Kentucky passed the ultimate Big Guy challenge last football season. The Wildcats’ offensive line managed to move the UK offense up and down the field with a wide receiver playing quarterback and no passing game to speak of.
The big nasties controlled the line of scrimmage in most games. As a result, the Wildcats had 36 rushing touchdowns, averaged 278.8 yards a game on the ground — and won eight games, including a last-second victory over Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl.
The good news for the Wildcats — and bad news for their opponents — is that four of the five starters return on the offensive line in 2020. So, the Wildcats should have one of the best offensive fronts in college football this season, one that probably will be Florida’s sternest challenge on the defensive front, where three starters (Jon Greenard, Jabari Zuniga and Adam Shuler) and run-stopping middle linebacker David Reese must be replaced.
Here’s a look at the top 10 offensive linemen the Gators will be going against in 2020:
- Trey Smith, OG, Tennessee — At this time a year ago, Smith was having an issue with blood clots and there was some doubt whether he would ever play football again. But he recovered, and after getting off to a little bit of a slow start early last season, Smith emerged as one of the nation’s most dominant offensive guards, earning first team All-SEC honors. He’s back for his senior season on what should be one of the best UT offensive lines in several years.
- Drake Jackson, C, Kentucky — The leader of the Wildcats’ impressive front, Jackson has started 33 consecutive games at the pivotal center spot. His highly efficient play earned him first team All-SEC honors last season.
- Luke Fortner, OT, Kentucky — Speaking of efficient play, does it get any better than what Fortner did last season: zero missed assignments, allowed only one sack and had just one penalty in 646 plays. He’s big, physical, athletic — and smart.
- Darian Kinnard, OT/G, Kentucky — Just like teammates Fortner and Jackson, Kinnard is coming off a near-flawless 2019 season in which he missed zero assignments, had no penalties and did not give up a single sack.
- Landon Young, Kentucky, OT — Of the UK offensive linemen, Young is the most physical, as evidenced by his team-leading 64 knock-down blocks last season: And doesn’t this sound familiar: he missed only one assignment in 754 plays in 2019.
- Cade Mays, OG, Tennessee — A former five-star recruit, Mays transferred from Georgia, where he started 18 games, after the 2019 season and is seeking immediate eligibility from the NCAA. If a special waiver is granted, the Vols will be adding one of the SEC’s best offensive linemen to their lineup in 2020.
- Trey Hill, C, Georgia –– Not only did the Bulldogs lose Mays to UT, they lost starting tackles Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson early to the NFL. Despite those big losses the ‘Dogs should be sturdy up front again, especially inside, led by this big guy. Hill emerged as a dominant center last season, starting all 14 games and earning second team All-SEC honors.
- Justin Shaffer, G, Georgia — He injured his neck and missed the last eight games last season, but when he was healthy, he was a physical, dominant force on the interior of the Bulldogs’ offensive line.
- Darnell Wright, G, Tennessee — Speaking of dominant, this guy has a chance to be just that in his true sophomore season in 2020. A five-star recruit out of West Virginia, he lived up to the hype in his true freshman season last year, starting five games at offensive guard. One of those starts came against Alabama, and he more than held his own.
- Dontae Lucas, G, Florida State –– This highly rated prospect who started seven games as a true freshman last season has given hope to an offensive line that has been almost hopeless the past several years in terms of overall production, especially in the running game. He’s strong and athletic — and he plays with a great deal of confidence. He seems primed for a breakout season in 2020.