Utah State Front Tops Mountain West OL Rankings
By Ken Pomponio
Here’s the continuing conundrum with offensive linemen: They’re among the most massive players in a game of giants, but they’re largely invisible to most football onlookers.
Except, of course, when an untouched blitzer levels your alma mater’s quarterback or an untimely holding flag wipes out a long gain.
Hey, that’s life on the offensive front in our modern-day, fantasy-driven, stat-obsessed gridiron culture.
But maybe — just maybe — that’s starting to change a little. Three of the first four picks in April’s NFL Draft were offensive tackles and another OT, Michael Oher, a real, live “big ugly” and not a quarterback or running back, was the subject of an Oscar-winning motion picture only four years ago.
Regardless, having even an above-average offensive line can make all the difference in the FBS ranks. Just ask Manti Te'o and Notre Dame, who still have tread marks from repeatedly getting road graded by Alabama’s NFL-caliber offensive front in this past January’s BCS title tilt.
That in mind, we’ve analyzed and broken down the projected starting offensive lines in the Mountain West Conference and ranked them 1 through 12.
Here’s the skinny on the biggest — and baddest — of the conference’s big uglies:
1. Utah State: The Aggies return their entire front intact, including a trio of 2012 All-Western Conference selections headlined by All-America candidate/senior center Tyler Larsen.
2. New Mexico: Four starters return for the Lobos, who, according to college football guru Phil Steele, head into the season with 107 combined career offensive-line starts — the fifth-highest total in the FBS ranks.
3. Fresno State: Senior left tackle Austin Wentworth, a 2012 first-team All-MWC selection, has QB Derek Carr’s blind side well covered and is among three returning O-line starters for the ’Dogs.
4. San Jose State: The Spartans enter their first MWC season with four returning starters, including 2012 All-WAC first-team guard Nicholas Kaspar.
5. Colorado State: The Rams’ solid front features a quartet of returning starters, led by senior center and three-year starter Weston Richburg, and 94 combined starts, ranking 12th in the nation.
6. Boise State: Seniors, including 2012 All-MWC selections Matt Paradis (center) and Charles Leno (left tackle), will man all five positions for the Broncos.
7. Air Force: In having to replace a trio of starters, the Falcons appear to be rebuilding, but this smallish front almost always comes up big in opening lanes for the squad’s triple-option attack.
8. UNLV: Three starters return for the Rebels, but there is nary a senior among the projected starting fivesome.
9. Hawaii: Four starters are back for the Warriors, who will need to improve on their MWC-worst 3.0 rushing average and 40 sacks surrendered.
10. San Diego State: The Aztecs do have a trio of starters returning but likely will be breaking in a redshirt-freshman and a sophomore on the right side.
11. Nevada: Just two starters are back for the Wolf Pack but they do man the most important positions (center and left tackle) on a unit which cleared the way for an average rushing gain of 5.0 in 2012 while allowing only 18 sacks.
12. Wyoming: Only the two starting guards are back for the Cowboys, whose toughest task will be replacing 2012 All-MWC center Nick Carlson.