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Size Matters, Sometimes: A Look At College Football's Offensive Lines

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LSU has sported one of the biggest offensive lines (weight per man) up front in college football recently.LSU has sported one of the biggest offensive lines (weight per man) up front in college football recently.

So, you think that athletes are getting bigger, stronger and faster. Well, part of that statement is a misconception, of sort.

Players competing to excel in all sports are certainly showing the results that would indicate that today's athlete is faster and stronger than their predecessors. But the bigger part? Actually, the average size of college football offensive linemen is shrinking.

About five seasons ago, the average O-lineman in college football was a little over 304 pounds per man. Back in the late '90's, the standard size was in the 307 pound range.

One slight inaccuracy with size decrease is that six SEC teams' average weight per starter increased since 2011; the remaining half dozen decreased. LSU's average on the line went up by 18.4 lbs. per man while Ole Miss saw a drop of nearly 22 lbs. per man.

The average starter in college football in 2012 is 302.8 lbs. per man.

The Big Ten, renowned for producing massive offensive linemen, showed an average of 312 lbs. per starter up front in '11. The average dropped to 301.5 lbs. per unit.

Michigan's line averages less than 300 lbs. per man, as does Michigan State (298.8 lbs.), Iowa (293.2 ) and Indiana (288.8).

A few additional programs that have produced jumbo linemen to the pro ranks in the past have been proactive in the diet line. Stanford now averages 298 lbs. per offensive line starter. Other sub-300 programs of note are Colorado at 299 lbs., Oregon at 288.6, SMU at 294.6  and Cincinnati at 288.

Other programs that have tightened up the waistline since 2011:

-Kansas dropped 13.8 lbs. per starter up front

-Iowa State dropped 11 lbs.

-Illinois 11 lbs.

-Oklahoma 6 lbs.

-Wake Forest 15 lbs.

-USC 13 lbs.

-UCLA 15 lbs.

-Air Force 7 lbs.

-Idaho 9 lbs.

-New Mexico 18 lbs.

-Temple 16 lbs.

The offenses have evolved to require linemen to possess more quickness. Many current quarterbacks in college are a vital part of a team's ground attack. Many are their team's leading rushers. There is more inside and outside zone blocking scheme. Not many pulling guards are see these days.

Some conferences that were known for a 'three yards and a cloud of dust' attack (namely the Big Ten) have discovered success with the more modern spread offense, requiring the linemen to become a little more streamlined and mobile.

Years ago, the offensive guards were the players that needed to be equipped with a good set of wheels since they would pull and lead interference around end on sweeps. My early NFL memories include the Green Bay Packers success which featured Vince Lombardi's 'Power Sweep' with guards Fuzzy Thurston and Jerry Kramer leading either Paul Hornung or Jim Taylor around end. Cleveland Browns guards John Wooten and Gene Hickerson ushered Jim Brown on sweeps. Even in the '80's , Head coach Joe Gibbs pointed his Washington Redskins attack toward use of the  counter trey' with the backside OT and OG pulling and leading the way for John Riggins and others.

Even on the college football level, coaches John McKay and John Robinson favored  Student Body left' and "Student Body Right' at USC which was highlighted by pulling guards in the '60's, '70's and '80's. The concept paved the way for four Heisman Trophy winning runners during that span of time such as Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Charles White and Marcus Allen.

But as with all success, there is always an alternate plan. The more modern defenses counter-attacked that mauling approach in college football and the NFL by having the defensive ends 'chop down' or strip the interference, leaving the running back vunerable. That is a ploy not allowed on the prep level.

I know what you're wondering. What does this all mean and which teams (and conferences) are the biggest today? Well, here are the facts.

  • The SEC is the heaviest conference on the O-line per team with an average weight of 307.54 lbs. per team (averaged 8 wins per team in 2011, 2nd most of any conference)
  • The ACC is 2nd with a 305.15 average (averaged 6.5 wins per team last season)
  • The Big 12 303.58 lbs.(averaged 8.4 wins per team last season, most of any conference)
  • The Big Ten with a 301.5 average (with 7.3 wins per team in 2011)
  • The Big East 300.5 lbs. (7 wins per member in 2011)
  • Sun Belt 300.2 lbs. (5.5 wins per team)
  • PAC Ten 299.95 lbs. (6.75 wins per team)
  • Conference USA 299.43 lbs. average.(6.1 wins per team)
  • Mid American 299.27 lbs. (5.6 wins per team)
  • Western Athletic 293.57 lbs. (5.1 wins in 2011)
  • Mountain West 293.4 lbs. (5.8 wins per team last fall)
  • Independents 289.3 (including Army and Navy; 6.5 wins per member).

