Philadelphia, PA – One look at Alabama's offensive line last season and it is easy to see how the Crimson Tide steamrolled Notre Dame en route to their second straight national title.
Dominant play up front is crucial to the success of any FBS program.
Here is a list of the top offensive linemen entering the 2013 season:
TAYLOR LEWAN (Michigan): Not many thought the 6-foot-8, 308-pound Lewan would return to Ann Arbor for his senior season. A three-year starter at left tackle, he is as seasoned as they come on the outside. After earning All-Big Ten second-team honors in 2011, Lewan was named an AP All-American in 2012, while being tabbed an All-Big Ten first-team honoree and winning the Big Ten Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award. He is much more polished as a run blocker than as a pass blocker, but should continue to hone his game and secure a spot early in next year's NFL Draft barring injury.
JAKE MATTHEWS (Texas A&M): Another bookend who was projected to be a first- round pick in April, but returned for a senior season is the 6-5, 305-pound Matthews. It doesn't get much better from a pedigree standpoint, as Jake is the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. A complete lineman who excels in both run blocking and pass protection, Matthews, along with NFL first-round pick Luke Joeckel, played a key role in Johnny Manziel's huge season and improbable run to the Heisman Trophy. Add a high football I.Q. and great leadership qualities and Matthews could join Joeckel as a top-five NFL Draft pick.
CYRUS KOUANDJIO (Alabama): Yes, the Crimson Tide have to replace three stud offensive linemen who were selected on the first day of the NFL Draft in April, but for Alabama, the team seems to have a revolving door of talent in the trenches. That's were Kouandjio comes in. It was the 6-6, 310-pounder's potential on the outside that forced All-American Barrett Jones to move to center and Kouandjio rewarded Nick Saban for his confidence in him. Big road graders with supreme athleticism are the norm in Tuscaloosa and Kouandjio fits the mold.
DAVID YANKEY (Stanford): The Cardinal had another strong season, the first in the post-Andrew Luck era, and the 6-5, 311-pound Yankey was a big reason why. Starting all 14 games for Stanford as a junior, Yankey earned All-America honors, was an All-Pac-12 first-team member and picked up the 2012 Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's top offensive lineman. There aren't many weaknesses in his game at this point, and he is adept as both a pass blocker and run blocker. He will have to take his game to another level as a senior, as Stanford's schedule is brutal in terms of pass rush specialists, Yankey will be under the magnifying glass most of the season and how he holds up will determine his overall draft stock.
JAMES HURST (North Carolina): Another veteran who has gotten better and better as his career has progressed, the 6-7, 305-pound Hurst will be an anchor along North Carolina's offensive line in 2013. Hurst earned Freshman All-America honors in 2010, All-ACC second-team honors in 2011 and first-team honors this past season. A natural athlete with the size to dominate on the outside, Hurst is already a potential first-round NFL prospect. Fine-tuning in terms of technique could propel him into the top 10.
CYRIL RICHARDSON (Baylor): At 6-5, 335 pounds, Richardson passes the eyeball test. He played left tackle in 2011, but was moved back to guard in 2012 and really excelled, earning All-America second-team honors, while being named to the All-Big 12 first team. He enters his senior season as three-year starter with 38 career starts, with a explosive stable of tailbacks, headlined by All- America candidate Lache Seastrunk. Richardson's superior run blocking may just help solidify him as the top guard prospect in next year's NFL draft.
XAVIER SU'A-FILO (UCLA): An All-Pac-12 first-team selection in 2012, Su'a-Filo (6-5, 315) showed versatility, playing both guard and tackle for the Bruins. After earning all-conference accolades in 2009, Su'a-Filo took a couple years off to serve on a Mormon mission. He definitely made up for lost time in 2012 and has now positioned himself among the top offensive linemen heading into 2013. His versatility at different positions along with his ability to dominate both as a run blocker and in pass protection will help solidify his draft status and keep the Bruins moving in the right direction.
GABE JACKSON (Mississippi State): The 6-4, 320-pound Jackson was named to the All-SEC second team as a junior in 2012, after earning a similar distinction in 2011. This Bulldog will set his sights a bit higher in 2013 and could very well earn All-America honors as a result. Currently not looked upon as a bona fide first-round NFL draft pick, that could change with another superior campaign. Jackson's strength right now is run blocking. He will need to prove he is equally gifted in pass protection to maximize his potential.
SPENCER LONG (Nebraska): A former walk-on at Nebraska, the 6-4, 315-pound Long has turned himself into a fixture along the Cornhuskers' offensive line. Last year, Long was named to the All-Big Ten first team, while garnering All-America second-team honors. Long has gotten better with each season in Lincoln and that trend should continue through 2013.
TRE' JACKSON (Florida State): He burst on the scene in 2012 as a sophomore, starting at right guard and immediately establishing himself as one of the ACC's top interior lineman. The 6-4, 327-pounder is a big reason why FSU set a school record in 2012 in terms of overall offense (6,591 yards), as the Seminoles got back to a dominant ground attack. With four of FSU's starting offensive linemen returning in 2013, another productive season in Tallahassee is not only possible, but expected. Jumping into the fray last year, Jackson should grow as a player and emerge as one of the nation's best by season's end.
BRYAN STORK (Florida State): A veteran presence along the line for Florida State, the 6-4, 312-pound Stork is regarded as the top pivot in the country after making the transition from guard. He has plenty of size to hold up at the next level, but also maintains great athleticism to be a versatile lineman in a zone-blocking scheme. A talented offensive line at Florida State will be in good hands with Stork in the middle.
RUSSELL BODINE (North Carolina): Bodine took over the pivot in 2012 and helped solidify the interior of the UNC line along with NFL first-round selection Jonathan Cooper. The 6-4, 310-pound Bodine should be able to take the next step in his evolution at the center position after providing superb play in 2012 in both running and passing situations. Some key players are no longer in Chapel Hill (Cooper and Giovani Bernard), but the Tar Heel offense should continue to thrive and Bodine will be right in the middle of it.
TRAVIS SWANSON (Arkansas): With the star power along Alabama's offensive line, there were several dominant players who were relegated to the All-SEC second team last year, including this Arkansas Razorback. The 6-5, 305-pound Swanson has graded out well as both a run blocker and pass blocker. With a new sheriff in town in Bret Bielema, Swanson has an opportunity to really make his case for first-team honors in 2013 and all the attention that comes with it.
GABE IKARD (Oklahoma): This veteran Sooner has moved around the offensive line quite a bit in Norman. The 6-2, 298-pound Ikard started 11 games as a freshman, earning All-America honors. He was named an All-Big 12 first-team member in 2011 and followed that up with the same recognition in 2012. A bit undersized to play guard at the next level, Ikard would be best served to continue manning the pivot for Oklahoma in 2012. With great leadership qualities and a high football I.Q., expect Ikard's last season in Norman to be one of his best.
TYLER LARSEN (Utah State): A two-time All-WAC first-team selection (2011 and 2012), he certainly doesn't garner much publicity playing in Logan for the Aggies, but the 6-4, 312-pound Larsen has been a big fish in a small pond. He racked up over 65 knockdowns as a junior a year ago and is regarded as a true power player. A very disciplined center who knows his role, expect another strong season at Utah State, before heading off to the NFL.