As we look back at 2021, I still maintain that Nebraska’s offensive problems started up front. Stats tend to back that up, as Pro Football Focus ranked the Huskers offensive line 126th out of 130 teams in division 1-A. This isn’t to excuse failures at other positions, but it all starts up front. What makes it even worse is that departing center Cam Jurgens is being eyed as a day two pick in the upcoming NFL draft. That’s solid evidence that there were some major holes elsewhere in the offensive line, and that’s why Greg Austin is out and Donovan Raiola is the Huskers new offensive line coach. So let’s project where the offensive line sits for 2022.
Trent Hixson, Senior - Hixson started every game in 2019 at left guard, but has since seen mostly backup time the last two seasons. By all reports, he’s seized the opportunity to replace Jurgens at center and is the leading candidate to start this fall.
Ethan Piper, Sophomore - Piper edged out Hixson at left guard in 2020, only to get passed up by Nouredin Nouilli last season. He was a leading candidate to back up Hixson this spring until an injury sidelined him for the spring game.
Ian Boerkircher, Junior - The walk-on from Aurora played extensively in the spring game, snapping the ball to Logan Smothers on the second-team offense.
Nouredin Nouili, Junior - The native of Frankfurt, Germany seized the left guard spot last season and is probably the safest bet to start this season. PFF ranked him as Nebraska’s second best offensive lineman behind Jurgens last season.
Broc Bando, Senior - Bando has mostly played special teams up to now, but earned the start on the first team offensive line in the spring game.
Henry Lutovsky, Redshirt Freshman - Rivals ranked the big 6’6” 330 pounder as the #13 prospect at guard.
Kevin Williams Jr, Senior - The Omaha North graduate transferred from Northern Colorado, where he started 19 games.
Turner Corcoran, Sophomore - Corcoran missed this spring following offseason surgery. The four-star recruit struggled last season in pass protection at tackle, with PFF grading him with a zero for his pass protection. The talk seems to be that he’s better suited to play on the interior of the line, so I’m listing him here. Don’t be surprised if he isn’t a candidate to play center in 2023.
Teddy Prochazka, Sophomore - Prochazka seized the left tackle position against Northwestern, but suffered a season ending knee injury the next week against Michigan. His PFF grades were decent, so presuming he’s ready to go in August, he’s Nebraska’s left tackle.
Bryce Benhart, Sophomore - Benhart started every game at right tackle during the 2020 season and ten games last season. Benhart’s pass protection numbers were slightly better than Corcoran’s, but still was one of the worst tackles in college football.
Brant Banks, Sophomore - Banks started the season opener against Illinois last season, but was then replaced by Corcoran. Banks is perhaps best remembered for playing three minutes (and missing his only shot) as an emergency replacement in the 2020 Big Ten basketball tournament against Indiana.
Ezra Miller, Sophomore - The four-star Iowa transfer started for the second-team offensive line in the spring game.
Hunter Anthony, Junior - The Oklahoma State transfer started four games as a redshirt freshman in 2019, but an injury during the COVID season cost him nearly the entire 2020 season.
In my mind, Nebraska’s offensive issues in recent years were due to the line. The recruiting looks fine; there are numerous four-star recruits in this lineup. It’s the development that’s been the issue. The statute of limitations on blaming Mike Cavanaugh is long past, and while Greg Austin was better, he didn’t make enough progress in developing a Big Ten caliber offensive line. So now it’s Donovan Raiola’s turn, and all we can do is wait and see what he’s able to put on the field this fall.