Last but certainly not least in this week’s rankings of positional groups in the Big Ten is the big boys upfront — the offensive line.
After winning back to back Joe Moore Awards in 2021 and 2022, it could be argued this list should just be “the Michigan Wolverines” repeated enough times to really get the point across. However, since I’m a diplomatic person, I spared the urge to put on maize and blue tinted glasses and took a deep dive across the Big Ten to find the five best offensive linemen entering 2023.
Here’s who made my list.
5. Drake Nugent, Michigan
Nugent will not be the last Wolverine discussed today, but the transfer from Stanford is the perfect curtain raiser for this list.
While Nugent might not be the overt slam dunk Olu Oluwatimi was when the Wolverines picked him up last year, he is still a tremendous addition that advances the power running goals of the Michigan offense; both he and Oluwatimi entered the program having come from a run-heavy offense at their previous stops,
In 2022, Nugent made the preseason watchlists for both the Rimington Award and Outland Trophy, and if Nugent is healthy as expected entering fall camp, it’s likely he’ll make both once again.
4. Donovan Jackson, Ohio State
A first team All-Big Ten selection by the media last season, Donovan Jackson is primed to make a statement headed into his first year of NFL Draft eligibility. The 6-foot 4, 320-pound guard out of Bellaire, Texas played a team-leading 827 plays from scrimmage in 2022. With the departure of Paris Johnson Jr. to the NFL, Jackson will assuredly have a spotlight on him all season long.
3. Trevor Keegan, Michigan
Another statement-maker for the Wolverines, left guard Trevor Keegan was alongside Blake Corum and Zak Zinter as targets of Valiant Management’s “One More Year” fund this winter, and it’s not hard to see why.
A first team All-Big Ten selection by the media in 2022, Keegan started and played 11 games in the Wolverines’ quest for a second consecutive Big Ten championship, only missing games due to wear and tear injuries. In what will likely be his final college season, Keegan is primed to depart on an incredible high note.
2. Olu Fashanu, Penn State
Despite having his 2022 season shortened by five games due to injury, Olu Fashanu still made the Walter Camp second-team All-American list. With a full season? Expect him to reach even loftier heights.
A beast of a left tackle at 6-foot-6and 324 pounds, Fashanu didn’t give up a single sack in all 281 of his pass blocking snaps, and was twice named the Nittany Lions’ offensive player of the game in 2022.
1. Zak Zinter, Michigan
If you haven’t noticed by now, there’s been a trend to where I see the strength in the Wolverines’ offensive line will be this season, and it’s firmly in the interior. Zinter caps that outlook off with a bang, as he undoubtedly, in my view, enters the 2023 season as the top offensive lineman in the conference.
Having started 30 of the 33 games he’s played in since his true freshman season, Zinter was an All-Big Ten selection in both 2021 and 2022, being voted as a consensus first-team selection in the latter season. He’s already a top-five guard in the Harbaugh era, and if he adds another career year this upcoming season, he could very well be regarded as one of the best interior lineman to have played as a Wolverine at Michigan Stadium.