The Top 10 Offensive Lines to Know When Betting Group of Five Games
Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: UCF offensive line
- Games are often won in the trenches and talent gaps can get even greater in the smaller conferences.
- Using 2018 stats and returning production, Kyle Miller finds his favorite group of five offensive lines for 2019.
If you’ve watched football for any amount of time, you’ve likely heard some variation of the phrase “the game is won in the trenches.”
No matter how cliche that saying is, it can absolutely true at times. When you get into the smaller FBS conferences, it becomes even more of a differentiator between teams.
A big, mauling offensive line that can pave the way for quick backs is just as valuable as the line that keeps their quarterback upright. If you can combine both aspects, you just may be representing the G5 in a New Year’s Six bowl.
Before you bet on a Group of Five game, make sure you know the experience, talent level, and strengths of the offensive lines. Below are my 10 favorite O-line units in the G5.
The premier G5 program in the country over the last three years returns my number one offensive line among the non-power conferences. The Knights ranked eighth in the nation in line yards and 14th in stuff rate in 2018, proving that they could control the line of scrimmage in the ground game.
The only hiccup came when UCF was behind the chains and forced into a passing down where they ranked 94th in sack rate. The three returning starters, C Jordan Johnson, OT Jake Brown, and OG Cole Schneider, were all first team All-AAC in 2018 and combine for 75 career starts.
The Knights will have a big advantage in the trenches when they have the ball against FAU, Pittsburgh, and UConn early in the year.
UL-Monroe is one of the most under-looked teams in the country coming into 2019. According to Football Outsiders, the Warhawks ranked 26th or better in every offensive line category, outside of power success run rate and passing downs sack rate. Unfortunately, that means that they were unable to convert on third or fourth-and-short and gave up a few too many sacks on passing downs.
Despite those flaws, I consider this the best offensive line in the Sun Belt behind five returning starters and 132 career starts. They’d better be good because UL-Monroe must face three of the best defensive lines in the nation during non-conference play in Florida State, Iowa State, and Memphis.
The only G5 team to make each of my top quarterback, skill position, and offensive linemen lists is going to be a force on the offensive side of the ball. As long the offense remained on schedule in 2018, this line gave QB D’Eriq King plenty of time to throw the ball. They also ranked in the top-25 in opportunity rate and power success rate, meaning they excelled when running the ball.
They return three starters from last year’s line and are scheduled to start five upperclassmen that combine for 101 career starts.
In Week 1, the Cougars faces one of the worst power five defensive lines in the country from 2018 in Oklahoma. The Sooners are likely to improve that unit a bit but Houston catching 24.5 points seems like good value given that the total is currently at 82.
Louisiana’s deep, talented running back unit isn’t the only reason that it was dominant in the running game last year. The Ragin’ Cajuns’ offensive line paved the way for those backs, ranking 20th in line yards, 28th in power success rate, and 31st in stuff rate.
Pass blocking isn’t the strong suit of this unit, but with a three-headed monster in the backfield and an athletic quarterback, I’m bullish on this offensive line’s potential. They return all five starters, led by first team All-Sun Belt guard Kevin Dotson, and combine for 131 career starts.
They’ll be tested immediately in their Week 1 matchup against Mississippi State but they should be able to hold their own against a talented yet inexperienced Bulldogs defensive line.
I’ll be looking to bet Louisiana against the below average defensive lines of Liberty, Ohio, and Georgia Southern early in the season.
The Thundering Herd certainly live up to their nickname on the offensive line in 2019. This is a massive unit that should be able to impose their will on Conference USA defensive lines all season long. Protecting quarterback Isaiah Green was the strength of this offensive line last year not matter the down and distance.
Four starters, led by first team All-CUSA center Levi Brown, and their 111 career, return. Marshall also adds massive former Florida State starter and JuCo transfer Josh Ball. It’ll be strength-on-strength when the Thundering Herd travel to Boise State in week two to face a menacing defensive line.
It’s tough to take a lot of positives from the 4-8 season Ball State put up in 2018, but the offensive line showed signs of being one of the MAC’s best. This unit showed balance, ranking in the top-40 in both stuff rate and sack rate. The Cardinals offensive line was actually solid across the board, ranking no worse than 53rd in any offensive line category.
Ball State returns four starting offensive linemen and 109 career starts. They’ll be breaking in a new starting quarterback and running back so it’s up to the veteran linemen to lead the way on offense. In week one, the Cardinals are +17 against an Indiana team that really struggled on the defensive line.
They should be able to move the ball on the ground and chew clock at the very least.
Triple option teams are obviously going to have massive rushing totals, but Army took it to another level in 2018. Quarterback Kelvin Hopkins racked up yards behind on of the best offensive lines in the nation. They ranked in the top-20 in nearly every offensive line category, though the triple option aspect of their offense can skew those numbers slightly.
They’re sure to have another solid line in 2019, returning three starters. In their Week 2 matchup against Michigan, they’ll face a talented but inexperienced defensive line. Remember, they held explosive Oklahoma to just 28 points in 2018 by controlling the ball against, you guessed it, a talented but inexperienced defensive line. They could do something very similar as greater than three touchdown underdogs against the Wolverines.
Buffalo had a top-50 offense in 2018 thanks to good play from their quarterback, receivers, and linemen. This year, they return the backs and almost all of the linemen responsible for that production. Unfortunately for the Bulls the one offensive linemen that they lost was a first team All-MAC contributor.
Behind those four returning linemen with 88 career starts, the Buffalo run game should still be the strength of the offense. Having one of the best offensive lines and running back units in the MAC is a great place for the Bulls to start in what should be a down year for the conference.
Arkansas State loses the best player from an offensive line that ranked in the top-15 in line yards, stuff rate, and passing downs sack rate. The ability to control the line of scrimmage and protect the quarterback when the defense knows you have to pass shows just how strong this unit was.
Despite the loss of first team All-Sun Belt tackle Lanard Bonner, I’m still very high on this unit as they return three of their top five linemen form 2018 for a combined 65 career starts. In Week 1 against SMU, they face a very solid defensive line as 2.5 point favorites. The battle in the trenches will decide that game on both sides of the ball.
Western Michigan produced very good stuff rates and sack rates in 2018 and managed to control the line of scrimmage pretty well. They return three starters and 83 career starts from last year’s line, including their best overall lineman in first team All-MAC guard Luke Juriga.
Western Michigan was much better through the air than on the ground as an offensive unit and their line statistics back that up. They ranked 12th in passing downs sack rate and 19th in sack rate overall. Keeping quarterback Jon Wassink upright is imperative to their success in 2019.
When the Broncos take on Michigan State in Week 2, they’ll face an elite defensive line. The experience and continuity should help them but they’ll be at a large talent disadvantage. I expect them to use the experience against superior competition to their advantage in MAC play though.