You’ve heard this song before. It is a tried and true fact that the Cincinnati Bearcats have struggled to win the battle in the trenches the last few years, especially on defense. The Bearcats have failed to create much pressure or negative plays on defense, despite the best efforts of players like Marquise Copeland and Perry Young. With Steve Stripling back as defensive line coach, the hope is that improvements are coming. However, some teams are going to be tough to crack no matter what. Here are the three toughest.
Ohio may have the best offensive line in the Mid-American Conference. With three linemen who will compete for all-conference honors in Joe Anderson, Joe Lowery and Hagen Meservy, the Bobcats have a lot of experience and skill when it comes to protecting the backfield. Aided by a quarterback who can run, the Bobcats’ line only gave up 16 sacks last year, which tied for the 16th-lowest mark in the country. They were also a top 20 rushing team and even if you have the most talented runners in the world, you need a strong offensive line to push people around if you’re going to succeed on the ground.
It’s not surprise that Navy is here. The Midshipmen are a team that can’t survive without a good offensive line. As they continually pound the ball on the ground, they must have guys up front who are holding their ground. Navy’s offensive linemen did that last year, allowing only five sacks and helping the team rank second in the country in rushing offense. Those aren’t that telling, though. Of course the team that runs the ball pretty much every play is going to have a potent rushing attack and give up very few sacks. What is important to note is that Navy only allowed 58 tackles for loss, which tied for the 14th-fewest in the country. Led by Andrew Wood and Jake Hawk, this year’s group should be just as effective.
UCF is going to be very good once again in 2018. Maybe they won’t go undefeated and *win* a national title, but they are one of the real contenders in the chase for the AAC crown. Talent up and down the roster will do that. While quarterback McKenzie Milton is the name most people recognize, don’t forget about All-AAC center Jordan Johnson, who led a team that allowed the fifth-fewest sacks in the country last year. Wyatt Miller is another standout offensive lineman and will help keep things together after the departure of all-league offensive tackle Aaron Evans.