The Center Of It All In The Big 12
By David Hiserote
When asked to identify a football player with a constant hand on the ball who makes pre-snap reads, calls audibles, and plays a key role in every offensive possession, the most obvious answer is of course, the quarterback. While that answer is correct, there is an additional player on the team who meets all of the same criteria: the center.
The center. A man forgotten by the media and many fans alike. A player barely mentioned on football telecasts. A player who is overshadowed not only by the quarterback, but also the tackle, particularly the left tackle, who is normally charged with protecting the quarterback and hardly ever touches the ball (think The Blind Side).
You’ll see very few fans sporting the jersey of a center; however, does their unheralded status mean they are not important to the success of the team? Not at all. In fact, I will venture to say that other than the quarterback, the center is the next most important player on the offense.
Even though centers are usually slightly smaller in size compared to their offensive linemen counterparts, the center is by all accounts the unofficial leader of the offensive line. Prior to the all-important center-quarterback exchange (we all know a botched snap is often costly), the center is charged with reading potential blitzes and stunts by the defense. Based on his interpretation, the center makes necessary blocking adjustments for the offensive line using audibles and hand signals prior to the snap.
The center. He’s the de facto leader of the offensive line. Capable of adjusting the offensive line and blocking large defensive linemen, all while cleanly getting the ball into the quarterback’s hands. Clearly it’s quite an impactful position. So who are this year’s Big 12 impact centers?
Five of the conference’s 10 teams return starters at center, and five of those centers are included on the Rimington Trophy Watch List — an award given to the player considered the best center in college football at the end of each season.
Kansas State’s B.J. Finney is the stud of the group. The 6-4, 303-pound senior, who has started since his freshman year, was a first team Big 12 selection in 2013 and preseason 2014 Big 12 selection. He was also named a third team preseason All-American by Athlon Sports and college football guru Phil Steel, in addition to being named to the Rimington Watch List. Finney is part of a very strong offensive line group that should be one of the best in the Big 12.
Iowa State senior Tom Farniok (6-4, 300) and TCU junior Joey Hunt (6-3, 295) are both returning starters for their respective teams, and both are featured on the Rimington Watch List as well. Neither the Cyclones nor Horned Frog offensive lines look to be very strong this season. However, Iowa State returns all five starters.
Remington Watch List-finalist Dominic Espinosa (6-4, 300) has started every game of his college career (39) at Texas. The senior, however, is joined by only one other returning starter on the Longhorns’ offensive line.
Finally, junior Ty Darlington (6-2, 298) rounds out the list of Big 12 centers on the Rimington Watch List. Darlington is a first year starter at Oklahoma, who will have some rather large shoes to fill. His predecessor was All-American Gabe Ikard, who is now with the Tennessee Titans. Even with Darlington’s lack of starting experience, he should have no problem fitting into an offensive line that returns almost all of their starters on what was already a very strong unit.
In the pass-happy Big 12 and a college football landscape where defenses are getting increasingly more sophisticated and sneaky, having a center that is more than beef and brawn is essential. The Big 12 has a number of good ones, and it should be interesting to see if they can make a difference for their teams when the 2014 season kicks off in less than a month.