Last year, it seemed like so many big-name college football programs struggled with offensive line play. Texas, Florida, Michigan, Penn State and Tennessee were among those with glaring issues up front, and even three of the four playoff teams -- Ohio State, Oregon and Florida State -- didn't stabilize their lines until the second half of the season.
Some of those lines should certainly be better this season, and a solid group of touted NFL prospects decided to return for another college season, so there is plenty of talent returning to offensive lines this year, with several candidates to be top-20 picks in the draft at tackle in 2016.
Rarely do casual viewers pay much attention to line play, but some of the best individual matchups of the season happen between left tackles and pass rushers, or interior linemen and defensive tackles in the run game. So, our weekly position rankings continue with a countdown of 25 offensive linemen you should make a point of watching this fall.
25. Kyle Friend, C, Temple. Friend has to be one of the most frustrating players to play against in all of college football. The 6-foot-2, 305-pound senior has started 33 games in his career, showcasing a relentless, aggressive blocking style, and bringing raw strength and physicality to the center of the Owls offensive line as a former high school wrestler.
24. Nick Martin, C, Notre Dame. The brother of 2014 Cowboys first-round pick Zack Martin, Nick Martin has started 24 games over the last two years, playing center in 2013 and mostly left guard last season. Now, he'll move back to the middle of the line at center, where his sturdy run blocking will be a valuable asset as the Irish mix in more read-option looks with Malik Zaire at quarterback.
23. Dan Voltz, C, Wisconsin. One of two starters returning from a dominant Badgers offensive line, Voltz broke into the lineup with six starters as a freshman in 2013, then started all 14 games at center last season in earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. The 6-foot-3, 311-pound Voltz fits the mold as a physical, aggressive run blocker for Wisconsin, and he'll surely thrive with former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst returning as the team's head coach this year.
22. Jason Spriggs, T, Indiana. Characterizations of Indiana's offense as a one-man show last year were mostly accurate. When QB Nate Sudfeld went down, the Hoosiers were left to hand the ball to Tevin Coleman over and over, hoping that it wouldn't matter that opposing defenses knew what was coming. Coleman was brilliant, but he wouldn't have rushed for 2,000 yards without quality blockers like guard Dan Feeney and, especially, Spriggs. A 6-foot-7, 305-pound left tackle, Spriggs has made 34 career starts and excelled in sealing off the edge as Coleman often found a lane on the outside to make big plays.
21. Kyle Murphy, T, Stanford. Overshadowed by Andrus Peat previously, Murphy now has his time to shine. He earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last year starting at right tackle, and he'll move to the left side to replace Peat. The 6-foot-7, 298-pound Murphy was a five-star recruit out of high school, and he has the quickness and length to excel in protecting Kevin Hogan's blind side.
20. Dan Skipper, T, Arkansas. Skipper is set to play his third position in three years under Bret Bielema, who has a knack for churning out powerful offensive lines. As a freshman in 2013, he started eight games at guard. Last year, he started 13 games at left tackle. Now, he'll move to right tackle, where he'll presumably continue to be a powerful asset for a team that produced two 1,000-yard backs in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, both of whom return. The 6-foot-10, 307-pound Skipper graded out the highest among the Hogs' excellent linemen last season.
19. Jake Brendel, C, UCLA. The Bruins offensive line has been a work in progress throughout the Jim Mora era, but it has finally seemed to stabilize into one of the team's better units. The key is Brendel, a three-year starter -- with 39 career starts -- who is actually the only senior in the starting lineup. He's been a team captain the last two years, and he spent the spring as essentially a player/coach, with offensive line coach Adrian Klemm suspended. On the field, he helped pave the way for a breakout season for Paul Perkins, who's become one of the nation's top tailbacks.
18. Tyler Marz, T, Wisconsin. You'll never believe this: There's another massive Wisconsin offensive line prospect ready to earn recognition. The 6-foot-7, 318-pound Marz earned honorable mention All-Big Ten starters the last two years while starting 27 games at left tackle. Along with center Dan Voltz, he will provide the foundation of a line that returns just two starters but will surely be fine anyway, leading the way for tailback Corey Clement to churn out big production in replacing Melvin Gordon, who ran for 2,587 yards with the help of an exceptional line.
17. Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama. Kelly has developed nicely since facing the tall task of replacing Rimington and Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones. Now in his third year as starter, Kelly, a 6-foot-5, 297-pound senior, has 21 starts under his belt, making him the veteran of a unit that returns just two starters. While not overpowering, Kelly is a technically sound, smart blocker who will provide much-needed continuity for an offense that's otherwise in flux entering 2015.
