While skill position players get the most attention, SEC football games are won in the trenches.
The difference between good and bad offensive line play can be the difference between national championships and disappointing exits. When playing against elite defensive linemen, protecting the quarterback and creating holes for running backs is essential.
The SEC consistently produces some of the most physically impressive lines in college football. Here’s a look at the heaviest and tallest front fives in the conference.
*Note: The heights and weights are averages of all five projected 2016 starters.
Arkansas: 6-foot-6.2 (No. 1), 316.4 pounds (No. 2)
Projected starters: Colton Jackson, Hjalte Froholdt, Frank Ragnow, Brian Wallace, Dan Skipper
It should come as little surprise that Bret Bielema’s offensive lines continue to be among the most physically impressive in the sport. Perhaps no coach shows as much love to his big bodies. Bielema went so far as to put his standout offensive line on the cover of the team media guide in 2015. Arkansas’ offensive line is the only one to rank among the SEC’s top three in both the heaviest and tallest categories.
Arkansas has one of the strongest power run offenses in the conference. Offensive tackle Dan Skipper is perhaps the most impressive body on this line, standing a ridiculous 6-f00t-10 and 322 pounds. This group is solidly-built, top to bottom.
Alabama: 6-foot-4.8 (T-No. 6), 316.6 pounds (No. 1)
Projected starters: Cam Robinson, Lester Cotton, Ross Pierschacher, Alphonse Taylor, Jonah Williams
As usual, Alabama is expected to field one of the most physical lines in college football this fall. Recent developments had put the group into question, but star left tackle Cam Robinson appears to have avoided a suspension following his May arrest, based on comments coach Nick Saban made at SEC Media Days.
Guard Alphonse Taylor has been suspended indefinitely following a DUI arrest. But even if Taylor misses significant time, the Crimson Tide have a bevy of talented bodies to play in his place. Redshirt freshman Brandon Kennedy, the expected backup, is still listed as 6-foot-2 and 302 pounds. The offensive line will become that much more important as the Crimson Tide lose star running backs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, as well as starting quarterback Jake Coker.
Florida: 6-foot-5 (T-No. 4), 315.4 pounds (No. 3)
Projected starters: David Sharpe, Martez Ivey, Cam Dillard, Tyler Jordan, Fred Johnson
Former Gators coach Will Muschamp made mistakes in a number of areas, but recruiting was not one of them. Florida attracted some of the most talented and physically impressive prospects in the nation, and that is paying off now for Jim McElwain, who has kept the recruiting momentum going.
Tackle David Sharpe has quickly emerged as the star of the unit, showing the quickness to play tackle at 6-foot-6 and 347 pounds. He lines up next to Martez Ivey, the former No. 2 overall prospect in the class of 2015. Plenty of improvement will be expected of the Gators’ line next season. In the absence of quarterback Will Grier last season, it became clear just how devastating having poor performances up front can be to Florida’s chances.
South Carolina: 6-foot-5.4 (No. 2), 307.4 pounds (No. 7)
Projected starters: Mason Zandi, Zack Bailey, Alan Knott, Cory Helms, D.J Park
The Gamecocks’ starting lineup is a bit of an outlier, as it boasts one of the tallest groups but has only average weight. That said, much of the Gamecocks’ low weight ranking can be attributed to 6-foot-4, 280-pound center Alan Knott. Though he is somewhat underweight, Knott has been a fixture on the offensive line with 17 starts over the last two seasons.
However, the overall build of this bunch does say a decent amount about where South Carolina stands. At this point, the Gamecocks’ line has talent, but it still needs time to develop. Three players will take over a full-time starting spot, including Wake Forest transfer Cory Helms. This line might take some time to come together.
When it comes to offensive linemen, height does not vary extensively. Between the tallest and shortest teams, the difference is just 2.2 inches per player.
When looking at the list, it becomes clear that height is not necessarily a requirement for a quality offensive line. Alabama’s group, which ranks among the best in the nation, is middle of the pack. Missouri’s line, which could struggle this season, is all the way up at No. 2.
While height does not necessarily mean quality line play, weight is much more correlated with success. Alabama and Arkansas continuously have some of the most physical line play in the nation, and the weight benchmarks match up.
Lack of weight often trends similarly with being underdeveloped. For example, Ole Miss replaces several key pieces on the line and ranks near the bottom of the list. Style of play can also factor into these numbers. Auburn plays an uptempo offense, so having mobile offensive linemen (which can mean lighter) is significantly more important to its system.