Fall practice gets under way this week, and that means the 2011 college football season has started.
Today, we unveil the third of our national unit rankings. We're revealing one unit per day and end next Tuesday with overall coaching staffs.
The rankings take into account what the players have accomplished, how we think the players will do this season and sheer talent. But production does trump potential.
Here are the offensive line rankings. Next up: defensive lines.
OFFENSIVE LINE UNIT RANKINGS
10. LSU BUZZ: Four starters are back, and though no Tigers linemen are going to contend for All-America honors, this nevertheless is a solid - and physical - unit. Consider that LSU rushed for 185.7 yards per game last season despite an inept passing attack, and you realize these guys can shove some folks around.
9. CLEMSON BUZZ: The Tigers lose all-conference T Chris Hairston, but this remains a good group. Four starters return, headed by junior C Dalton Freeman and senior T Landon Walker. In all, Tigers linemen have made 118 career starts. Clemson has changed coordinators, and you have to think Chad Morris will know how to take advantage of his big guys up front.
8. VIRGINIA TECH BUZZ: Here's another ACC line that returns four starters - and all four are seniors. The Hokies rushed for almost 200 yards per game last season, and while they had talented tailbacks, the big men up front had something to do with that as well. G Jaymes Brooks and T Blake DeChristopher are the standouts. DeChristopher is entering his fourth season as a starter, and he and fellow starting T Andrew Lanier are fifth-year seniors. DeChristopher has a strained pectoral muscle that could cause him to miss the start of the season.
7. OHIO STATE BUZZ: The Buckeyes may have the best lineman in the nation in senior T Mike Adams, who has been suspended for the first five games for his role in "Tattoo-gate." Senior C Michael Brewster also will challenge for All-America honors. They are two of Ohio State's three returning starters. Both starting guards are new, but sophomores Corey Linsley and Jack Mewhort have the potential to eventually be All-Big Ten honorees.
6. MISSOURI BUZZ: Four starters return, and as with Clemson, they are all seniors. Ts Dan Hoch and Elvis Fisher are the standouts. Mizzou linemen have a combined 105 career starts, and that includes new starting C Travis Ruth, who started once last season, at guard. Missouri is breaking in a new quarterback, James Franklin, but coaches are breathing easier because the guys in front of Franklin sure know what they are doing.
5. IOWA BUZZ: As sure as there is corn in the fields in the state, Iowa is going to have a big-time offensive line. Junior T Riley Reiff is a potential All-American, and he is one of three returning starters for the Hawkeyes. Neither guard technically is a returning starter, but Adam Gettis and Nolan MacMillan started eight games between them but also missed a combined 12 games with injuries. MacMillan has All-Big Ten potential.
4. MIAMI BUZZ: Given Miami's depth at tailback, its strong offensive line and quarterbacks who throw picks seemingly as often as a typical person draws a breath, you'd think the new UM staff would rely heavily on the ground game this fall. Junior G Brandon Washington is an absolute road-grader and he might be the best offensive lineman in the ACC. He is one of four returning starters for Miami. The new staff loves redshirt freshman T Malcolm Bunche, who actually was listed above freshman All-America Seantrel Henderson at left tackle out of spring ball. The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post reported this week that Henderson could undergo back surgery and may miss the entire season. If Henderson does miss a significant portion of the season, Miami should probably drop a few spots in these rankings.
3. WISCONSIN BUZZ: A few teams back, we mentioned that solid Iowa offensive lines were as prevalent as corn in that state. Well, in Wisconsin, it's a toss-up on whether the state has more cows or huge offensive linemen. True, the Badgers lost T Gabe Carimi, who might have been the best lineman in the nation last season, and G John Moffit, who made some All-America teams himself. But three starters are back, and the two new guys will just be taken right off that o-line assembly line that has been constructed in Madison. C Peter Konz and G Kevin Zeitler are the guys who should vie for postseason honors this season, and T Ricky Wagner - who began his career as a walk-on - is another guy to watch.
2. OKLAHOMA STATE BUZZ: Last year at this time, some folks were panicking because the Cowboys had four new starters along the line. Those people shouldn't have been worried: A rebuilt line paved the way for an offense that averaged 520.2 yards and 44.2 points per game - the conference's best in both categories. This season, all five starters are back, and the unquestioned star is senior T Levy Adcock, a former recruiting afterthought who was a first-team All-Big 12 selection last season. He should contend for All-America honors this fall. Gs Lane Taylor and Jonathan Rush are other potential All-Big 12 guys.
1. ALABAMA BUZZ: This reminds us a lot of the 2009 Alabama offensive line, which had four returning starters but needed a new guy to step in at left tackle as they blocked for a new starting tailback. Well, this season's Alabama line has four returning starters but needs a new guy to step in at left tackle as they block for a new starting tailback. In '09, remember, that new tailback (Mark Ingram) won the Heisman and the Tide on the national title. Junior G Barrett Jones is one of the three or four best players in the nation at his position, and C William Vlachos and T D.J. Fluker will contend for All-SEC honors. This is a big, physical group.
(Text by Mike Huguenin. Rankings by Olin Buchanan, Tom Dienhart, David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee.)