Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated

First Rate: Offensive Line

ND returns four starters on the offensive line, which should improve its sacks allowed with Brandon Wimbush at QB and benefit from Chip Long’s two-tight end alignment.

13) Wake Forest (C-Ryan Anderson/LT-Justin Herron/LG-Phil Haynes)
There are a combined 62 starts returning on the Wake Forest offensive line, but the unit allowed 39 sacks with the ground game accounting for just 145.7 yards per game in ‘16. Still, 75 starts return on the Demon Deacon front. This likely is HC-Dave Clawson’s best front, but “best” is relative for a running game that averaged 3.6 yards per carry in ’16. Of course, that’s significant improvement over 2014 when Wake Forest averaged 1.3 yards per carry.

12) Miami [Ohio] (RG-Sam McCollum/C-Danny Godlevske/LG-Jordan Diamond/LT-Jordan Rigg)
Head coach Chuck Martin has a veteran unit returning, but the numbers from a year ago – 42 sacks allowed and 136.3 yards rushing per game -- were staggeringly bad. RG-McCollum and C-Godlevske have all-MAC potential. A huge wildcard is LG-Diamond, a graduate transfer from Auburn who was granted a sixth-year of eligibility.

11) Navy (RG-Evan Martin/RT-Andrew Wood)
It’s always difficult to rate a Navy offensive line, which depends upon quickness off the snap, leverage and a whole bunch of cut blocks. Navy lost a ton of proven talent up front in 1st-team all-AAC LG-Adam West and 2nd-team all-AAC choices Maurice Morris and Blake Copeland. The Midshipmen have a good one in RG-Martin, who should be up for all-AAC honors. RT-Wood started 14 games last year while senior LG-Robert Lindsey and senior C-Parker Wade have starting experience.

10) Temple (RT-Leon Johnson/RG-Adrian Sullivan/LG-Jovahn Fair)
The top offensive lineman lost to the draft among Notre Dame’s 2017 opponents was 1st-team AAC LT-Dion Dawkins, a second-round draft pick. Also lost was C-Brendan McGowan. The unit still boasts a quality strong side with a pair of seniors – RT-Johnson and RG-Sullivan. A combined 62 starts return on an offensive line that allowed 29 sacks while leading a rushing attack that accounted for 176.1 yards per game.

9) Michigan State (C-Brian Allen/LG-Tyler Higby)
Veteran C-Allen is the only senior in the starting lineup, which could feature a couple of sophomores and a freshman up front. Allen is in the conversation for top center in the country. An ankle injury hurt the development of LG-Higby, but he’s just a sophomore with six starts in ’16. LT-Cole Chewins has bulked up, and after three starts last year, should hit the ground running. The unit allowed 27 sacks with a solid 172.6 yards rushing per game. A series of shovel passes, an extension of the running game, also helped the cause.

8) Georgia (LT-Isaiah Wynn/C-Lamont Gaillard)
No unit is better positioned on this list to move up than Georgia’s, which lost 120 career starts with the departure of two-time all-SEC RT-Greg Pyke, OT-Tyler Catalina and C-Brandon Kublanow. The Bulldog offensive line is frequently criticized for its lack of consistency, but still managed to protect ’16 freshman QB-Jabob Eason pretty well (24 sacks) while paving the way for the one-two RB punch of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Georgia averaged 191.2 yards rushing per game in ’16.

7) Miami (C-Nick Linder/RT-KC McDermott/LT-Trevor Darling/RG-Tyree St. Louis)
This has been a fairly enigmatic unit, playing well in spurts and then allowing significant penetration and too many tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Miami lost fifth-round draft choice RG-Daniel Isidora, C-Alex Gall and RT-Sunny Odowu, but injuries cut into the junior season of C-Linder, who should be primed to excel. Inconsistent RG-St. Louis still has two years left while LT-Darling has 27 career starts. A key is tackle George Brown, a sophomore who transferred from LSU. The unit did a solid job of protecting immobile QB-Brad Kaaya. The ground game needs to improve on its 151.7 yards per outing.

6) Boston College (LT-Marcell Lazard/RG-Jon Baker/RT-Chris Lindstrom/LG-Aaron Monteiro)
The Boston College offense frequently finds itself stuck in the mud with a below-average quarterback and a predictable rushing attack. Last year’s unit allowed 28 sacks while rushing for less than 150 yards per game with a 3.4-yard average. Still, this is an experienced front with West Virginia grad transfer LT-Lazard adding to the mix.

