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AAC Preseason Position Reviews: Offensive Line

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Football’s most underappreciated position group is up, and the AAC has a ton of returning talent

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Memphis at Central Florida Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

When your offensive line is doing well, no one notices. The most underappreciated position group was a big reason why UCF had their great run. Memphis had a great season because of their offensive line. Tulsa’s season wasn’t all bad since they were elite up front (at least running the ball). This year, new faces will emerge for a few teams, but most teams return quite a bit of experience.

This is a veteran position group, and that could mean that offenses excel once again in 2018. A few teams need to figure out their quarterback situation, but any concerns should be eased by the leadership in front of them.

Once again, here’s how the categories for our position reviews: Elite, Second Tier, Wait and See, and Room for Improvement.

Room for Improvement: Your team can definitely get better. Even if your team has a returning starter, there’s still plenty of room for growth.

Wait and See: Most likely, your team is going through a transition to a new starter. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just means the new face has to prove themselves.

Second Tier: Good not great. The players aren’t elite yet, but may be right on the doorstep.

Elite: The best of the best. Most likely competing for an All-Conference spot. Also helps to have depth at the position.

2018 Position Reviews: QB, RB, WR/TE, DL, LB


Elite

1. Memphis: Normally losing a player of Gabe Kuhn’s status (51 career starts) would hurt a team. Not Memphis. Kuhn may be gone, but the remaining 110 starts all return. Center Drew Kyser, left tackle Trevon Tate, and right guard Dustin Woodard are three of the best at their respective positions, and that bodes well with a new face lining up behind Kyser. Watch out for former four star Obinna Eze to see the field this year, too. Memphis is loaded on offense again, and the offensive line is a big reason why.

2. Tulsa: For how bad this team was last year, you can’t blame the offensive line. Even when defenses knew the Golden Hurricane quarterback couldn’t pass, this group found a way to create running lanes for the running backs. The loss of Evan Plagg certainly will sting, but center Chandler Miller and left guard Tyler Bowling are back. Things can only go up from last year (at least, hopefully), and the offensive line is one less worry for Philip Montgomery......at least for this year.

3. Tulane: A relatively unknown group turns into one of the most experienced in the conference, and it comes at a great time. Tulane is considered a dark horse to win the conference, and they’ve got the pieces in place up front to dominate. The anchor is right tackle John Leglue, and the Green Wave don’t really lose much. Five players combined for 35 starts at the other positions, and that should help whoever takes over at center. Jonathan Banks should feel comfortable with the line in front of him, and that should allow for him to make even more big plays than last year.

Second Tier

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Memphis at Central Florida
Miller played a big role in last year’s run, and is once again a leader for the Knights.
Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

4. UCF: The Knights have to replace left tackle Aaron Evans and right guard Chavis Dickey, but right tackle Wyatt Miller and center Jordan Johnson return. If the offense is going to return to national championship form, the big boys up front will be the key. Miller and Johnson have a combined 58 career starts, and Tyler Hudanick also has 15 career starts at left guard. There’s plenty of experience to work with in 2018.

5. USF: Jeremi Hall and Cameron Ruff had a combined 50 career starts at left guard and center, respectively. Now, a new quarterback must work with two new faces in the middle. Marcus Norman returns at right tackle but, after him, there are just 28 career starts with the rest of the group. Also, Quinton Flowers isn’t around to bail out bad blocking, and you can probably bet the new quarterback won’t have the same speed as Flowers to escape.

6. Houston: If the Cougars want to be explosive this year, they need to do a better job at running the ball. Houston was average last year in that category, but the good news is they have plenty of experience returning. Center Will Noble, left tackle Josh Jones, and left guard Braylon Jones will lead the way, and Houston could be deep at this position. Bo Alexander, Mason Denley, Kameron Eloph, and Jarrid Williams could all see significant time with openings at right guard and right tackle.

Wait and See

7. SMU: Seniors Chad Pursley and Nick Natour will lead Sonny Dykes’ first offensive line with the Mustangs. The run game could be the strongest early in the season while quarterback Ben Hicks finds new weapons at receiver. That’s just fine for this group who will block for the best group of running backs in the conference.

8. Navy: Eventually, Navy has to have a down year, right? I wouldn’t get your hopes up too high, though this group needs to find three new starters in the middle. Right tackle Andrew Wood and left tackle Jake Hawk are the only double digit start returners, but at least Midshipmen linemen only need to be elite at one thing: run blocking. That should help whoever takes over at center and the two guard positions.

9. UConn: Good news: the offense finally showed signs of life in 2017. Bad news: offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee left for SMU. So, we don’t really know what that means for this team. One thing is for sure, the Huskies line will be tall, at least at three positions. Left tackle Matt Peart (6’7”), right guard Cam DeGeorge (6’6”), and right tackle Ryan Van Demark (6’7”) will all at least look good getting off the bus. How that turns into production, we’re not sure. Hopefully, they continue to build upon last year’s progress.

Room for Improvement

10. Temple: Things kind of started to click once the Owls found a quarterback and running back that were consistent. It’s too bad it took so long. Right guard Brian Carter and left tackle Leon Johnson are gone, and there isn’t a ton of experience returning. Center Matt Hennessey started all but one game last year, and two of the three players that started at left guard return. The playmakers are settled, but will the line be by the time the season begins?

11. ECU: Scottie Montgomery’s luck may be running out. At least he’ll have a big offensive line in 2018. Guard Cortez Herrin weighs in at 346 pounds, and tackle D’Ante Smith is 336. If they can’t move anyone off the line, the Pirates are in trouble. With all of the defensive struggles, it might not matter what this group does anyways. Montgomery needs a lot to go right in 2018.

12. Cincinnati: Just two players that started last year return. Left guard Garrett Campbell and right guard Kyle Trout have that experience, and the Bearcats needs to find replacements fast. Quarterback Hayden Moore hasn’t been the most consistent even with an experienced line, and this might not help matters. Bearcats fans shouldn’t be too concerned, as Luke Fickell’s been bringing in great talent to campus. Maybe the youth will surprise all of us.