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Offensive Line Experience Counts - Huskers Have It, Kansas Doesn't

Now that I’m about finished with Cornhusker Kickoff 2009, it’s time to get back to some football here on Corn Nation. I realize there isn’t a lot going on out there, but after burying my head in our favorite team for the last few weeks, I’ve got more to say over the next few weeks.

If you were looking for another reason to place Nebraska ahead of Kansas in the race to win the Big 12 North in 2009, you might look no further than the Wall Street Journal where they’ve broken down the number of returning starts for each offensive line unit in the nation. Nebraska comes in at 61 starts, tied for fourth place in the Big 12.

Big 12 Offensive Line Unit Combined Starts.

At the bottom of the list is Kansas. A lot of pundits are picking (or will pick) Kansas to win the Big 12 North next season based on the return of their skill players. Todd Reesing returns at quarterback, as do Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe at receiver, and Jake Sharp at running back. That’s a lot of offensive production, but it won’t go unless the offensive line works well. Todd Reesing got beat up a fair amount last season because Kansas couldn’t mount a good running game on a consistent basis. Given the state of their offensive line that might not change a lot this season.

You might be tempted to think that returning starters don’t make that big a difference, but if there was a unit on which it does, it’s the offensive line. The offensive line must work together more than any other unit on the field. Sports fans talk about the chemistry that exists between quarterback and receivers, but rarely does the same conversation come up regarding offensive linemen.

Understanding line blocking calls isn’t rocket science - most linemen can get those without a huge amount of trouble. However, when something unexpected occurs, the linemen must know instinctively what the guy next to them is going to do. The unexpected might be a defensive line shift into an odd gap alignment, or a linebacker moving up close to the line. If the unit is experienced in working together, they’ll make adjustments without problems. If they’re not, disaster can strike. 

Nebraska’s offensive line starts boil down as follows:

Jacob Hickman: 23 (past three seasons)
Mike Smith:     12 (2008)
Keith Williams: 9 (2008)
Marcel Jones:     1 (2008)
Jaivorio Burkes: 7 (3 in 2007, 4 in 2008)
Andy Christensen: 9 (6 in 2006, 3 in 2007,)

There’s a lot of speculation that Burkes won’t play again, or at least in 2009, so taking away his seven starts would drop Nebraska further down the list. Take away Andy Christensen’s nine starts (as it’s unknown as to whether he can return to 2007 form), and we drop to tenth place. Still, we stay ahead of Kansas. If you further consider that other teams are probably in the same position we are, things look much better.