Welcome back to six degrees! Here’s how it works…every week, I’ll start with Northwestern’s opponent and follow my stream of consciousness until I get to something interesting and rankable. Then, I’ll rank the top six of that category which relates to the Wildcats’ opponent for the week.
This week: Iowa.
The Hawkeyes are one of 16 remaining unbeaten teams in FBS football. They’ve got a powerful defense, which is led by Desmond King (tied for second in the nation with five interceptions) and WAS led by Drew Ott (5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss) until he suffered a season-ending injury last week. Running back Jordan Canzeri has rushed for 697 yards already, 5.3 a carry and 116 a game.
As is usually the case with the Hawkeyes, their offense centers around a bruising offensive line led by an NFL draft prospect. Austin Blythe, a 290-pound senior center who was second-team all-Big Ten last year, leads the way this year. He’s made 42 career starts entering Saturday, and is a projected late-round pick in next spring’s NFL draft. Most often, the Hawkeye line leader is a bigger man and a more highly regarded prospect. Want examples? Here are the six most recent top prospects off the Hawkeye offensive line.
6. Brandon Scherff, Washington Redskins. Scherff started 36 games during his Hawkeye career, winning the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best lineman in 2014. The Redskins picked the six-foot-five, 320-pound Scherff fifth overall to help protect Robert Griffin III (and now Kirk Cousins), and he’s started the first five games of his career at right guard.
5. Riley Reiff, Detroit Lions. Reiff started 37 games over three seasons in Iowa City, earning first-team all-Big Ten honors as a junior and second-team accolades as a sophomore. Reiff starts at left tackle for the 0-5 Lions, who selected him with the 23nd pick of the 2012 first round. For a six-foot-six, 313-pound man, Reiff is incredibly durable: he’s started 44 games in his first three-and-a-quarter NFL seasons. Despite his durability, Reiff has struggled to keep quarterback Matt Stafford off his keister. The Lions have allowed 37 quarterback hits this year, tied for 11th-most in the league.
4. Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay Packers. Hold up! We’ve got ourselves a Super Bowl champ. The Pack picked Bulaga with the 23rd selection in 2010, and he was part of Green Bay’s Super Bowl championship team the next February. The six-foot-five, 314 pound mammoth was named first team all-conference as a junior in 2009, and started 30 games over three seasons for the Hawkeyes. Bulaga has had some injury concerns, missing games during both his freshman and junior seasons, and those woes carried over to the NFL, where he missed the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL. Bulaga enters his sixth season in Green Bay on a new five-year contract, and has started 50 games over four-plus active NFL seasons.
3. Robert Gallery, Oakland Raiders. The Raiders got plenty of flack for drafting the six-foot-seven, 325-pounder second overall in 2004, as future starts such as Larry Fitzgerald, DeAngelo Hall, and Jonathan Vilma were still on the board, but Gallery was a solid NFL tackle for eight seasons. When Oakland drafted Gallery, they thought he would start at left tackle, like he did for 44 straight games as a Hawkeye. The 2003 Outland winner and two-time first-team all-Big Ten selection struggled to protect the blind side, but found some success when he moved inside to left guard. Following the 2010 season, Gallery inked a three-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks, but he was released after only one season of the contract. After a failed comeback attempt with the Patriots in 2012, Gallery hung up the cleats, closing the book on an eight-year, 103-start NFL career.
2. Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens. Probably the most successful Hawkeye lineman of the Kirk Ferentz era, Baltimore named Yanda in the third round of the 2007 NFL draft. Among the linemen I’ve never heard of selected before the six-foot-three, 305-pound Hawkeye: Levi Brown, Tony Ugoh, Samson Satele, and James Marten. A junior college transfer, Yanda played 25 games over two seasons in Iowa City, rotating between left tackle, right tackle, and left guard. He’s entering his ninth year manning the right guard position in Baltimore, and has earned four Pro-Bowl trips and a Super Bowl ring as a result of his 109 starts. Not bad for a third-rounder.
- Mike Goff, Cincinnati Bengals/San Diego Chargers. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: an AFC North team nabbed a solid offensive lineman in the third round, who turned into a total steal. Oh, you’re right, this does sound similar to the Yanda/Baltimore story. Goff appeared in 47 games over four years with the Hawkeyes, the last of which came two years before Kirk Ferentz’ arrival on campus. The six-foot-five, 311-pounder has never earned many individual accolades, but his running backs have. Goff missed only 10 snaps during Corey Dillon’s historic 2000 season (Bengals-record 1,435 rushing yards). He signed with San Diego before the 2004 season, and in his third season with the Chargers a guy named LaDanian Tomlinson ran for 28 scores. After five seasons with the Bolts, Goff signed with Kansas City, playing half of the 2009 season with the Chiefs before retiring. Goff’s final numbers: 12 years, 154 starts, seven Pro Bowl seasons by his running backs, NO PRO BOWL SEASONS BY HIM. This is a travesty. You may be underappreciated, Mike Goff, but you’ve got the top spot on the six degrees list of Iowa offensive linemen to hang your hat on. Mazel Tov!