The age old saying that it all starts up front continues to ring true. While they get very little recognition -- especially from fantasy owners -- offensive linemen are the key to any good offense. So we kick off the first in a three-part series on returning starters by looking at some of the offensive line returners for 2011.
Here is a breakdown of the number of offensive line returning starters in the FBS. For complete results, see our 2011 Draft Kit.
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Below are a few notables. Returning starters in parenthesis.
Oklahoma State (5) - Quarterback Brandon Weeden probably took more hits during his minor league baseball career than he has as the Cowboys' quarterback. The Pokes only gave up 10 sacks last fall and with everyone on the line coming back, Weeden is a lucky man.
SMU (5) - Hopefully with a veteran group returning, the Mustangs can limit the number of times quarterback Kyle Padron is knocked on his back. The Mustangs were 99th in the country in sacks allowed with 34 in 2010.
Alabama (4) - Alabama simply mauled Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl last January. With four returning starters on the offensive line the Tide will make another run at a National Championship. And if Trent Richardson can stay healthy, he'll make a run at a Heisman Trophy.
Virginia Tech (4) - The reasons to draft running back David Wilson just seem to keep growing.
Michigan State (2) - As a Spartan alum, I would love nothing more than to see Edwin "The Rock" Baker reach his goal of 2000 yards rushing this fall. But I don't see it happening for several reasons, and it starts with uncertainty along the offensive line. They return their two starting guards -- Joel Foreman should be an All-Big Ten selection -- but are unproven at tackle and center. So much so that two members of the defensive line moved to the offensive side of the ball this spring. .
Stanford (2) - The good news is All-Pac-10 left tackle Jonathan Martin returns. The bad news is they lose two three-year starters in center Chase Beeler and guard Andrew Phillips. Stanford gave up just six sacks last season. That number will be tough to duplicate this fall. I hope Andrew Luck doesn't regret his decision to come back. .
Auburn (1) - Replacing quarterback Cam Newton is bad enough. Having to also replace nearly the entire offensive line certainly doesn't help matters.
Fresno State (1) - Not a good stat for running back Robbie Rouse. I may have been a little over ambitious in the Athlon Mock Draft.
Arizona (0) - Center Kyle Quinn has one career start, that's one more than every other starter on the line. The good news is the pigskin will come out of quarterback Nick Foles' hand quickly as the Wildcats will bore us to tears with an absurd amount of bubble screens again this fall.