Just a week ago, we took a look at Syracuse's offensive line from top to bottom. And sure, it's nice to see how our depth chart shakes out. But it's even more useful to see how it looks in comparison to our main competition: the rest of the ACC.
As you know, Syracuse has a pretty experienced group coming back on the offensive line, but they're not the only ones. In conjunction with the strong rushing games that should take the field for the conference this fall, there are of course, a lot of very strong O-lines in front of them too.
Below, each offensive line unit is ranked, from No. 1 through 14. Having stars certainly helps here, though overall, we're trying to grade the strength of entire units. We'll be discussing as many players as possible, but to avoid this article being 4,000 words long, don't be shocked if some names aren't included. Do you see things differently? Weigh in down in the comments.
ACC Football 2014 Position Rankings: Offensive Line
1. Florida State Seminoles: There shouldn't be any surprises here. Four of five starters from last year are back, meaning Jameis Winston will be well protected yet again. Though the one departure (all-world center Bryan Stork) is a big one, when you have a depth of talent like this, those losses don't hurt nearly as much. The Seminoles' senior-laden group is tall and heavy (all around 6'3" or taller and no one less than 290 pounds), yet possess the type of footwork that helps open holes for FSU's strong ground attack too. Obviously Tre' Jackson is the big name to watch, though Cameron Erving's presence at left tackle proves equally important in terms of keeping the team's star QB upright.
2. Clemson Tigers: The Tigers lose two from their starting line, but those who stayed are highly capable and should give Clemson one of the best interior lines in the conference. Center Ryan Norton leads the group, and will be the largest determining factor on just how far they can rise/fall. Given the fact that Clemson's breaking in a new quarterback and running back, the line's success if of utmost importance if they hope to keep up the pace from previous Chad Morris offenses.
3. Miami Hurricanes: Miami's O-line is led by another strong center in Shane McDermott. And from there, the left side of the line figures to be a major strength. Some might even think they're being undersold at third in the league (in this year's preview magazine, Athlon views the 'Canes as a contender for best offensive line in the conference). There isn't a ton of distance between first and third, but Miami's slight inexperience on the right side outweighs their depth and youth (in comparison to FSU).
4. Duke Blue Devils: Again, how did we get to a place where Duke has one of the best offensive lines in the conference? The Blue Devils return three of five starters, including senior Laken Tomlinson, who may be one of the top guards in the country. When you look down the roster at the O-line positions, all you see is size right now, making year-to-year turnover that much easier to deal with. Every lineman is at least 6'2" and few weigh in at under 300 pounds. Obviously size isn't a guarantee you'll have a great lineman. But it certainly helps -- as has for Duke's upswing.
5. Louisville Cardinals: Similarly to how well Syracuse's line was prepared for the physicality of ACC play, Louisville comes in well-stocked to move the pile right away. Retuning four of five starters, the senior-heavy group will find strength on the left side, and should help QB Will Gardner ease into the starting role. Center Jake Smith is seen as the leader here (and he is), but don't underestimate the importance of Jamon Brown, either, another senior who will go along way toward deciding this offense's success.
6. Syracuse Orange: Macky MacPherson's departure leaves a very big hole for the Orange, but not one they can't fill. Beyond their standout center, Syracuse still returns four of five starters from a group that started every game together in 2013. Sean Hickey and Rob Trudo are both seen as real strengths for the SU offensive line, and they'll need to be in order to help new center along. Miller's taken to the role well and has the inside track on the starting job, but obviously practice and real games are two different things.
7. Boston College Eagles: "O-line U" may not be "back" just yet, but they're getting there as Steve Addazio is making great headway on the recruiting trail and transfer circuits, respectively. He's also managed to get a ton of out of existing players on the roster, which is why 2014's starters are made up entirely of seniors. Size is once again key here -- not a single player is shorter than 6'3" and no one's lighter than 288. They're big and over-achieving right now, which will lead to blue-chippers in similar molds later.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels: This is a bet on depth and projected talent over experience -- so bear with me. Larry Fedora's done a great job bringing the right types of athletes in the door to run his offense, and the line is no exception. There are elite athletes down the entire depth chart, but without much experience, can UNC's current starters succeed? Marquise Williams's mobility certainly helps them out a bit, as does what should be another strong backfield. Now let's see how the new kids do. If there's anyone to keep an eye on, it's guard Landon Turner, who's among the biggest guys they have.
9. Pittsburgh Panthers: Pitt's offensive line was terrible last year. Plain and simple. The running game was not as great as it's been in years past. QB Tom Savage was sacked far too often (as SU fans remember pretty well). There's not a whole lot of praise to go around for those guys, but thankfully for them, now they have that experience and can apply it going forward. The Panthers' offensive line should be better this year -- especially with the return of tackle Adam Bisnowaty. Now let's see how much "better" that really is when they're protecting a very green starter at QB.
10. NC State Wolfpack: State's line has struggled, but is this the year they finally start turning the corner? While there are a lot of options on the offensive line, few of them have the type of experience needed -- plus there are still plenty of holdovers from the previous regime. BC's proven that's not a bad thing, but can Dave Doeren get similar results out of his holdovers? The Pack aren't a senor-laden group, so this could all take some time to come together. But if they get solid production out of players like Tony Adams (a freshman at center), they could surprise.
11. Virginia Tech Hokies: Want to know what's become of Virginia Tech's offense? Look no further than the offensive line, which has been in disarray for three straight years now. And this, after having one of the country's best O-lines back in 2011. Tech's a perfect example of when size doesn't equate to success, and if they're going to be able to score 20 points a game this year, that'll need to change. All eyes will be on Caleb Harris to lead, but look around at the inexperience and there are far too many questions, even if skill players can come together.
12. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: Georgia Tech's offensive linemen have one job: run block. So it's confusing when this group is unsuccessful in doing so. Prepare yourself to be confused this fall, though, because the line is in a state of transition -- and one that may not go all that well. With only minimal experience on the roster and a host of freshmen and sophomores in the mix for starting jobs, there's the real possibility for a step backward, even if QB Justin Thomas is up for his new starting job.
13. Virginia Cavaliers: The loss of Morgan Moses will loom large for Virginia, and unlike other schools replacing big names on the line, there simply doesn't appear to be an heir ready to step into those shoes yet. A couple sophomores, one junior and two seniors are scattered throughout this O-line, which lacks for real leadership and cohesiveness as currently comprised. This is not a group set up for failure, but rather one which may struggle to find success. A strong run game should help them out a bit, though maybe not enough to mitigate a new QB under center.
14. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: This is an undersized group -- something that was very clear last year while they were being manhandled by larger, faster front sevens around the ACC. Unfortunately for Wake, they haven't necessarily addressed that problem just yet, so expect more of the same. While starting youth will be a cause of frustration right now, those freshmen and sophomores could eventually develop into highly-experienced and skilled starters. But the keyword is could. For now, they're in flux, and the Deacs' offense is set to suffer until some players emerge as immediate solutions.