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2020 Minnesota Gopher Football Preview: Upgrade or downgrade at offensive line?

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A look at whether the 2020 offensive line is going to be an upgrade or a downgrade over 2019

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

There are two areas on a college football offense that matter more than anything else. Quarterback and offensive line. Having a great running back or receiver is icing on the cake, but when you have a talented and experienced offensive line to block for a talented and experienced quarterback, everything falls into place.

The Gophers are fortunate to have both of those returning intact from their successful 2019 season. Here we go, into the trenches, to look at the offensive line for Minnesota.

2019

Starter: Sam Schlueter (LT), Blaise Andries (LG), Conner Olson (C), Curtis Dunlap Jr. (RG), Daniel Faalele (RT)
Depth: John Michael Schmitz, Alex Ruschmeyer, Nathan Boe

The offensive line was a unit that struggled in the early part of the season but really came together in the Big Ten season to be a major contributor to the overall success of this Gopher offense. By the end of the season all 5 starters had earned at least honorable mention All-Big Ten honors with Andries making it to the 3rd-team.

Schlueter, who was a bit of a mess in 2018, rebounded to have a fantastic season at LT. Andries and Olson were rock solid in the middle. Dunlap and Faalele struggled the most in the early part of the season but they eventually found their footing to anchor the right side of the line.

Schmitz was the next man up and is certainly a starting caliber lineman who gives this unit some high quality depth. His talent, along with Olson’s position flexibility, really gave this unit a “starting six.” And fortunately that was all they really needed in 2019. Ruschmeyer and Boe each played in a handful of games while a couple true freshmen, JJ Gueden & Austin Beier, saw limited action to get their feet wet.

2020

Starter: Sam Schlueter (LT), Blaise Andries (LG), Conner Olson (C), Curtis Dunlap Jr. (RG), Daniel Faalele (RT)
Depth: John Michael Schmitz (C), JJ Guedet (T), Alex Ruschmeyer (G), Austin Beier (G), Nathan Boe

Everyone returns. And along the OL an extra 12 months to get bigger and stronger is so valuable.

Once again you have a “starting six” where if anybody goes down to injury, Schmitz steps into center, Olsen moves to one of the guard spots (if necessary) and Andries moves to a tackle. Should there be multiple injuries, then we get down to less proven players but players who are a year older/stronger than they were in 2019.

There has been a little drama along the line over the last couple months. Dunlap announced that he was going to enter the transfer portal, only to change his mind and announce he’s coming back. There are currently rumors that one starter may still be choosing to opt out of the 2020 season. So who will actually be starting on October 24th is up in the air, though until anything is confirmed I will assume the starters above.

Having everyone healthy last year, allowing the young guys the opportunity to redshirt, was great for future seasons. This coming year, we may need a couple of the young guys to be ready to play. Guedet, Beier, Rushmeyer and Boe are the most likely candidates to see snaps and their level of readiness could be an important development this fall.

Upgrade / Downgrade

Assuming everyone is returning and the starters are as we expect, this unit is going to be an upgrade. Addition strength and presumably a better understanding of technique and their specific responsibilities all come with experience. I think it is a pretty safe assumption that this unit will be an upgrade over 2019. And if the guys on the right side take some steps forward in their development, this unit could be a massive upgrade.

Poll

Will the offensive line be an upgrade in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    UPGRADE - this one is clearly an updgrade
    (240 votes)
  • 15%
    NEUTRAL - same names, similar results
    (44 votes)
  • 2%
    DOWNGRADE - we just can’t have nice things along the offensive line
    (8 votes)
292 votes total Vote Now