The heaviest teams up-front in college football:

1-Utah 328 lbs. average

2-LSU 322.8 lbs. per starter up front

3. Wisconsin 320.6 lbs.

4-Miami 319 lbs.

(tie) Pittsburgh 319 lbs.

6-Alabama 316.4 lbs.

7- North Carolina 316 lbs.

8-Southern Miss 314.6 lbs.

9-Tennessee 314.4 lbs.

10-Texas Tech 313.6 lbs.

11-New Mexico 313 lbs.

12-Baylor 312 lbs.

13-Auburn 311.8 lbs.

14-West Virginia 311.6 lbs.

15-Buffalo 310.6 lbs.

16-La. Tech 310 lbs.

(tie) Western Michigan 310 lbs.

18- Ole Miss 309.8 lbs.

(tie) Florida 309.8 lbs.

20-Mississippi St. 309 lbs.

21-Ohio 308.8 lbs.

22-Florida St. 308.6 lbs.

23-Western Kentucky 308.5 lbs.

The lightest teams in college football:

1-Air Force 253 lbs. per O-lineman

2-Army 260.8 lbs.

3-Texas State 275.8 lbs.

4-Ga. Tech 284 lbs.

5-Miami (Ohio) 284.4 lbs.

6-Syracuse 284.8 lbs.

7-San Jose St. 286.4 lbs.

8-Cincinnati 288 lbs.

9-Oregon 288.4 lbs.

10-Indiana 288.8 lbs.

Here are the SUPER-sized linemen...the biggest of the bigs:

-Carlos Lozano (Utah) 6'6-385 Jr. OT

-Darius Barnes (So. Miss) 6'4-352 Sr. OT

-Seantrel Henderson (Miami) 6'8-350 Jr. OT

-James Nelson(UTEP) 6'7-350 Sr. OT

-Darrius McKellar (So. Fla) 6'6-350 Jr.

-Max Rotheram (Pitts.) 6'6-350 soph.

-Travis Bond (No. Carolina) 6'7-345 Sr.

-Rob Havenstein (Wisconsin) 6'8-343 soph.

-Johnathan Ragoo (Fla. Atlantic) 6'7-342 soph.

-Alex Hurst (LSU) 6'6-340 senior

The two smallest offensive line starters come from the military institutions:

-Ben Jebb, LT, Army, 6'5-243

-Jason Kons, LT, Air Force, 6'4-255

Let's investigate how this weight thing applies to the preseason top 20 for 2012. Is bigger better? Six of the top 20 are slightly below the 302.8 pound average:

1-USC 306 lbs. per man

2-LSU 322.8 lbs.

3-Alabama 316.4 lbs.

4-Oregon 299.2 lbs.

5-Oklahoma 300 lbs.

6-Ohio State 304.2 lbs.

7- Michigan 299.4 lbs.

8-Georgia 302 lbs.

9-Fla. State 308.6 lbs.

10-South Carolina 307 lbs.

11-Texas 301.2 lbs.

12-West Virginia 311.6 lbs.

13-Arkansas 305.2 lbs.

14-Nebraska 308 lbs.

15-Clemson 306 lbs.

16 Virginia Tech 305.8 lbs.

17-Wisconsin 320.6 lbs.

18-Michigan State 298.8 lbs.

19-Oklahoma St. 303.6 lbs.

20-Notre Dame 304.4 lbs.

One final comment concerning the offensive line position. Even to the most astute observing football fans don't fully appreciate the position.

  • It is a learned position
  • Effort is vital
  • It is the least known and most misunderstood position
  • You must play with a controlled aggression.
  • It is the most disciplined position on offense.
  • Hands are important. Coaches teach to 'shoot' for the opponents arm pits.
  • Coaches preach to keep a 'Z in the knee' which means to stay low. A telltale sign that an O-lineman is tiring is that he will begin to stand up more while blocking.
 
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