Posted on: November 11, 2008 2:08 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2008 2:18 pm

The Big Guys Up Front

There are many schools of thought as to what is the key to building a good team: Some may say that you've got to have a star quarterback; others contend that having a stud running back will make a winning team; countless others propose that a good defense is best route to success on the gridiron. Me? I say they are all wrong. Whilst the aforementioned items are nice, a team will go nowhere without a good convoy to lead them up front. In other words...are all you head coaches listening? ....The key to winning football games is to have a solid offensive line. Period.

Think about it. If an offensive line can break open gaping holes, any running back with enough athletic ability to make a college (or NFL) team can run through them. If an offensive line can hold off charging defensive linemen and linebackers, any quarterback with enough skill to make a college (or NFL) team will make the throws. If an offensive line can hold off these defensive players long enough, any wide receiver who can make a college (or NFL) team will get open. If an offensive line can control the line of scrimmage on a consistant basis, a team can control the ball for the majority of the game, and having a great defense becomes less of an issue. Offensive lines, however subtle their play may be, win football games. They win championships!

So you want some proof? I can dish it out all day

The West Virginia Mountaineers, my area of expertise:

Throughout much of the past three seasons, spectators have become accustomed to seeing the Mounties slice and dice their way through opposing defenses. Fans have seen the likes of Steve Slaton, Pat White, Noel Devine, Darius Reynaud, and Owen Schmitt bust through the line on the way to paydirt. The Mountaineers have won two BCS games in the last three years and three consecutive New-Year's bowl games. But did you ever notice how the Mountaineer players were able to run unscathed for 60 yards? No player, despite his talent level, would have been able to accomplish such feats on a regular basis without the gaping holes created by the Mountaineers offensive line. Fast-forward to the current, less-successful Mountaineers team and you will see a team that often gets beat at the line of scrimmage. You might also notice that, during the times when the team is successful, getting beat at the line of scrimmage is not an issue. Coincidence? I think not!

The Alabama Crimson Tide:

Don't look now, but Bama's back. Okay, go ahead and look. That's right, they sit alone atop the BCS standings. They're undefeated in the mighty SEC with victories over LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Clemson, among others. How could this be, you say? Hasn't this team lost six straight times to Auburn, lost twice in a row to lowly Mississippi State, and lost to Louisiana-Monroe in recent memory? Wasn't this a team that was an afterthought entering the 2008 season? Well no more! Nick Saban has brought Alabama back into the national picture in just one season, and the Tide isn't doing it by getting lucky. They are flat out beating opponents, and they are doing it by using a dominating, ball-control offense. From zero to hero in one year. You can thank that awesome Alabama O-Line.

The Georgia Bulldogs:

Georgia will win the 2008/2009 BCS National Championship! Knowshon Moreno will be the second sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy in as many years and Matthew Stafford will be the first-overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft. (cue Lee Corso voiceover) Not so fast, my friend! Over the course of the pre-season and early season, the Dawgs lost offensive tackles Vince Vance and Trinton Sturdivant to season-ending knee injuries. Suddenly, Georgia isn't dominant as they had shown they could be during the end of last season, and, after losses to Alabama and Florida and a close tussle with Kentucky, are out of the talks for the national championship. Georgia is certainly a good team, with the potential to be a great team. The difference? The Dawgs' ailing offensive line. Oh, and I just heard that starting right tackle Justin Anderson will miss time with a foot injury--better watch out for the annual clash with that Ramblin' Wreck!

The Florida Gators:

We'll stick with the SEC East as we examine the role of another offensive line in conjunction with team success, the Florida Gators. During the 2007 season , coming off a national championship campaign in 2006, the Gators rode on the back of superstar Tim Tebow all the way to a 9-4 finish, including a disappointing loss to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day, 2008. The culprit? I'd say lack of a dominant offensive line. In fact, the Gators ranked 10th in the SEC and 91st in the nation in rushing yards in 2007 and finished in a three-way tie for seventh in the SEC for yards-per-carry at 3.7. Say what you will about lack of a true running back, but with the ability to slide Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow in on running plays, it is a moot point. Fast-forward to 2008. The Florida Gators are absolutely demolishing opponents, having lost only once this season. In victory, Florida dominates opponents, its offensive line leading the way. In its lone defeat this season, Florida lost to Ole Miss by way of a blocked extra point! Tell me the O-line didn't take the blame for that one!

The Indianapolis Colts:

Just to show that the O-line trend doesn't only affect college teams, I'll throw in an NFL team, for good measure. Take the Indianapolis Colts. They have future hall-of-famer Peyton Manning. They have Reggie Wayne. They have Marvin Harrison. They have Joseph Addai. They have Bob Sanders. They have been one of the best teams in the league in recent memory--until 2008. The culprit? You know where this one is going. Injuries to the offensive-line! Guards Mike Pollak and Ryan Lilja, along with all-pro center Jeff Saturday went down with injuries in the preseason. The result? A mediocre 5-4 start that could just as easily be 1-8. Obviously, the Colts have been improving steadily over the last few weeks with close wins over New England and Pittsburgh. It's no coincidence that this success coincides with the return of Jeff Saturday and the healing of other injuries along the offensive front.

Obviously, everyone can think of more examples of the "O-Line Effect" and I challenge anyone to name a good team with a bad offensive line. I think you'll be hard-pressed to find one indeed! I'll appreciate any feedback, except that of the negative variety
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