Who will be the most dominant blockers in 2017 from the Group of Five and college football’s four Independent programs?
If Brian Kelly and Notre Dame are going to turn things around after sinking to 4-8 a year ago, it’ll likely be driven by a seasoned offensive line constructed to move piles in 2017. The Irish boast a pair of All-American candidates up front, OG Quenton Nelson and OT Mike McGlinchey, and Alex Bars is a versatile lineman on the ascent. ND should win many battles at the point of attack, but the Group of Five conferences are also home to proven blockers who have quietly taken care of business, sans much fanfare, in recent seasons.
Top Returning Group Of Five, Independent OL
10. Austin Corbett, Nevada
9. Tejan Koroma, BYU
8. Tyler Bowling, Tulsa
7. Chukwuma Okorafor, Western Michigan
6. Dejon Allen, Hawaii
5. Colby Gossett, Appalachian State
The Mountaineers ranked No. 10 nationally in rushing a year ago. A big reason why the program produced two 1,000-yard rushers, Jalin Moore and Marcus Cox? Gossett’s ability to blow opposing linemen off the ball. The 6-6, 315-pound veteran has been starting since his redshirt freshman year in 2014. Gossett has the size and the strength to play on Sundays, but it’s his footwork and agility that have really helped him dominate Sun Belt competition. And the right guard showcased his versatility and smarts in 2016 by also starting games at right tackle and center when the need arose.
4. Max Scharping, Northern Illinois
Scharping is the personification of a complete student-athlete, excelling on the field, in the classroom and in the local community as a volunteer. He’s the kind of player Group of Five coaches seek to build programs around. And Scharping figures to keep improving in the second half of his career after being named Freshman All-American in 2015 and First Team All-MAC in 2016. The 6-6, 311-pound Green Bay native blocks with an attention to detail, which is evident in his technique and the scarcity of his mental errors.
3. Will Hernandez, UTEP
If Hernandez played in Austin or Norman—and he could—he wouldn’t be so anonymous entering his senior year as a Miner. But he has quietly toiled as one of the nation’s most underrated guards the past three seasons, plowing open holes for the UTEP backs. Hernandez is a 6-3, 330-pound road-grader who uses his leverage and physical power to overwhelm his man at the point of attack. The Second Team AP All-American is generating NFL interest, which is a far cry from the Las Vegas kid who arrived in El Paso with zero notoriety four years ago.
2. Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
McGlinchey is back in South Bend for a fifth season, a mild surprise considering he was not long ago considered a potential first or second-day draft pick. And he likely still will be in 2018 as well. In the meantime, the 6-8, 310-pound left tackle will be in charge of protecting the blindside of first-time starting QB Brandon Wimbush. The nasty McGlinchey has a penchant for overpowering and enveloping opposing linemen with his length and strength, though he needs to block with more discipline and fewer mistakes in his final season of eligibility.
1. Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Forget the Group of Five and the Independents. Nelson possesses the work ethic and all of the necessary tools to be the top blocker in America, regardless of league affiliation. He is in many ways exactly what NFL GMs want in an offensive guard—a 6-5, 325-pound brawler who craves putting his man on his back. Nelson is an old-school mauler in the running game, with the overall power and the surly makeup to be the most dominant guard in college football in 2017.