The last two seasons that Auburn reached the national championship game, one of the biggest reasons for that success was the play of the offensive line.
In 2010, Auburn saw the culmination of a line that had, for the most part, played together since their days as freshmen in 2007. Lee Ziemba, Ryan Pugh, Mike Berry, and Byron Isom were all seniors and it showed in paving the way for one of the most potent rushing attacks of all time.
It was a bit of a different story in 2013. Yes, a smattering of upperclassmen leadership was part of the catalyst for success, but Greg Robinson, Alex Kozan, Avery Young, and Pat Miller were all either freshman or sophomores (Robinson was a redshirt sophomore). That bunch had more direct talent than the previous one mentioned, but it was still a mix that worked for Auburn in crafting yet another insane rushing attack.
This season’s group, should it come to block for an offense that’s similarly successful, will likely be mixture of the two, with upperclassmen, transfers, and talented young guys all co-mingling to form a deep group up front.
Darius James - 6’4, 324 - SR
James, a transfer from Texas, came out of high school as a five-star player and the top offensive guard in the country according to some recruiting services. He’s big, long, and started the final eight games of last season. That’s really when Auburn’s offense kicked it into high gear, and so he’s been getting a ton of the first-team reps in fall practice as the starting left tackle.
Prince Tega Wanogho - 6’7, 301 - rSO
Prince Tega came out of high school as an unpolished, but very gifted, defensive end. As a player who’s not really had as much football experience as the rest of the line, it’s impressive that he’s blossomed into one of the choices at one of the most important positions on the team. We’ve seen former defensive linemen make the switch across the way and turn into bulldozing guards or tackles, and the hope is that Wanogho’s got the same potential. Just recently, he was taking first-team snaps in fall practice as Auburn looked for the right combination up front.
Others - Calvin Ashley, Prince Sammons, Bailey Sharp
Marquel Harrell - 6’3, 308 - SO
Harrell’s looking for his first real action this season, as last year he only played in four games. Still, he’s got the round size to fill the middle of the line and came out of Georgia as the top offensive guard in the state. He’ll be competing for the snaps on the inside with...
Mike Horton - 6’4, 318 - SO
After redshirting in 2015, Horton played in twelve games last season, including the opener against Clemson. He was the sixth offensive lineman to come onto the field in jumbo packages, and has a bit more size and experience than Harrell does. He’s also competing for the job at right guard, so he and Harrell could both be on the field at the same time.
Others - Kaleb Kim, Austin Troxell, Tyler Carr
Austin Golson - 6’5, 312 - SR
Here’s where that upperclassmen leadership and experience helps Auburn come this fall. Austin Golson has been around the block. He’s seen it all. The former Ole Miss Rebel helped pave the way for the most successful offense in Ole Miss history as a freshman, then came to Auburn and has started every game that he’s been healthy. He’ll be either a steadying factor at center to whichever quarterback wins the starting job and he’s got four years experience (counting his transfer year) of reading defenses, so there’s nothing that should surprise him. Pencil him in for the center spot.
Casey Dunn - 6’4, 292 - SR
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? Casey Dunn came from Jacksonville State and was part of the team that took Auburn to overtime two years ago. He helped JSU produce the top offense in their conference in his time as a starter for a team that reached the FCS semifinals. If anyone other than Austin Golson was starting at center, Dunn would probably be able to earn the first team role.
Wilson Bell - 6’5, 355 - SR
The big boy transfer from Florida State gives Auburn some gigantic size on the right side of the line, and some incredibly intelligent size as well. As an honorable mention entry on the All-ACC team last year, he helped the Seminoles win the Orange Bowl over Michigan. If he were to grab the starting role at right guard, it would give Auburn one of the biggest tandems with Braden Smith on the border.
Mike Horton - 6’4, 318 - SO
Horton could find time at either guard spot, so his candidacy here depends on what happens on the other side of the line.
Others - Brodarious Hamm, Marquel Harrell, Tyler Carr, Braden Smith
Braden Smith - 6’6, 303 - SR
The 2016 All-American returns to Auburn’s offensive line for his senior year with 27 consecutive starts under his belt, but he’ll be making the move to right tackle as he slides out from the guard position he played the last two seasons. Smith is a big bull on the line, one of the strongest players you’ll find in the conference, and should be a good, steady protector of the edge.
Bailey Sharp - 6’5, 300 - SO
The hope is that Sharp won’t need to see much time (or a ton of time if Auburn gets to rest players in blowouts), but he’s the next guy up after Braden Smith for the time being. He hasn’t seen much action, playing in just a few games last year, but altgother he’s got the size and the length to repel defensive ends and linebackers on the boundary.
Others - Darius James, Prince Tega Wanogho
Auburn should be able to build on the offensive line that paved the road for over 270 rushing yards per game last year. The Tigers did lose three starters in Kozan, Xavier Dampeer, and Robert Leff, but the talent level seems to have risen. It just remains to be seen if the experience and the proper fit all come together to make one of those lines that really performs well in Chip Lindsey’s new scheme. We’ll find out three weeks from tomorrow.
Until later, War Eagle.