Time to look at the 2012 MAC football season. We're going to preview the conference unit by unit, ranking the teams one through 13 at every position and facet we can think of. Today: the defensive lines.
There is a lot of carryover for this conference's offensive linemen coming into this season. Most of last season's top groups return intact, and several of last year's lesser groups are at the very least deeper and/or healthier, if not better (at least not yet).
A few groups make a drop, and a few even hit the reset button on their offensive system. Just enough mixing of the pot to keep things interesting this year.
- Ohio - It's unlikely that you can lose a four-year starter at both tackle positions and still be as dominant as you were the year prior, but if any team can do it, it's a Frank Solich team. This squad held their own both on the ground and in the air and will have the returning experience necessary to remain atop the conference.
- Ball State - In terms of total career starts, this is the most experienced offensive line in all of Division I. They had some struggles last season, but I think a lot of that is attributable to the new system that Pete Lembo put in place. This is a smart group and another year of repetitions will serve them well.
- Eastern Michigan - For those of you who don't know, this team was very good at running the ball last season (218 ypg, 14th). This unit only loses one starter, and with Ron English's recruiting skill they are also deeper than the last couple years. I'm ranking them above Western based mostly on that aspect.
- Western Michigan - This group of guys is probably Bill Cubit's most talented and experienced offensive line during his time with the Broncos...we all saw the destruction they imparted on a regular basis with the passing numbers they Allowed Alex Carder to put up. They will replace one starter at right guard with a true freshman, so there's some chance for a slip, but this is still a very strong group.
- Central Michigan - This group of five guys' least experienced lineman missed last year with a broken leg and was a full-time starter before that. This group is very experienced, very deep and probably Dan Enos' best ever offensive line, much like Mr. Cubit. Which is good, given Enos' job security.
- Bowling Green - The Falcons losing Ben Bojicic is a pretty big deal - he was a truly great lineman and a very experienced leader. That said, he was the only significant loss for the team, which means this is still a pretty deep line - possibly Clawson's strongest in his time as coach.
- Buffalo - A team that was very impressive in the run game last year and a bit inconsistent protecting in the pass game will return three returning starters, one of whom (Graham Whinery) will move from center to right guard to make way for Trevor Sales, a Delaware State transfer.
- Massachusetts - This line is comparable to the upper tier in the MAC in terms of being a big experienced line. However, these boys, like Akron are shifting offensive schemes this season. Also this team has been competing at a talent level a bit lower than Division I prior to this season, so we will see how all that change translates for them.
- Kent State - This one is a tricky ranking. Their numbers overall last season were decidedly unimpressive, but their last five games were a drastic improvement. This was largely due to a significant reshuffling (redshirt freshman Tyler Arend was slotted in at right guard, Kent Cleveland moved from there to right tackle, and Josh Kline shifted to left guard). They must replace a four-year starter at center (AJ Huff comes in) and we shall see which half of last season is more indicative of their abilities.
- Northern Illinois - There are a grand total of seven teams in D-I that have a less experienced offensive line than NIU this season. This line was very good last season, but with all that experience gone there will be a marked dip in production - it's too early to predict how much, but it likely won't be small.
- Toledo - Pretty much the same story as the Huskies here. A great line from last season will be replacing three very experienced starters, and so there will be a noticeable drop in their abilities. If you didn't noticed, I've ranked the experienced teams well, so the opposite puts NIU and Toledo down here.
- Miami - This line was not very good last season - they gave up an awful lot of sacks, and they also ran the ball very poorly. They are bound to be better with a second year in a new system, and a year where everyone can manage to remain healthy. Their only big replacement is a lost Brandon Brooks, but they've got an awful lot of room for improvement.
- Akron - The Zips' O-line is less experienced than the year before for a second time in a row, plus they are implementing a new offensive style under Terry Bowden and his staff. This is the smallest line in the conference, and they will probably struggle to be drastically better than last season despite their experience.