Ranking the nation's top 20 interior linemen

Mike Huguenin
Yahoo! Sports

The nation's two best interior linemen play in the SEC – for the same team, in fact.

It's rare when that happens. It's also rare when six of the top nine interior linemen are centers, but that's also the case this season. Interestingly, three of those six were guards last season.

This is the third part of our breakdown of the nation's best players at each position; today, we're picking the top 20 interior offensive linemen. Part one of our position breakdowns was on running backs and part two covered wide receivers and tight ends.

"Best" doesn't necessarily mean the most pro potential or even the most talent. Instead, it's a mix of what the player has accomplished and how we think the player will do this season. But production does trump potential.

We will look at a position a day until Aug. 27, when we rank all 124 of the nation's quarterbacks. Next up is the offensive tackles.

Here are the interior linemen rankings.

20. C Mario Benavides, Louisville

Particulars: 6-4/280, Sr.; Los Fresnos (Texas) High
Buzz: He will be a four-year starter for the Cardinals. In his first three seasons, Benavides has made it through just one (his redshirt freshman season in 2009) unscathed. He missed one game in 2010 and missed the first three games last season. He also missed spring drills, but is 100 percent and should be the best lineman in the Big East.

19. G Braden Hansen, BYU

Particulars: 6-6/307, Sr.; Sandy (Utah) Alta
Buzz: He has started every game the past three seasons, 39 in a row. The school record for consecutive starts is 52, so Hansen could tie it. Hansen signed with BYU in 2006 and redshirted that fall. He spent two years on a Mormon mission in Philadelphia and returned to the team in 2009. He is a top-notch pass blocker.

18. G Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State

Particulars: 6-4/320, Jr.; Amite (Miss.) Liberty Co.
Buzz: Jackson played tackle in high school and redshirted as a true freshman in 2009. He has started every game in the past two seasons and is known for his physical run blocking. Jackson was coached by his dad in high school.

17. C Weston Richburg, Colorado State

Particulars: 6-4/297, Jr.; Bushland (Texas) High
Buzz: Richburg has started all 24 games in his Rams career. He's a former high school quarterback who never had played center until he arrived at Colorado State. He is from a tiny town (population of less than 200) near Amarillo. Richburg is one of three Rams from Bushland.

16. G Mason Walters, Texas

Particulars: 6-6/320, Jr.; Wolfforth (Texas) Frenship
Buzz: Walters, a former five-star recruit, has started every game the past two seasons, and is the leader of a line that has made great strides in the past two years. He played one game at tackle as a true freshman in 2009 but was injured and ended up redshirting; he has been a guard since.

15. G Blaize Foltz, TCU

Particulars: 6-4/310, Sr.; Rose Hill (Kan.) High
Buzz: He is heading into his second season as a starter for the Horned Frogs. Foltz, whose brother, Blake, is redshirt freshman guard, was the first player from his high school to earn a Division I athletic scholarship. Foltz already has a communication degree and is playing this fall as a grad student.

14. G Chris McDonald, Michigan State

Particulars: 6-5/298, Sr.; Sterling Heights (Mich.) Henry Ford II
Buzz: McDonald is entering his third season as the starter and is considered the best player on a line returning four starters. He played more snaps (775) than any other Spartans offensive lineman during the regular season in 2011. He has allowed just one sack in the past two seasons. And speaking of sacks, he holds his high school's record for career sacks with 22 as a defensive player.

13. G Carson York, Oregon

Particulars: 6-5/293, Sr.; Coeur d'Alene (Idaho) Lake City
Buzz: He will be a four-year starter for the Ducks. He signed with Oregon in 2007 but delayed his enrollment until 2008 because he was recovering from shoulder surgery. York is a three-time All-Pac-12 academic honoree; he's a journalism major, which, of course, means he is brilliant.

12. G Alvin Bailey, Arkansas

Particulars: 6-5/312, Jr.; Broken Arrow (Okla.) High
Buzz: He has started all 26 games of his Arkansas career. In high school, he bench pressed more than 400 pounds and squatted 590 pounds. His dad, Alvin Sr., was a basketball player for the Razorbacks in the late 1970s.

11. G Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State

Particulars: 6-3/328, Sr.; Arlington (Texas) Martin
Buzz: He will be a four-year starter for the Cowboys and did not allow a sack last season. He is Oklahoma State's only returning starting offensive lineman for the second season in a row.

