NOTE: This is the fifth installment of a summer-long series projecting the Top 10 players at each position for the 2014 Big Sky Conference football season.
Cal Poly led the nation in rushing last season and Portland State ranked third. Individually, PSU's D.J. Adams and Northern Arizona's Zach Bauman both ranked in the top 10 nationally in ground yards, while five others eclipsed the 1,000 mark. And quarterbacks had big seasons also. Yes, the Big Sky sure got its money's worth out of its offensive linemen last season.
But many of the big names are gone, including the entire group that was named first-team all-conference last season. A new year calls for a new crew to take over as the best in the league. Here are 10 to watch:
TOP 10 OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
1. CORNELIUS EDISON, C, SR., PORTLAND STATE 2013: 12 starts, third-team All-Big Sky. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: This will be Edison's third year as a starter, and so far he's been a major reason why the Vikings have become one of the very best rushing teams in the FCS. Last year PSU averaged nearly 278 rushing yards per game -- third-most in the nation -- and averaged a league-best 6.0 yards per carry. The Vikings do lose D.J. Adams, who was one of the best backs in the league the past couple years, but with the 6-3, 295-pound Edison helping to create holes they should have no trouble finding ways to churn out yards and production again this year.
2. CLAY DEBORD, T, JR., EASTERN WASHINGTON 2013: 14 starts, second-team All-Big Sky. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: The most prolific offense in Big Sky Conference history had to have a strong offensive line, right? The 6-6, 305-pound DeBord is next on the list of great EWU linemen that includes Ashton Miller and Steven Forgette from last year, and Will Post and Chris Powers in the years before that. Of course, DeBord has already established himself as a top player in the conference. And with nearly 30 starts already under his belt, he's the most veteran of any player on the Eagles' offense. Tell me that's not a scary proposition for the rest of the league.
3. ROY GARCIA, C, SR., NORTHERN ARIZONA 2013: 12 starts, second-team All-Big Sky. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Losing star tailback Zach Bauman could mean a new beginning for the Lumberjacks' offense, but at least they've got some veteran leadership up front in Garcia, who is known as one of the smartest linemen in the Big Sky. Bauman's replacement as the primary ball-carrier could be Casey Jahn, who's had a couple big games in the past. But no matter who it is, they'll look for holes with the help of Garcia (6-3, 275), the team's lone senior up front. NAU has a first-year line coach in Adam Stenavich, who previously was a graduate assistant at Michigan.
4. TREVOR POOLE, T, SR., MONTANA 2013: 13 starts, third-team All-Big Sky. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Poole is listed as a guard on the league's preseason all-conference team, but he will start at right tackle this year, replacing Danny Kistler. Depending on what happens with John Schmaing's eligibility (which has been in question this summer), Poole could be the only returning starter on UM's O-line. Poole (6-5, 290) helped transform the Grizzlies' spread offense into a rugged, between-the-tackles ground attack last season. The results spoke for themselves, as UM ranked third in the league in rushing and Jordan Canada had 1,000 yards and scored 16 TDs.
5. JOHN WEIDENAAR, T, JR., MONTANA STATE 2013: 12 starts, honorable mention All-Big Sky. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Just a junior, Weidenaar is entering his third season as the starter at left tackle, where he's already made 25 starts. In spite of this, Weidenaar has flown a bit under the radar in his career. A 6-7, 280-pound behemoth, Weidenaar was picked as an honorable mention All-Big Sky selection last season, but this could be the year he truly gets noticed. He and up-and-comer J.P. Flynn were paired together for much of last season, and if they are again the Bobcats could have the most dominant left side of any line in the league.
6. STEPHEN SIPPEL, C, JR., CAL POLY 2013: 12 starts, honorable mention All-Big Sky. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: It's been argued that Cal Poly's rapid rushing attack is all style and no substance, and just a product of its intricate scheme. Don't tell that to Sippel or any of his linemates, whose physicality and movement up front helped the Mustangs lead the entire FCS in rushing at a staggering 309.1 yards per game. In Cal Poly's wingback offense, where there's lots of action, the center's role is critical. Sippel, who measures 6-4 and weighs 280 pounds, makes the calls and runs the show. The Mustangs also ranked second in the nation in fewest sacks allowed.
7. J.P. FLYNN, G, SO., MONTANA STATE 2013: 7 starts, third-team All-Big Sky. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Flynn made such a good impression as a freshman that he was named to the league's preseason all-conference team, which is a big honor. Flynn was pressed into duty last season because of injuries and reshuffling on MSU's offensive line, and he hasn't moved since. The 6-4, 305-pound product of Bettendorf, Iowa, was one of Rob Ash’s top recruits in the 2012 class, and now it’s starting to pay dividends. Flynn matriculated to MSU partly because Ash recruited his brother Stephen to Drake. Sometimes past connections make a difference.
8. JACOB JULIAN, T, SO., NORTHERN ARIZONA 2013: 12 starts, third-team All Big Sky. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Like Flynn, Julian (6-4, 297) didn't flinch when called on to perform as a freshman. And like Flynn, he was picked as a third-team all-league player. In his mug shot on the Lumberjacks' website, Julian looks like your neighbor's 14-year-old. But he doesn't play like it. As it's noted above, Roy Garcia is NAU's lone senior offensive lineman on the current roster, so Julian will be called on match his big freshman season. The loss of Zach Bauman will affect the Lumberjacks' ground game. But it doesn't have to be a negative change.
9. IAN JOSEPH, T, SR., UC DAVIS 2013: 12 starts, honorable mention All-Big Sky. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: This will be Joseph's fourth season as a starter, making him one of the true offensive line mainstays in the Big Sky Conference. Last season the 6-6, 300-pounder helped Aggies running back Gabe Manzanares break on the scene with 1,285 yards and win the league's Newcomer of the Year award. In fact, UC Davis as a team rushed for 152.3 yards per game, the program's best total in 11 seasons. Joseph also thrives in pass protection at left tackle. That'll be especially important now as the Aggies break in a new quarterback to replace Randy Wright.
10. BRANDON ANDERSON, G, JR., NORTH DAKOTA 2013: 11 starts, honorable mention All-Big Sky. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Anderson found a home last season at left guard after seeing time at three different positions on the line the year before, and it resulted in a strong year. Anderson (6-6, 310) is one of two starters returning to the North Dakota line in 2014, and that gives the team at least a little bit of stability in the trenches for new coach Bubba Schweigert to work with. North Dakota's transition to the Big Sky hasn't been all that smooth, and last year's 3-8 finish cost previous coach Chris Mussman his job. How quickly will things turn around?
*** NATIONAL NO. 1: JACK RUMMELLS, T, SR., NORTHERN IOWA. Bill Salmon has been an assistant coach at UNI for 28 years, and when he says Rummells is "as good of a player as we have had here," it carries weight. Rummells is 6-5, 300 pounds and part of a line that allowed the Panthers to rush for nearly 2,000 yards last season and allowed only 16 sacks.
LAST WEEK: 2014 defensive line rankings
LAST YEAR: 2013 offensive line rankings
NEXT WEEK: Tight ends