Saturday, July 5, 2008

A little O-line love

Hey folks, hope you had a safe and happy 4th.

While sitting poolside yesterday, I took the time to crack open a must-have magazine (in my opinion) for College football analysis - Phil Steele's 2008 College Football Preview.

If you haven't read Steele's excellent work, now is the time. The College preview is on newsstands now or can be ordered online as well.

It's immensely thick and will take me forever to go through but what i wanted to talk about today was Steele's list of the top offensive lines in College football.

The one thing to always remember - and this is true for both College and Pro football - is just how important an offensive line is. A bad O-line can shatter a QB's confidence - it could have saved NY Jet QB Ken O'Brien's career - although maybe nothing ever could have. But O'Brien sure looked shellshocked behind a shaky Jets Oline. David Carr is another guy who got hammered a lot in early years and is still suffering from it. Sure, the O-line got better, but he'd been hit too much by the time it did for it to matter.

QBs have to trust the offensive line. When they don't they get happy feet and the next thing you know you get a phantom sack like Jim Everett and he's another one who never quite came back from the shelling.

Suffice to say, the men in the trenches get less glory and more mud than the 'skill' players but without them (and any QB or RB worth his salt will tell you) games don't get won and records remain unbroken.

Without further ado here are Steele's top 5 -
  1. Oklahoma
  2. Ohio State
  3. Tennessee
  4. West Virginia
  5. LSU

One thing most of these teams (and most of the rest of the top 15 of Steele's list) have in common - they are big and they do NOT give up sacks. Heck, according to Steele, Tennessee gave up just 4 sacks in 534 attempts. That's pretty incredible and it allowed QB Erik Ainge time to throw for over 3,500 yards, 31 TDs and just 10 INTs last season.

And this is for a team than only ended ranked 12th in the BCS rankings. And while I like Ainge well enough, I don't think he was ever a phenom at the position.

A good O-line can save a season or hurt one. A QB or RBs success can hinge on its play - another example would be Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter. Here's a guy who has compile some tremendous stats - and yet the last few seasons he's had to play hurt in part because his O-line has underperformed. In 958 attempts he's been sacked 112 times. That's over 10% - and we're not counting hurries, or late hits or hits as he released. Last year he played with a hurt thumb - if he was upright and healthy, he'd be even more effective and this is a guy who will pass 10k yards easily by season's end.

The Sun Devils ended the season tied for the Pac-1o title - no mean feat - and fought for a time to get a sniff at the BCS Championship. How much better would they be if the O-line could drop that percentage of sacks down?

Take a look at Steele's magazine and see who else ended up on the list - we'll discuss some more of them as the summer goes on. But remember the names as you read them. Assuming people are healthy, many of those teams will be very successful through the air and on the ground.

And THAT friends will translate to wins 9 times out of 10.

See you tomorrow.

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