10. G Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech

Particulars: 6-3/300, Sr.; Chamblee (Ga.) High
Buzz: He is heading into his third season as a starter for the Yellow Jackets. Uzzi is a physical, punishing run blocker who is extremely adept at pulling in Tech's triple-option attack. His name is pronounced, "o-more-gay ooze-E."

9. C Graham Pocic, Illinois

Particulars: 6-7/310, Sr.; Lemont (Ill.) High
Buzz: He will be a three-year starter for the Illini. He was an offensive tackle in high school but looks to have a bright future at center in the NFL. He was a four-star recruit, as is his younger brother, Ethan, an offensive tackle who has committed to LSU.

8. C/G Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma

Particulars: 6-4/295, Jr.; Oklahoma City (Okla.) Bishop McGuinness
Buzz: Ikard arrived on campus in 2009 as a tight end and redshirted as a true freshman. He has played guard and center since, and is heading into his third season as a starter. Ikard was a freshman All-America selection in 2010 and was a first-team All-Big 12 choice last season. He showed his versatility by spending half of last season at center when Ben Habern was injured. Habern had to give up football earlier this month because of a neck injury, so Ikard is expected to play center this fall.

7. C Dalton Freeman, Clemson

Particulars: 6-5/285, Sr.; Pelion (S.C.) High
Buzz: He redshirted as a freshman in 2008, then moved into the starting lineup four games into his redshirt freshman season and has not left. He has good size and strength. Freeman was the All-ACC center last season and will vie for All-America honors this fall as he blocks for what should be one of the most potent offenses in the nation.

6. G Larry Warford, Kentucky

Particulars: 6-3/336, Sr.; Richmond (Ky.) Madison Central
Buzz: Warford will be a three-year starter for the Wildcats, who always seem to have one or two guys who could play for anybody. Warford is that guy this season. Warford is physical at the point of attack, but also nimble enough to pull and lead on sweeps. He started at offensive tackle as a sophomore at Oceanside (Calif.) High before moving to Kentucky for his final two years of high school. His mom lives in Samoa.

5. C Travis Frederick, Wisconsin

Particulars: 6-4/328, Jr.; Walworth (Wis.) Big Foot
Buzz: Frederick is the latest star off the Badgers' offensive lineman assembly line. Frederick started as a true freshman in 2009 before an injury sidelined him after five games. He sat out the 2010 season, then returned last fall. He was a second-team All-Big Ten pick as a guard last season. Frederick, who played some center in the past, was moved there during the spring to take over for Peter Konz, who left early for the NFL. And, yes, he really did go to Big Foot High.

4. G Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina

Particulars: 6-3/310, Sr.; Wilmington (N.C.) Hoggard
Buzz: Cooper is going to be a four-year starter and heads a good Tar Heels line. He was a freshman All-America pick in 2009 and has been a second-team All-ACC selection in each of the past two seasons. Cooper is athletic and a run-blocking force; he is able to pull and get to linebackers and defensive backs. He thought about turning pro but decided to stay in school for his senior season.

3. C Khaled Holmes, USC

Particulars: 6-4/305, Sr.; Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei
Buzz: Holmes redshirted in 2008, then barely played in 2009. But he started at guard in 2010 and center last fall, and heads into this season as one of the nation's top linemen. Holmes is used to playing with Trojans QB Matt Barkley: They attended the same high school. Holmes is both physical and agile, and is considered above-average in pass protection. He graduated with a degree in communications in the spring of 2011 and is working on a master's degree in communication management. Holmes' brother-in-law is Troy Polamalu.

2. G Chance Warmack, Alabama

Particulars: 6-3/320, Sr.; Atlanta Westlake
Buzz: Warmack will be a three-year starter and has started each of the past 26 games for the Tide. He was a second-team All-SEC pick last season. He is a road-grader as a run blocker and also is solid in pass protection.

1. C Barrett Jones, Alabama

Particulars: 6-5/302, Sr.; Memphis Evangelical Christian
Buzz: Jones was an All-America guard as a sophomore in 2010. He was an All-America tackle as a junior last season. Now he goes for the hat trick, as he moved to center during spring drills. Jones won the Outland Trophy last season. Jones was a center in high school, but his NFL position likely will be guard. His dad, Rex, played basketball at Alabama under Wimp Sanderson from 1982-84.

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