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2021 AAC Preseason Position Previews: Offensive Line

It’s time to dive into the trenches with the most important part of an offense.

Georgia Tech v Temple Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

While the AAC’s been known for it’s explosive offenses and thrilling skill position players, it’s produced some of the better offensive line’s in the country. No team is complete without a competent offensive line, and team’s that have a great one tend to have more success. Multiple team sin the AAC return every starter, and nearly everyone has at least two veterans back. If you thought the defenses were going to have a year, you thought wrong.

OTHER POSITIONS: QB, RB, WR

Check out my 2021 College Football Preview!!!!!


Elite: There’s no doubt about this position. Stud or studs in this category.

Second Tier: Solid, but not elite. Might have studs, but no depth or vice versa.

Wait and See: Either this position is bad or has too many new faces to judge.


Elite

1. Tulsa: Tulsa’s top seven linemen feature six that weigh 300 pounds or more. Three of them weigh above 320 pounds. There’s so much experience to go around that it almost doesn’t matter that a new quarterback is needed. Chris Paul and Tyler Smith give the Golden Hurricane one of the best tackle duos in the country, Gerard Wheeler returns as the leader of the group, and guard play will be nasty.

2. UCF: Everyone’s back to get the Gus Malzahn era off to a good start on the line. Starting with first team All-AAC center Matthew Lee, a player who improved dramatically as the season began, the offensive line features some extremely talented players. Cole Schneider and Lokahi Pauole hold down the guard spots, while Edward Collins and Marcus Tatum will battle for one tackle spot. Then there’s Samuel Jackson. Jackson’s played every spot except center, and there’s not a single spot that he plays where he doesn’t thrive. He deserves more attention, and we at Underdog Dynasty will do our part to recognize his excellence and versatility.

3. SMU: SMU’s offenses have been some of the most exciting to watch in recent memory, but it’s the guys up front that have been the real reason for the success. The balance the offenses experienced is thanks to the guys up front. Jaylon Thomas has a future in the NFL, and is joined by fellow tackle Beau Morris to protect the edges. Morris brings an old school look with a neck roll. Alan Ali is a veteran center who will play a key role in ushering in a new quarterback. Hayden Howerton and Justin Osborne both return, with Howerton returning as an all-conference talent.

4. Tulane: If you’re not getting on the Tulane bandwagon yet, here’s your final warning. Another group of underrated Green Wave players headline the offensive line for Tulane, and they’re already the biggest strength of the offense. Sincere Haynesworth and Corey Dublin are all-conference talents. Trey Tuggle’s been talked about since the day he stepped foot on campus (and well before), and has not disappointed at right tackle. Joey Claybrook protects Michael Pratt’s blindside, and remains one of the more underrated players in the conference. At this point, it’s on the skill position players to elevate the offense, because the offensive line’s doing their part already.

Second Tier

5. Cincinnati: Replacing Darius Harper and James Hudson remain the biggest obstacles for Cincinnati’s offense. There are plenty of options with guys like John Williams, Dylan O’Quinn and Stony Brook transfer James Tunstall, but the competitions remain open until someone emerges. Center Jake Renfro and guard Vincent McConnell both return after producing solid seasons for the Bearcats too.

6. Memphis: Losing Obinna Eze is a big loss that the Tigers have to replace, but there’s plenty of talent and experience returning. Dylan Parham’s one of the best and most versatile players in the conference. He’ll move back to guard after helping the Memphis offense by sliding out to tackle last year. Isaac Ellis can play both guard and center. Devonte Dobbs is one guy to watch this year as he’s the favorite to replace Eze.

7. Houston: Dana Holgorsen’s got option up front, but can they stay healthy? He added Kody Russey (Lousiana Tech) this offseason, and Tank Jenkins (Texas A&M) had a dominant spring. Patrick Paul has a high ceiling if he can avoid injury and play smart, and guys like Jack Freeman, Max Bane, and Dennis Bardwell can all start as well.

8. USF: Center Brad Cecil and guard Demetrius Harris fly under the radar in the conference, and quietly give the Bulls solid play up front. Tackles Donovan Jennings and Joshua Blanchard are expected to start, but should see competition for their spots. USF’s offense needs to show signs of improvement this year, and they have the guys up front to do just that.

9. Temple: Tempel’s offense might not have been good last year, but they protected the quarterback well. The Owls line only allowed 11 sacks last year, and we should see similar numbers again this year. Adam Klein remains criminally underrated in the conference, and CJ Perez is a solid center. Klein remains the only player capable of dominating on a consistent basis, but everyone else appears reliable. They also get the luxury of a mobile quarterback if it’s D’Wan Mathis or Re-al Mitchell.

Wait and See

10. ECU: Even though D’Ante Smith’s gone, ECU ‘s aware of what they have without him. Walter Stribling and Justin Chase will try to fill his shoes this year, though it won’t be an easy task for either of them. Fernando Frye returns 29 games of experience to lead this group, while Avery Jones (nine games played) and Sean Bailey (24) are back at guard after starting every game last year.

11. Navy: Navy will be inexperienced without Peter Nestrowitz and Billy Honaker. Joshua Pena and Nick Bernacchi will try to replace Nestrowitz at guard, while Jake Cossavella and Kip Frankland get the first shot to fill Honaker’s shoes. It’s not something that will be decided quickly, so expect an open competition across the entire line in the fall. Pierce Banbury is slated to be the starting center after starting 10 games last year, and appears to be the one almost sure starter right now.