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ACC football 2017 position preview: Offensive line

Can Syracuse’s experience lead to better results?

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Alabama vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, we previewed the Syracuse Orange’s offensive line, which struggled amidst injuries last season, but also gained some valuable experience in the process. Will that experience mean much when compared to the rest of the ACC’s bigger and (on paper) more talented units?

Along with our Orange position group previews each week, we’ll also be offering a glance at the rest of the ACC’s respective situations. Who’s in the best and worst shape? Which are the best returning players? And how does Syracuse compare to the other teams in the conference?

Today:

ACC Football 2017 Offensive Line Preview

Last year’s top performers

The top of the conference possessed some great offensive lines last year, keeping quarterbacks upright and offenses firing on all cylinders. Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, NC State, Clemson and North Carolina all allowed 20 sacks or less on the season — all top-40 national figures.

As a result of the solid performances at the top, the ACC had a handful of linemen drafted this spring as well. Pitt’s Dorian Johnson was the highest draft pick, going in round four to the Cardinals. But Roderick Johnson (Florida State), Danny Isadora (Miami) and Adam Bisnowaty (Pitt) were also selected. Clemson’s Jay Guillermo was also a first-team All-ACC selection last year, but he retired from football after going undrafted. His teammate Tyrone Crowder was also a first-teamer, and is the lone returning one for the conference this year.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Who will excel in 2017?

The same teams seem to bring in the top offensive line recruits, so that’s likely to mean another year of quality play from the top schools. Clemson should have multiple first-team all-conference players again in Crowder and Mitch Hyatt (who will both receive All-American consideration as well), and Pitt’s line can retool as well despite departures. Alex Officer’s been around awhile and he’ll work with Brian O’Neill to anchor that group to keep the rushing attack a focal point for Pitt.

As always, Georgia Tech’s going to be tough in the trenches, and Parker Braun is probably the league’s top young linemen. What the team lacks in star power elsewhere, however, they make up for in quality depth — needed, when you’re going to run as much as the Yellow Jackets do.

NC State returns four out of five starting linemen from last year, and right guard Tony Adams has All-ACC potential. That offense will have to retool its rushing attack a bit without Matthew Dayes, but with that line experience and a seasoned quarterback in Ryan Finley, it could work out just fine in Raleigh.

Top three units: 1. Clemson, 2. Georgia Tech, 3. Pittsburgh

Clemson arguably had the best offensive line in the conference last season, but lost just one starter in Guillermo. So despite losses at the skill positions, the Tigers will trot out an impressive and relatively young line to keep this offense moving at a similar pace to 2016. As mentioned, Hyatt and Crowder are All-American types, but Sean Pollard and Taylor Hearn are no slouches either. The lone question’s at center, where Guillermo leaves some big shoes to fill.

The Wreck’s line is also experienced and young, and they’ll have several starters back, including the massive Shemire Devine, who weighs in at a big 370 pounds and yet may not even start at guard. While Braun’s bankable at left guard, sophomores at center and tackle could be question marks (although again, Tech’s built quality depth).

For Pitt, Officer and O’Neill present a formidable left side of the line that should look a whole lot like last year’s pretty strong group. There’s inexperience below them on the depth chart, but that won’t provide much uncertainty at all in their case.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Bottom three units: 12. Syracuse, 13. Wake Forest, 14. Virginia

You know all about Syracuse’s problems for this position group after last year’s squad allowed 38 sacks, couldn’t run block and saw Eric Dungey get hit even more than the previous year. Some of that can be chalked up to injury, so the youth influx created experience this year. It still needs to prove itself despite the obvious promise there.

Wake’s another team familiar with QB injuries, but at least they return four out of five starters on the line. Unfortunately, though, that same group allowed a boatload of sacks and couldn’t run block much better than SU.

Virginia really has the most question marks in the entire conference up front, replacing three of five starters, and hoping that grad transfers can make up the difference this year. UVA doesn’t have much of a “system” necessarily, so at least the transition should be easier for those additions.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Top five offensive linemen in ACC

  1. Mitch Hyatt, Clemson
  2. Brian O’Neill, Pittsburgh
  3. Tyrone Crowder, Clemson
  4. Alex Officer, Pittsburgh
  5. Wyatt Teller, Virginia Tech

Where does Syracuse rank?

As mentioned, Syracuse doesn’t project too well right now, based on what we know. But that could change if youth turns the page to experience. There’s just one senior on the line (Jamar McGloster), but a lot of the others got some real burn last year. We’re close to the program, so it makes sense we could be a little more optimistic on improvement. I’ll believe it when I see it, however.