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June 26, 2012
The ACC has several talented offensive linemen returning in 2012. Virginia probably has the most talented pair of bookends in the league with 6-6, 310-pound senior Oday Aboushi on one side and 6-6, 335-pound junior Morgan Moses on the other.
Meanwhile, NC State has the second-most experienced front line in the country with a combined 112 career starts returning this fall. Meanwhile, many prognosticators are listing North Carolina as the best group of protectors in the league - four returning starters have combined for 91 starts in their careers. Georgia Tech and Boston College also return four starters up front.
Lindy's and Phil Steele's football preview magazines agreed that the Tar Heels returned the best offensive line in the ACC, with Lindy's ranking it as the nation's No. 7 group and Steele ranking it as the ninth-best unit in the country. Lindy's listed NC State with the league's second-best group, while Steele gave the honor to Georgia Tech, which he ranked as the 12th-best group in the land. Steele then listed Virginia, with the nation's No. 18 line, and NC State, with the nation's 20th-best group.
1. Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech
The success of Georgia Tech's option offense largely depends on the play of the offensive line, and Uzzi was one of the nation's best last year. The guard owns 26 career starts and was named second-team All-America by Sports Illustrated while Rivals.com named him to their third-team in 2011, despite the fact that he was limited to just 11 games. He is one of just two first-team All-ACC selections along the offensive line that returns in 2012.
Uzzi was also named first-team All-ACC after he earned second-team laurels during his sophomore campaign, and the 6-3, 305-pounder helped the Yellow Jackets' offensive line pave the way for the nation's No. 2 rushing attack. In 2010, the squad led the nation in rushing, and they have paced the country in rushing yards per game in each of the last four seasons.
The senior is ranked by Kiper as the No. 5 senior guard in the land, while Lindy's ranked him as the No. 2 player at his position in college football. Steele listed Uzzi as the No. 5 guard in the nation.
2. Oday Aboushi, Virginia
The 6-6, 310 pound senior was named second-team All-ACC last season after he started all 13 games for the Cavaliers at left tackle. The squad ranked among the nation's least-sacked teams in the country, as the unit, led by Aboushi, allowed just 1.23 sacks per game, which ranked 24th in the nation.
He was twice named the league's Offensive Lineman of the Week, including after the Indiana game, when he notched 13 knockdown blocks and helped UVa piled up 360 yards of total offense, and after the Miami game, when he tallied 11 knockdowns and the Wahoos racked up 470 yards of total offense.
Aboushi, who is being touted as a possible first-round draft pick in next year's draft, also started all 12 of the team's contests in 2010. The Brooklyn native is listed as Mel Kiper, Jr.'s No. 2 senior tackle in the land and just missed the ESPN Draft guru's Big Board, which lists the top 25 draft-eligible prospects. He was also named one of college football's top 10 tackles by Lindy's (No. 6) and Phil Steele (No. 9).
3. Dalton Freeman, Clemson
The 6-5, 285 pound senior is the other returning offensive lineman who was named first-team All-ACC last season. He enters his fourth campaign as the starter in 2012 and has started in 36 straight contests. The senior is one of just two returning starters up front for the Tigers, but is one of the ACC's most intelligent blockers; he has been selected to the All-ACC Academic Football Team for three straight seasons.
Freeman was a finalist for the 2011 Rimington Award, the honor given to the nation's top center annually, and he should also contend for the Outland Trophy in his final season. He played a school-record 1,044 snaps last season and has 143 career knockdowns.
4. James Hurst, North Carolina
The towering junior has started 25 of the 26 games he has appeared in during his career, including all 13 last season. The 6-7, 305-pounder was named second-team All-ACC last season after lining up at left tackle, and he should lead a talented group this fall. He was a first-team Freshman All-America, according to Rivals.com and Steele, after lining up at right tackle in 2010.
Kiper lists him as the No. 4 junior bookend in the country, while Steele ranks him as the No. 8 overall tackle in college football.
5. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
The 6-3, 305 pound senior has earned second-team All-ACC honors in each of the past two years, and will return to an experienced offensive line. The guard has started 35 games in his career, the most of any returning protector in the ACC, and tied for the fifth-most of any returning player.
Cooper was ranked as the No. 1 senior guard in the land by Kiper, while Steele ranks him as the No. 1 guard in college football. Lindy's listed the Wilmington native as the No. 6 guard in the nation.
6. Camden Wentz, NC State
The redshirt senior is another heady player, who checks in at 6-3, 301 pounds. The pivot started all 13 games for the Pack last fall, and allowed just one sack. 2012 will mark his third campaign as the starting center and he has started the last 26 games in a row for NC State.
In 2010, he ranked second on the team in snaps played, with 995, and he also allowed just one sack in that campaign, as well. He has also been named to the 2012 Rimington Award watch list.
7. R.J. Mattes, NC State
Mattes might be the most versatile lineman in the conference; he has started games at left tackle (12), right guard (8) and right tackle (10) in his career. When he's healthy, he's one of the top protectors in the ACC, and he is the only four-year starter to-be on the NC State squad.
Last year, Mattes appeared in every game and started 12 times, while he allowed four sacks in a career-high 823 snaps. In 2010, he started 10 times and appeared in 11 contests, while he allowed four sacks. He also started all eight games he played in as a redshirt freshman and allowed just one sack in 413 snaps. The veteran of 30 starts is the most-experienced offensive player on the State roster. Steele ranks the 6-6, 313-pounder as the No. 15 tackle in college football.
8. Morgan Moses, Virginia
The massive tackle checks in at 6-6, 335 pounds, and has logged starts in each of the last 20 games for the Cavs. He started each of the team's 13 games in 2011 and the junior was named a Freshman All-America in 2010 when he earned the starting nod in the team's final seven games of the season. Steele named him All-ACC third-team in 2011, and he should contend for even higher honors this season.
- Robert Crisp, NC State
Crisp is a former blue-chip recruit entering his third year on campus. He has appeared in each of the Pack's 26 games during his time on campus, but has logged just three starts.
However, the light may have gone on for the former five-star recruit, who was ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 2 tackle and the No. 13 overall player in his class, at the end of last year. He saw considerable action in 2011, logging 413 snaps without allowing a sack, and started the Belk Bowl against Louisville, where he performed very well. It's unsure if the 6-7, 312-pounder will line up at left or right tackle, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him break into the starting lineup for good this fall and contend for postseason honors.
- Will Jackson, Georgia Tech
The redshirt junior has been an important part of the Yellow Jackets' offensive line since 2010. He played in 12 games and started nine times as a true freshman en route to Freshman All-America honors. Then, he started all 13 games at left guard last year while the Yellow Jackets paced the ACC in rushing offense, total offense, scoring offense and fewest sacks allowed. The 6-3, 285-pounder may not be a well known name like his counterpart Uzzi yet, but he's very good in his own right.
- Andrew Miller, Virginia Tech
Although he has started just 14 games, he is the most experienced lineman on the Tech roster in 2012. He started every game last fall at center, and will need to perform at a high level, to help bring his teammates along. He'll be an All-ACC candidate and was also named on the Rimington Award watch list. The redshirt junior appeared in 11 games in 2010.
- Seantrel Henderson, Miami
The 6-8, 350-pounder came to Miami as the No. 2 overall recruit in the nation, according to Rivals.com, and the 2009 USA Today High School Offensive Player of the Year. However, the blue-chip recruit has not quite lived up to the hype in his first two years on campus.
He started nine of the 12 games he appeared in as a true freshman, mostly at right tackle. He was named to several Freshman All-America teams, but that may have just been on name recognition alone. He was suspended for the first game of 2011 then limited by a back surgery, before he appeared in eight contests with just two starts as a sophomore. He was suspended again this spring for a violation of team rules and was listed as the second-team right tackle before the disciplinary action.
If Henderson can put it together, the sky's the limit for him - he might be the most talented player on this list. However, he hasn't shown the ability to get it done on the field at the college level yet.