5) North Carolina (C-Cameron Dillard/RG-R.J. Prince/RT-Bentley Spain)
The Tar Heels are without two-time all-ACC C-Lucas Crowley, two-time all-ACC 2nd-team RT-Jon Heck and LG-Caleb Petersen. But the three returning starters were in place the second half of 2016. North Carolina will benefit greatly from a pair of notable transfers – C-Dillard (Florida) and LG-Khaliel Rodgers (USC). Last year’s unit allowed just 20 sacks while the ground game suffered (145.8 yards per game) as Mitchell Trubisky attempted nearly 450 passes.

4) N.C. State (RG-Tony Adams/RT-Will Richardson/LT-Tyler Jones/C-Garrett Bradbury)
With 89 career starts and just one lost starter -- center Joseph Scelfo -- the Wolfpack front will try to improve upon the 156.1 yards rushing per game, which may be tough without running back Matthew Dayes. RG-Adams and RT-Richardson form one of the best right sides on the Irish slate. The N.C. State offensive line allowed just 17 sacks a year ago and should have no trouble protecting quarterback Ryan Finley.

3) Stanford (LT-David Bright/C-Jesse Burkett/LG-Nate Herbig RT-A.T. Hall)
It may not be the star-studded offensive line that Stanford is accustomed to, but that should change with just one senior – Bright – projected in the starting lineup. The up-and-coming standout is LG-Herbig, who is just a sophomore. C-Burkett started all 13 games for the Cardinal last year while helping lead the rushing attack to 208.9 yards per game. Brandon Fanaika, a junior, and Nick Wilson, a sophomore, will battle it out at right guard. The line will have to do a better job of protecting its young quarterbacks after allowing 34 sacks. The unit has a combined 68 starts.

2) USC (LG-Toa Lobendahn/RG-Viane Talamaivao)
The Trojans just keep churning out quality offensive linemen, but have a ton of talent to replace in fourth-round draft choice RT-Zach Banner, first-team all-Pac 12 LT-Chad Wheeler, and mammoth LG-Damien Mama. USC still has 73 career starts returning, led by highly-regarded RG-Talamaivao and the veteran Lobendahn, who missed the last 12 games due to injury. USC allowed just 12 sacks of mobile QB-Sam Darnold while the rushing attack cracked the 200-yard mark per game.

1) Notre Dame (LG-Quenton Nelson/LT-Mike McGlinchey/C-Sam Mustipher/RG-Alex Bars)
No team on the Irish slate offers a more dynamic one-two punch on its offensive line than Notre Dame with the powerful left side of McGlinchey and Nelson. With 13 and 15 starts now under their belts respectively, Mustipher and Bars will bolster the middle of the line with Nelson. Notre Dame’s sacks allowed (28) and yards rushing per game (163.3) should improve with mobile quarterback Brandon Wimbush and offensive coordinator Chip Long’s tight end-friendly attack.

1. USC (8 – QB 1st, RB 3rd, WR/TE 2nd, OL 2nd)
2. Notre Dame (14 – QB 7th, RB 5th, WR/TE 1st, OL 1st)
3t. Georgia (17 – QB 2nd, RB 1st, WR/TE 6th, OL 8th)
3t. Stanford (17 – QB 4th, RB 2nd, WR/TE 8th, OL 3rd)
5. N.C. State (18 – QB 3rd, RB 8th, WR/TE 3rd, OL 4th)
6. Miami (28 – QB 10th, RB 6th, WR/TE 5th, OL 7th)
7. North Carolina (31 – QB 6th, RB 9th, WR/TE 11th, OL 5th)
8t. Temple (34 – QB 13th, RB 7th, WR/TE 4th, OL 10th)
8t. Michigan State (34 – QB 9th, RB 4th, WR/TE 12th, OL 9th)
10t. Miami (Ohio) (39 – QB 5th, RB 13th, WR/TE 9th, OL 12th)
10t. Boston College (39 -- QB 12th, RB 11th, WR/TE 10th, OL 6th)
12. Wake Forest (40 – QB 8th, RB 12th, WR/TE 7th, OL 13th)
13. Navy (45 – QB 11th, RB 10th, WR/TE 13th, OL 11th) Top Stories