We continue our Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews by looking at the offensive line. 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 have no idea if that position is going to turn out to be a plus 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 this unit to improve. Depth is above average to good, with a player or two having the potential to make an All-C-USA Team.
“Great Shape” means All-C-USA performers are at this position or there is good-to-great depth across the board. You obviously want your team to be here.
1. Marshall: While other programs boast more all-conference linemen, Marshall lands at the top spot thanks to their extensive depth. The Herd have seven returning offensive linemen with starting experience. Center Levi Brown will certainly be featured on the Rimington Watch List for the second straight season, while Will Ulmer, Jordan Dowrey, Cain Madden, and various other experienced players help pave the way for the offense.
2. FIU: It’s hard to argue against the Panthers having the most offensive line talent in the league. Dallas Connell, D’Ante Demery, Shane McGough, and Devontay Taylor have all been named to all-conference teams, giving FIU an imposing lineup to lead the offense. While FIU doesn’t have a ton of experience behind those four, they’re still well positioned to dominate in the trenches.
3. Southern Miss: With multi-year starter Arvin Fletcher leading the way, USM doesn’t have a ton of question marks to address this offseason. Ty Pollard and Drake Dorbeck are among their standout returners, while Trace Clopton will seek to build on a freshman All-American season. If USM can get some nastier blocking in the run game this season then they could jump to the top of the rankings.
4. UTEP: Former Head Coach Sean Kugler’s legacy as an offensive line guru is still paying dividends for the UTEP program even after Kugler’s departure. Bobby DeHaro enjoyed a break out season in 2018, while Derron Gatewood and Greg Long will aim to bounce back from injuries to get back to their former strength. Zuri Henry is also poised for a big season as well. The Miner rotated their linemen like crazy in 2018, giving them eight returning starters on the offensive line this season.
5. North Texas: The graduation of Jordan Murray and Riley Mayfield will hurt the Mean Green’s size in the trenches but they’re returning enough experience to weather the storm. Manase Mose and Sosia Mose both return from all-conference seasons, while Jacob Brammer and Elex Woodworth have the size and experience to hold this unit together in 2019.
6. WKU: Miles Pate is the name to watch here as the Hilltoppers’ lone all-conference player on the offensive line. WKU is returning pretty much everyone from last year so there shouldn’t be any drop off from 2018. The Hilltoppers were one of the best run blocking teams in the conference last year but need to improve in pass protection.
7. Rice: It’s no secret that the Owls have a strong tradition of developing offensive linemen. Last year confirmed that history, as Shea Baker, Clay Servin, Cole Garcia, Jake Syptak, and Uzoma Osuji all made their mark in 2018. The Owls will also add graduate transfer Nick Leverett to the fold. Leverett was a three time All-MEAC honoree while at NCCU. While the Owls weren’t great in 2018 from a statistical standpoint, I’m betting that their size and experience returning from last year makes a huge difference this season.
8. UTSA: While the Roadrunners aren’t returning any all-conference linemen, they have several guys ready to make the jump this year. Spencer Burford was named to the All-Freshman team last year, while Josh Dunlop and Treyvion Shannon have solidified the tackle position.
9. FAU: Our only stretch pick for “Good Shape”, FAU’s offensive line will be talented next year but lacking in depth. The Owls were among the best run and pass blockers in the conference last year but only three starters will return from that unit. Brandon Walton and BJ Etienne are great players, but Lane Kiffin will really be depending on Auburn transfer Calvin Ashley to make an impact. An injury to one of the starters could prove disastrous to the offense.
10. Charlotte: The 49ers have a really strong duo in Jaelin Fisher and Cameron Clark (arguably the best lineman in Conference USA) but Charlotte’s roster just isn’t at a point where we can assume the 49ers will be able to plug and play along the offensive line to replace guys like Nate Davis and Darren Drake.
11. Louisiana Tech: Of the teams in the “We’ll See” category, the Bulldogs probably have the most potential. Ethan Reed and Kody Russey are dependable options, and LSU transfer Willie Allen could dominate C-USA this year if he’s in shape and healthy.
12. Old Dominion: Tony Barnett and Issac Weaver return as starters, but Old Dominion will need James Fagan to make a great transition from tight end to really feel comfortable about their offensive line.
13. Middle Tennessee: There’s some guys to like on MTSU’s offensive line, namely Josh Fannin and Amir Luckett, but this unit is going to be extremely young this season. MTSU might be another year away from having a standout offensive line.
14. UAB: As only one offensive lineman with starting experience will return for Bill Clark’s Blazers this year, UAB will be extremely reliant on JUCO transfers this season. It’s going to be boom or bust for the Blazers up front this year, and it’s all dependent on how the JUCO guys pan out.