Through the 2016 NFL Draft and signing day, one thing has become fairly clear: Ohio State and Alabama are at the top of the college football talent food chain. That's not to say that other programs don't recruit consistently well -- Florida State, Notre Dame, and LSU are all close -- but the Tide and Buckeyes have undoubtedly led when it comes to both recruiting and NFL production.
But, as Ian Boyd argued recently, the Tide are just beginning to truly dominate in the trenches:
However, until 2015, the Tide weren't especially dominant in the trenches in passing situations, on either side of the ball.
An inability to block Georgia's Jarvis Jones and company nearly ruined a championship 2012, while the offense has ranked as low as No. 89 in sacks allowed per game (2010).
The Buckeyes are in a similar situation. Not only was the offensive line fairly depleted by the time Urban Meyer got to Columbus, but the Buckeyes also had to replace most of their line prior to the 2014 National Championship season. It's the same case this year, just with a wider talent base.
The chart below lists Alabama and Ohio State's offensive line advanced stats rankings for adjusted line yards, opportunity rate, and adjusted sack rate:
|Team||Year||Off/Def||Adj. Line Yds||Opp. Rate||Adj. Sack Rate|
Just in terms of performance, it's easy to see that while both offenses have excelled at running the ball, pass protection was iffy for both programs last year. The Buckeyes had further to climb (from 74th to 53rd), though part of that low ranking may be due to the offensive system, as running quarterbacks typically take more sacks than quarterbacks in pro-style systems.
So the offensive line's performance against the pass, especially replacing three starters going in to 2016, will be a big concern for the Buckeyes. There's also missing a proven anchor on the left side, like Alabama has in Cam Robinson, assuming all checks out with his legal issues.
Of course, there's plenty of talent waiting to fill in the gaps for Ohio State. I also looked at recent offensive line recruiting for the Tide and Buckeyes. Overall, in the last four recruiting classes, Alabama has signed 19 offensive linemen with an average recruiting rating of .9236. That's five linemen a year apart from the four-man 2013 class.
In the same time span, Ohio State signed 16 linemen with an average recruiting rating of .9089 -- barely a four-star average. That's not without big signees, including likely starters Isaiah Prince and Jamarco Jones, but the Buckeyes were also forced to move away from blue-chippers in favor of rawer prospects. The chart below has the average recruiting rating for offensive linemen by year:
Given the actual on-field results as seen in the chart above, the talent gap hasn't led to a big difference in run-blocking ability, but two years of data (an admittedly small sample size) suggest that if there is any relationship with recruiting rankings, it is with pass-blocking over run-blocking ability (again, there are a large number of variables at work here, however).
The Ohio State and Alabama offensive lines have performed about the same when it comes to run blocking, but the Tide have been much better overall in pass blocking for the last two seasons. Further, the Crimson Tide have recruited a deeper and more talented pool of blue chip offensive line recruits to win in the trenches.
Will that be the case for next season? There will be new faces on both offensive lines. But for the Buckeyes to play championship caliber football next season, they're going to need championship caliber production from their offensive line, especially in pass protection, as throwing the ball figures to be a bigger part of Ohio State's offense for next season.