Fall practice is under way everywhere, and that means the 2012 season has started.
While we're still a bit more than three weeks from the first game, the final three weeks of waiting will seem like about two or three days compared to the past seven months.
Today, we unveil the third of our national unit rankings. We'll reveal one unit per day and started Monday with offensive backfields and followed that with receiving corps. The series ends next Monday with 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.
The starters: C Dominic Espinosa, Gs Trey Hopkins and Mason Walters, Ts Josh Cochran and Donald Hawkins
The buzz: Texas improved its per-game rushing average by 52 yards per game last season, and the big guys up front were a big reason. Walters, a junior who has started every game the past two seasons, is the standout. Espinosa, Hopkins and Cochran also are returning starters; Cochran and Espinosa were among the better freshmen o-linemen in the nation last season. The lone new starter is Hawkins, a JC transfer who might have the highest upside of any tackle in the Big 12. His nickname in junior college in Mississippi was "Franchise."
The starters: C Hroniss Grasu, Gs Ryan Clanton and Carson York, Ts Nick Cody and Jake Fisher
The buzz: The Ducks have three returning starters: Cody, Grasu and York. York is the leading All-Pac-12 contender; he has started 36 games in his career. Clanton is in his second season with the program after transferring in from a junior college. Fisher is a Michigan native who went west for college ball. This is not an overly big line but these guys are agile, which shouldn't surprise anyone considering the amount of pulling they do in the Ducks' spread offense.
8. Georgia Tech
The starters: C Jay Finch, Gs Will Jackson and Omoregie Uzzi, Ts Morgan Bailey and Ray Beno
The buzz: Four starters return, with Bailey the new starter (actually, he is vying with Tyler Kidney for a starting job). Tech has a strong group of interior linemen, and Uzzi has All-America potential. Uzzi, a senior, and Jackson, a junior, are headed into their third seasons as starters. The Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense requires a lot of cut-blocking, which doesn't always go over too well with opposing defenses. There's no question the Yellow Jackets take advantage of their foes' wariness about that style of blocking.
The starters: C Travis Frederick, Gs Robert Burge and Ryan Groy, Ts Rob Havenstein and Ricky Wagner
The buzz: Frederick and Wagner are the only returning starters, and Frederick started at guard last season. No matter: Wisconsin churns out offensive linemen like Detroit used to churn out cars. Havenstein and Wagner can block out the sun, and Frederick is one of the top four or five centers nationally.
6. North Carolina
The starters: C Russell Bodine, Gs Travis Bond and Gs Jonathan Cooper, Ts James Hurst and Brennan Williams
The buzz: The Heels return four starters; Bodine is the new guy, but he made two starts last season and played a lot. Cooper, who will be a four-year starter, has All-America potential and should be a high pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Hurst, a junior, began living up to his five-star recruiting ranking last season. Bond is massive (6-7/345) and a road-grading mauler.
5. Texas A&M
The starters: C Patrick Lewis, Gs Jarvis Harrison and Cedric Ogbuehi, Ts Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews
The buzz: The Joeckel-Matthews tackle duo might be the best in the nation. Joeckel has started all 26 games since he set foot on campus; Matthews, whose dad, Bruce, is an NFL Hall of Fame lineman, has started the past 20 games. Both are juniors who could turn pro after this season. Joeckel is a lock to go in the first round, and Matthews also is a possibility. Lewis is going to be a four-year starter; he spent his first two seasons at guard, and is a good run blocker. Harrison and Ogbuehi combined to start 11 games as redshirt freshmen last season, and both have a high ceiling.
4. Michigan State
The starters: C Travis Jackson, Gs Blake Treadwell and Chris McDonald, Ts Fou Fonoti and Dan France
The buzz: Jackson was one of the best freshmen offensive linemen in the nation last season, and he'll line up next to McDonald, a senior who is going to be a three-year starter for the Spartans and looks to be the best guard in the Big Ten this season. Fonoti stepped into the starting lineup out of junior college last season and helped solidify the line. France is a converted defensive lineman who plays aggressively. Treadwell is the one new starter, and he, too, is a converted defensive lineman.
The starters: C Khaled Holmes, Gs Marcus Martin and John Martinez, Ts Kevin Graf and Aundrey Walker
The buzz: Holmes is considered the best pro prospect among the nation's centers. This will be his third season as a starter for the Trojans and his second at center; he started at guard in 2009. He already is working on his master's degree in communication management. Martin was one of several Trojans who earned freshman All-America honors last season. He was the first true freshman to start at guard for the Trojans since 2004. Four starters return, with Walker new to the group. Walker, a 6-6 sophomore from prep powerhouse Cleveland Glenville, has dropped 50-plus pounds but still tips the scales at around 310 pounds. He looks to have the highest upside of the linemen because of incredibly good footwork. He is one of 17 siblings and the youngest of 14 boys.
The starters: C P.J. Lonergan, Gs Josh Dworaczyk and Josh Williford, Ts Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst
The buzz: Four starters return: both tackles, Lonergan and Williford. Dworaczyk is a senior who started every game in 2009 and '10 before missing last season with a knee injury suffered in fall camp. He will have to hold off touted sophomore La'El Collins for a starting job. The Faulk-Hurst tackle tandem is one of the two or three best in the nation.
The starters: C Barrett Jones, Gs Anthony Steen and Chance Warmack, Ts D.J. Fluker and Cyrus Kouandjio
The buzz: In Jones, Warmack and the massive Fluker, the Tide has three players who will go in the top two rounds of the 2013 NFL draft. Jones is on his third position and he was an All-American at the first two (guard in 2010 and tackle last season, when he won the Outland Trophy). Fluker (6-6/335) flat out mows down people as a run blocker. Warmack frequently is overlooked, but will be a three-year starter and is a road-grader when blocking for the run.
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