We continue our Conference USA preseason position reviews by looking at the offensive line in C-USA. The grading categories: “Great Shape,” “Good Shape,” and “We’ll See.”
To elaborate on the grades, "We'll See" means exactly what it means. We don’t know if that position is going to turn out to be a positive due to a lack of proven contributors and questionable depth. At this time, there’s no way to know.
“Good Shape” means known commodities are at the position but there’s still room for improvement. Depth is probably decent at the position but an injury could be catastrophic.
“Great Shape” means all-conference performers are at this position or there is good-to-great depth. You definitely want your team to be here.
1. Old Dominion: The Monarchs are in amazing shape on the offensive line heading into 2017. They’ll return the majority of their line after ranking 33rd in the country in sacks allowed. ODU was even more dominate on the ground as the offensive line paved the way for their backs as 42.4% of their rushing attempts went for five yards or more, the 35th best rate in the nation.
2. Rice: Bad teams aren’t supposed to have offensive lines this good but Rice finds a way to buck the trend. The Owls return everyone from their 2016 offensive line, providing an extra year to pack on weight to an already physically-imposing line. If the Owls were to come across injury trouble they should still be set as Rice added several impressive freshmen along the offensive line in their last recruiting class.
3. UTEP: The Miners received a huge, unexpected boost after all-conference guard Will Hernandez opted to return to El Paso to complete his eligibility instead of pursuing opportunities at the NFL level. Hernandez will have plenty of help around him including guard Derron Gatewood and utility lineman Greg Long. Tanner Stallings and Derek Elmendorff also provide veteran experience to a loaded offensive line.
4. FAU: FAU started 10 different linemen in 2016 so depth and experience resides in Boca for Lane Kiffin’s first season. With the highly notable exception of FAU’s offensive MVP Dillon Deboer, the Owls will return the rest of their starting line up from their last game of the 2016 season. Redshirt sophomore Richard Williams is expected to replace Deboer at center after gaining minimal playing time in his freshman campaign. While Williams is still a wildcard, he’ll be surrounded by veteran talent which should help his development, not to mention former starting left tackle Reggie Bain will return after a motor scooter accident forced him to sit last season.
5. Western Kentucky: The Big Red Fighting Glomps will need to replace three all-conference seniors along the offensive line in 2017. Matt Nord should be able to step up into a larger role after seeing time as a reserve tackle last season. Dennis Edwards and Brandon Ray return as exceptional starters from the 2016 squad. Parker Howell lies waiting in the wings as a former three star recruit. WKU should be able to shoulder their offseason losses relatively well.
6. UTSA: Frank Wilson’s offensive line is deep and talented in the interior but the Roadrunners will need to replace two senior offensive tackles. 6’7”, 300 Pound Josh Dunlop appears to be a future all-conference bookend tackle while redshirt freshman Josh Oatis will seek to match him on the right side of the line. If both play to their size then UTSA could boast one of the best lines in the conference.
7. Louisiana Tech: It says so much about Louisiana Tech’s recruiting that the Bulldogs should be just find after losing four seniors on the offensive line this offseason. O’Shea Dugas returns as a standout performer while Ethan Reed and Josh Outlaw provide high quality snaps. The X-factor here is junior college transfer Gewhite Stallworth. A mammoth road-grading blocker, Stallworth could be elite if he cleans up his footwork and improves his quickness.
8. North Texas: The left side of UNT’s offensive line features two studs in Jordan Murray and TJ Henson but the Mean Green are in need of a whole lot more depth. Redshirt sophomore Elex Woodworth has the chance to develop into a great player for the Mean Green after earning eight starts in his freshman campaign.
9. Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles face a lot of questions on the offensive line following the graduation of star center Cameron Tom and defensive tackle turned left tackle Wil Freeman. USM was already thin at the unit and lost their two best options. Head coach Jay Hopson will have to make it work with a combination of Devin Farrior, Tyler Stutzman, and Ty Pollard. If 6’6”, 320 pound redshirt sophomore Drake Dorbeck pans out then USM should be in decent shape.
10. Marshall: While the Thundering Herd have a nice tandem to build around in Sandley Jean-Felix and Levi Brown, Marshall is still seeking for answers to fill out the rest of the offensive line. The graduation of stand out redshirt senior Clint Van Horn will likely have a lasting impact on the Herd.
11. Middle Tennessee: Similar to Marshall, MTSU has a great base with Carlos Johnson and Chandler Brewer but the rest of the make up of the offensive line is hazy. The Blue Raiders will likely count on JUCO transfer Eric Golston to play starting snaps immediately after stepping foot on campus.
12. FIU: Butch Davis’ biggest challenge in his first season at FIU might be patching up FIU’s offensive line. The Panthers have lost three starters from the 2016 and don’t return any all-conference performers.
13. Charlotte: The 49ers have some intriguing pieces returning such as Nate Davis, Chris Brown, and Cameron Clark but they’re missing a true anchor to run behind for a guaranteed push. Charlotte will either need a major talent infusion on the offensive line or extraordinary coaching to keep the offense ticking for quarterback Hasaan Klugh.
14 UAB: I mean, who knows, right? UAB doesn’t have much size in the trenches on their roster and depth will clearly be a huge issue due to the circumstances surrounding the program.