16. Cody Whitehair, T, Kansas State. A versatile, experienced blocker, Whitehair owns 38 career starts, playing both guard and tackle and earning second-team All-Big 12 honors each of the last two years. The 6-foot-4, 309-pound senior is, as expected for a four-year starter under Bill Snyder, a technically sound and instinctive tackle who rarely finds himself out of position.
15. Greg Pyke, G, Georgia. Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb are two of the most talented running backs in years, but partial credit for their ability to average over seven yards per carry goes to the offensive line. The best of the four returning starters who will block for Chubb this year is Pyke, a right guard who broke out as an All-SEC performer in his first season in the lineup. A 6-foot-6, 313-pound junior, Pyke put his athleticism to work as a standout lacrosse player in high school.
"I was so much bigger than most of the guys, and I was always getting penalized for a high stick to the neck," Pyke told the Times Free Press last year. "I would get so many penalties in lacrosse that I figured I might as well play a contact sport in which hitting was encouraged."
14. Tyler Johnstone, T, Oregon. Injuries hurt the Ducks offensive line in the middle of the 2014 season -- particularly when Jake Fisher went down -- but they also played the whole season shorthanded. Johnstone started 26 games at left tackle in 2012-13, then missed all of last season after tearing his ACL last August. Back from injury, he'll slide back into the left tackle role with Fisher gone. Johnstone is an agile 6-foot-6, 295-pound tackle whose athleticism fits well into the Oregon scheme.
13. Jack Allen, C, Michigan State. Allen is about what you'd expected out of an All-Big Ten center: He has now started 35 games in his career, and he was an Illinois state wrestling champion in high school. The 6-foot-2, 295-pound Allen has been a mainstay during this run of success for the Spartans, anchoring what was one of the best offensive lines in the country last year, with Connor Cook rarely getting hit and the running game attaining consistent success.
12. Pat Elflein, G, Ohio State. Elflein was a big part of the impressive growth of Ohio State's offensive line in 2014, which was a key factor in its run to the national championship. A 6-foot-3, 300-pound junior, Elflein moved into the starting lineup at right guard last year, emerging as one of the best blockers in the Big Ten, which helped push Ezekiel Elliott to his late-season surge at running back.
11. Landon Turner, G, North Carolina. A prized recruit in the class of 2011, the 6-foot-4, 325-pound Turner has matched his prep hype, starting 27 games and emerging as a standout right guard in what has been a productive Tar Heels offense. North Carolina has been an erratic team overall, but Turner provides a stabilizing force as the anchor of the line for what should be a prolific attack in 2015.
10. Le'Raven Clark, T, Texas Tech. Clark redshirted in 2011 and has been a starter ever since, opening his career at right guard, then spending the last two years at left tackle. The 6-foot-6, 313-pound senior has started 38 straight games, and last year he helped underrated tailback DeAndre Washington become a rare 1,000-yard Red Raiders rusher. He plays with impressive quickness and stands out in the run game in an offensive system where it's not necessarily easy to do so.
9. Vadal Alexander, T, LSU. Alexander's decision to return for his senior season was a huge boon to the offense, both in helping what should be a huge season for tailback Leonard Fournette, and in providing stability for a messy quarterback situation. Alexander has started most of his three years at LSU, with nine starts at right tackle as a freshman, 13 starts at left guard as a sophomore and 12 starts at left guard as a junior. He's back on the move, as he'll slide to the outside and play right tackle again. The powerful 6-foot-6, 320-pound Alexander will team with junior Jerald Hawkins to form one of the nation's top tackle tandems, even with the loss of La'el Collins.
8. Cam Robinson, T, Alabama. Rarely do true freshman offensive tackles secure significant roles. Even the most highly touted often take a redshirt year, because offensive line is perhaps the most demanding position physically for an 18- or 19-year-old to play right away, especially in the SEC. There are exceptions, though, and Robinson proved to be an instant success for Alabama last year. Enrolling early and participating in spring practice certainly helped, but Robinson was a rare talent capable of making the transition relatively painlessly. Now a 6-foot-6, 326-pound sophomore, Robinson started all 14 games for Bama, allowing only three sacks for what was a productive line. If he keeps developing as expected, he could be in top-five draft pick discussion in 2017.
7. Joshua Garnett, G, Stanford. Few teams have churned out quality lines like Stanford throughout the Jim Harbaugh/David Shaw era, and that run should continue, even with tackle Andrus Peat leaving early for the NFL. Garnett has played since his freshman season, as Stanford isn't shy about using extra offensive linemen, but only last year did he become a full-time starter. The 6-foot-5, 325-pound senior is the best returning player on the line at left guard. Stanford's ground game slowed down last year, but Garnett packs a punch and blocks well on the move. He'll be key in what should be an improved offense with sophomore Christian McCaffrey emerging as a multi-purpose weapon at tailback.
