 114 starts (second most in the conference) and all five starters are back in 2019.
Senior Josh Knipfel is one of the better guards in the Big 12, and might the best overall player on the line. He’s one of four seniors up front, including the versatile Julian Good-Jones and veteran Bryce Meeker at right tackle. If their experience translates into significant on-the-field development this season, all of those three lineman could improve their pro prospects.
Overall, the Cyclones performed closer to the bottom of the conference last season, but there are good reasons why they could make strides forward in the fall.
7. Kansas State
The 2018 Wildcats were a puzzle along the offensive line. The unit paved the way for 182.6 rushing yards per game, which was third best in the Big 12, but it also gave up 34 sacks, tying them for eighth in the conference. Three of the starters from that line return, and new head coach Chris Klieman should have three seniors up front next season.
One of them is left tackle Scott Frantz, who has long been regarded as an NFL-level talent. Sophomore center Adam Holtorf might have the same type of potential, and don’t be surprised if he finds himself on some preseason watch lists.
There’s no doubt potential along the offensive line here, and if Klieman’s staff can develop this unit to excel in multiple facets of offensive line play, the Wildcats could very well end up closer to the top of this list.
With a lot of youth and inexperience along the offensive line in 2018, the Horned Frogs had their struggles up front a year ago. The most notable dropoff resulted in a running game that only gained 121.9 yards per Big 12 contest.
TCU brings back four starters headed into the fall, including senior Lucas Niang, who could be the highest drafted lineman in the Big 12 next season. Outside of Niang, the Horned Frogs could do with taking another step forward in 2019. Production could come from former JUCO standout Anthony McKinney at the other tackle spot, and center Kelton Hollins could be improved this season as well.
Above average play along the lines of scrimmage has been the elusive missing piece to Matt Rhule’s puzzle in Waco since he got there. There’s no denying that the Baylor offensive line had their share of struggles last season, with the Bears having allowed 32 sacks in conference play, over 3.5 per game, which is more than any other Big 12 team.
With three starters back (including two seniors) this season, there’s some experience for Baylor to work with, but overall this group does have some room for improvement. Senior Sam Tecklenburg is one of the most proven centers in the Big 12, and he could find himself on a Rimington Trophy watchlist again this season.
Outside of Tecklenburg, there are some question marks. Sophomore Connor Galvin is thought to have a bright future ahead, but he’s yet to really capitalize on his potential. Johncarlo Valentin is a junior college transfer who provides depth along the line, and may stand out in 2019 as well.
Consistent play along the offensive line has certainly contributed to the Jayhawks’ struggles over the past decade. This was true a year ago as well, when Kansas gave up 24 sacks in nine conference games. Even though the big guys up front bring 93 starts with them into 2019, they undoubtedly have room to develop.
Hakeem Adeniji is of course a major bright spot for the Jayhawks, and he will likely see his name on some all-conference lists headed into the fall. Starters Junior Malik Clark and senior Kevin Feeder return with him along the offensive line, and they’ll be expected to help carry the load in a new offensive scheme under Les Miles.