Hogs, road-graters, big boys … these terms might sound like insults, but are in fact terms of endearment for one of the most important position groups in football: the offensive line.
The offensive line protects the most important player in the game — the quarterback — and paves the way for everything the offense does. Out of the 169 D2 football teams, only certain few can be considered among the best in the game.
Take a look at the candidate best O-lines in D2 football below, and vote for the group you believe to be the best in the poll below. We'll close the poll and announce the winner Friday, August 18 at 10 a.m. Pacific.
Returning Starters: LT Alex Cappa / LG Josh Hanson / RT Sam Madden
2016 Rushing Average: 157.6 YPG
2016 Sacks Allowed: 21
Humboldt is anchored by the best offensive lineman in D2 football: Alex Cappa. A three-time GNAC Offensive Lineman of The Year, Cappa was also a HERO Sports Preseason All-American and should be well on his way to another standout campaign — perhaps the swan song before he moves on to bigger and better (NFL-type) things.
Two more Humboldt State starters return for their senior season, both of whom started all 11 games in 2016. Running back Ja'Quan Gardner also returns after a disappointing 2016 campaign in which he tried to follow a 2,000-yard season from 2015.
With three starters back and experience on their side Humboldt should form into one of the best units in the game this year.
Returning Starters: LT Jared Machorro / C John Aguilar / RT Poet Thomas
2016 Rushing Average: 147.6 YPG
2016 Sacks Allowed: 5
Featuring a Preseason HERO All-American (Jared Machorro) and the honoree for the quarterback spot (Luis Perez), Commerce is by far the best line for pass protection in the land, and arguably the MVP for the Lions as Perez is the lifeline to success for Commerce.
A national title contender, TAMU-C will need a couple of new bodies to step in on the inside to continue the success they found last year. But the return of a veteran center will be important in helping the new bodies to learn and adjust to their starting roles, and they are flanked on the outside by proven commodities as well.
Perez is one of the best field-generals in the game, and his offensive line is a big reason why. These five hogs up front are one of the best units in the land, and they could lead the way to a national title.
Returning Starters: LG Austin Fields / RG Jim Popa
Impact Transfer: Ian Park (Northwestern)
2016 Rushing Average: 142.0 YPG
2016 Sacks Allowed: 28
The Rock may not flash with the sexiest numbers, but in a PSAC landscape where linemen go pro every year (Jordan Morgan, 5th Round, 2017) they easily stack as one of the best units every season and are adding some impact through the transfer game as well.
Former Northwestern lineman Ian Park enters SRU as a grad transfer, and should immediately step inside the unit — possibly at center — to provide more stability to a unit that already returns both starting guards.
The tackle position will be a question mark this year, and the 28 sacks they allowed in 2016 aren't the most positive of signs, but SRU utilizes a super-fast paced offense that features a lot of scrambling for the QB. So while the sack total may be high, it is not all on the line and they are not any less great because of it.
Returning Starters: LG Josh Chapman / C Joe Hillin / RG Cole Handte / RT Bryce King
2016 Rushing Average: 211.9 YPG
2016 Sacks Allowed: 6
Mars Hill is not a nationally-known power, but boy did they have a great season along the offensive line. They bring back four starters and should even improve just slightly on a great 2016 campaign.
Bryce King was recognized as a Preseason All-SAC honoree, and the rest of his teammates that come back should be in the mix for postseason honors as well.
Allowing the fourth-fewest sacks in the nation last year, Mars Hill is a name you need to know.
Returning Starters: LG Keith Pledger / C Bryce Bray / RT Gavin De Los Santos
2016 Rushing Average: 362.8 YPG
2016 Sacks Allowed: 4
Harding allowed the fewest sacks of any offense int he country last year, and also had the most rushing yards per game. If you're looking for a solid run-blocking O-line, look no further than Harding.
While the stats may be skewed due to the option attack Harding runs, it is still something when your team averages over 360 yards rushing per contest. The only game the Bison did not shine as bright was their final contest versus eventual champion NW Missouri State.
HERO All-American Gavin De Los Santos leads the pack for the Bison, and while a slight drop should be expected, Harding is very much in the conversation for top line in the nation.