6. Taylor Decker, T, Ohio State. The only returning starter on Ohio State's offensive line last year, Decker anchored what developed into one of the nation's top units by the end of the season. A towering 6-foot-8, 315-pound senior, Decker returned for his senior season after a breakout season in which he moved from right to left tackle. Even with his size, he moves well laterally, showing quickness and sound footwork. A year ago, offensive line was the team's biggest concern. Now it's a huge strength, and that starts with Decker.
5. Max Tuerk, C, USC. It's impressive that USC's offense had the success it did last year, given how young the line was. Tuerk was the most experienced player, and he's shown a ton of versatility throughout his career: He started five games at left tackle and one at left guard as a true freshman. He started 13 games at left guard and one at right tackle as a sophomore. And last year he started all 13 games at center, earning All-Pac-12 honors. He proved to be a natural fit in the middle of the line, an agile blocker who is physical and is also capable of blocking on the move.
4. Jack Conklin, T, Michigan State. One of the biggest recruiting steals you'll see. Conklin was barely on the radar as a prospect, and he originally arrived in East Lansing as a walk-on. Now he's one of the most reliable pass blockers in the nation and a potential first-round pick. After redshirting his first year on campus, Conklin has started 26 games, the last 23 at left tackle, with a massive 6-foot-6, 317-pound frame. He's allowed only 2 ½ sacks in his career, playing a big role for a line that allowed only 11 sacks in 13 games and paved the way for 100-plus yards for tailback Jeremy Langford in 16 straight Big Ten games.
3. Spencer Drango, T, Baylor. After redshirting in 2012, Drango became a fixture at left tackle for prolific Baylor offenses starting as a redshirt freshman in 2013. While he underwent back surgery in 2013, he has started 35 games in his career, including all 13 last season upon returning from his injury. A 6-foot-6, 310-pound senior, Drango plays a pivotal role in the Bears' potent attack, playing with an edge and bringing physicality and aggressiveness to the position.
2. Laremy Tunsil, T, Ole Miss. Tunsil broke his leg in the Peach Bowl, limiting him throughout the offseason, but he should be ready to return as the key building block for an offense that will be breaking in a new quarterback. Injuries have plagued Tunsil throughout his career, but he's delivered on his potential as one of the five-star members of the Rebels' heralded recruiting class of 2013. He's been an All-SEC pick each of his first two years, and at 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, he possesses elite quickness and athleticism for the position. You won't find many smoother athletes playing tackle.
1. Ronnie Stanley, T, Notre Dame. A 6-foot-5, 315-pound tackle out of prep power Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, Stanley has started all 26 games over the last two years: 13 at right tackle in 2013, and 13 at left tackle last year. He could have gone to the NFL and likely been a top-20 pick, but he chose to return to school, making him a possible top-five selection next year. With prototypical size, Stanley moves well, staying balanced with enough lateral quickness to keep faster pass rushers in front of him. He allowed just one sack last year, and he's also physical in the run game. The Irish are loaded with talent entering the 2015 season, and Stanley is the best player on the roster.
Honorable mention (alphabetical order): Zach Banner, T, USC; Adam Bisnowaty, T, Pittsburgh; Austin Blythe, C, Iowa; Evan Boehm, C, Missouri; Josh Campion, G, Minnesota; Mason Cole, T, Michigan; Parker Ehinger, G, Cincinnati; Dan Feeney, G, Indiana; Sedrick Flowers, G, Texas; Kyle Fuller, C, Baylor; Jerald Hawkins, T, LSU; Joey Hunt, C, TCU; Germain Ifedi, T, Texas A&M; Dorian Johnson, G, Pittsburgh; Roderick Johnson, T, Florida State; Nick Kelly, C, Arizona State; Denver Kirkland, T, Arkansas; Tejan Koroma, C, BYU; Alex Kozan, G, Auburn; Alex Lewis, T, Nebraska; Toa Lobendahn, G, USC; Keith Lumpkin, T, Rutgers; Mike Matthews, C, Texas A&M; Conner McGovern, G, Missouri; Isaac Seumalo, C, Oregon State; Brandon Shell, T, South Carolina; Matt Skura, C, Duke; Wyatt Teller, G, Virginia Tech; John Theus, T, Georgia; Sebastian Tretola, G, Arkansas; Halapoulivaati Vaitai, T, TCU; Christian Westerman, G, Arizona State; Avery Young, T, Auburn