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Opinion: The Five Best Offensive Linemen in AAC History

As the AAC approaches a decade of play, we’re looking back on the conference’s best players by position group.

The AAC is on its way to major changes. Nearly a decade into play, the conference is seeing three schools leave, with six new ones coming in. It’s hard to say how the conference is going to perform under its new format. However, we do know how it has always been. The top Group of Five Conference.

We’re looking back on the AAC’s best players by position group. Next up, the offensive line.

It’s worth noting that offensive linemen are incredibly difficult to rank. There are five separate positions that we’re looking at, and each one has its own challenges. If the line isn’t working as a unit, then it will collapse. Stats can also be misleading. Coverage sacks or a quarterback without awareness can inflate stats like sacks allowed.

All that’s to say, have mercy. Coming up with a fair five isn’t an easy task. With that being said, here they are. The top five offensive linemen in AAC history:

5. Eric Lefeld-Cincinnati

Cincinnati’s Eric Lefeld is really the first great offensive lineman in the history of the AAC. Really, if there’s one thing that hurts the Ohio native, it’s that he spent half his career in the Big East, limiting his time playing in the AAC.

When he got to Cincinnati, Lefeld converted from defensive line to right tackle and found playing time almost right away. By the 2012 season, he was an All-Big East talent. That doesn’t necessarily help him as far as the AAC rankings go, but it shows how dominant and naturally talented he was. He spent his first season in the AAC on the Outland Trophy Watchlist.

The 2014 Cincinnati team that Lefeld anchored the offensive line for won a part of the conference championship, in a three-way tie with Memphis and UCF. Lefeld was a unanimous selection to the All-AAC first team in 2013. He followed that up by being First Team All-AAC again in 2014.

He made a run at the NFL, briefly signing with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent, but to no avail. Today, Eric Lefeld works in the private sector.

4. Jordan Johnson-UCF

Center is arguably the hardest position on the offensive line. As the center, you’re calling out protections and making sure everyone knows their assignments. You have to cleanly get the snap back to the quarterback and immediately block beasts like Ed Oliver lined up on your nose. It’s a position that Jordan Johnson managed beautifully.

Many people knew Johnson as the vegan offensive lineman, but he was also an excellent offensive lineman who led the UCF offensive line on its 25-game winning streak, and two conference championship runs in 2017 and 2018. UCF also claimed a national championship in 2017.

He also had incredible longevity, playing four seasons, including the entirety of his freshman year. His connection with quarterback McKenzie Milton was also incredibly important to Milton’s success.

Jordan Johnson was named First Team All-AAC in both 2017 and 2018.

The NFL wasn’t in the cards for Johnson, but it seems that coaching is. Jordan Johnson has worked as an offensive line coach at the NAIA level and is currently a graduate assistant at Cincinnati.

3. Parker Ehinger-Cincinnati

Originally a Big East recruit, Parker Ehinger committed to play for Butch Jones at Cincinnati. He took a redshirt as a freshman, before playing in every game as a redshirt freshman in 2012.

2013 would be Ehinger’s first season in the AAC. That was also the season that Tommy Tuberville took over as Bearcats head coach. That offensive line, and every offensive line unit that Ehinger played on, was dominant.

One of the great things about Parker Ehinger during his time at Cincinnati was his ability to bounce around the offensive line. He primarily played guard for the Bearcats. However, during his senior season in 2015, he was able to kick out to left tackle. There he bolstered the offensive line of one of the best scoring teams in the country.

Ehinger was a two-time First Team All-AAC selection, in 2014 and 2015.

Parker Ehinger was taken in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Since then, he has spent time with Dallas, Jacksonville, Arizona, Baltimore, Las Vegas, and most recently Detroit.

2. Tyler Smith-Tulsa

Tyler Smith is a big and strong guard, who acted as an absolute mauler for Tulsa. He played through the whistle and overpowered opponents on a Tulsa offensive line that loved to run the ball. It was incredible to watch.

Smith took a redshirt in 2019, only playing in four games as a true freshman. By 2020, though, he almost never left the field. Being able to be consistently healthy while also playing such a violent position in such an aggressive way is incredibly tough to manage. Smith handled it beautifully.

If there was a single knock on Smith, it’s that he took too many penalties. But, really, that’s a very small knock.

Smith was First Team All-AAC in 2020. Then, in 2021, he followed it up by being a Second Team All-AAC selection.

Tyler Smith was a first-round NFL Draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2022, making him the first AAC offensive lineman drafted in the first round.

1. Cole Schneider-UCF

Deciding who is the best offensive lineman in AAC history was an incredibly difficult task. In the end, the honor goes to Cole Schneider, a UCF offensive lineman who was always able to be spotted, as his colorful hair sprawled out under his helmet.

For those noticing his hair, they’d also note that he was able to play any position on the offensive line, showing off his versatility. Not just that, but he was able to play them all incredibly well. He was always there for UCF, during his career, playing any position of need for four seasons.

After taking a redshirt in 2017, Cole Schneider took over as a starter in 2018. During his career, which lasted through the 2021 season, he started 49 games in a row. Without hurricane and pandemic cancellations, that number would have been well north of 50 games.

Cole Schneider has also been given more postseason honors than any other offensive lineman in AAC history. In 2018 and 2020, he was First Team All-AAC. In 2019, he was Second Team All-AAC. Then, in 2021, he received an All-AAC honorable mention.

Schneider went undrafted in 2022 but signed with the Green Bay Packers.

Best of the Rest

  • James Hudson Cincinnati: When James Hudson was ejected from the Peach Bowl, Cincinnati lost its chance to beat Georgia. That’s all you need to know to understand how vital he was.
  • Tyler Bowling Tulsa: Always the bridesmaid for Bowling, a three-time Second Team All-AAC selection.
  • Dylan Parham Memphis: Parham was a key offensive lineman on Memphis during his time there.
  • Matt Lee UCF: From being booed at home to fan favorite and perennial All-AAC selection.
  • Corey Dublin Tulane: Dublin defined consistency for the Green Wave over the years.
  • Jake Brown UCF: A key offensive lineman during UCF’s 25-game winning streak who earned multiple All-AAC selections.
  • Dustin Woodard Memphis: Selected to multiple all-conference teams while playing center for explosive Memphis teams.
  • Wyatt Miller UCF: A key offensive lineman for UCF over the years.
  • Trevon Tate Memphis: Tigers fans loved to watch the team run behind Tate.
  • Chandler Miller Tulsa: A great and consistent center for Tulsa, who helped solidify the trenches over the years.
  • Matt Hennessy Temple: The First Team All-AAC selection was taken in the third round of the NFL Draft.
  • Kyle Friend Temple: Friend helped the Owls to personify being Temple Tuff over the years.

Previous AAC Rankings

So, what do you think? Who should have made the list, but didn’t?

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