MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 30: Head Coach Gary Andersen of the Wisconsin Badgers pats Dan Voltz #70 on the hlemut as he runs off the field during the first half of play against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Camp Randall Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

Offensive Lines will key Wisconsin vs. Alabama season opener

Turnover is a constant in the world of college football, but few programs have been able to survive that constant turnover along the offensive line like that of both Alabama and Wisconsin over the past decade. However, the two teams come in to their season opening matchup in the Cowboys Classic with plenty of questions and little answers along their critical position.

Instead, Wisconsin will have three first-time starters on its offensive line and two of them coming off head injuries (right guard Walker Williams and right tackle Hayden Biegel). Alabama’s announced starting line has a history of injuries and also will have three new starters as well.

Just how much of a mirror image are these two offensive lines? Each features a center that will key just how productive and good these lines are, with both Ryan Kelly (Alabama) and Dan Voltz (Wisconsin) being preseason Rimington Award watch list members.

Voltz was singled out by head coach Paul Chryst as the key to holding this line together as they work together for the first time in game action.

“Bottom line is they’ve all got to communicate, and that’s where I feel very fortunate with Dan Voltz at the center spot,” said Chryst. “You’ve got a guy that’s got great knowledge of what we’re trying to do, played in big games, and I think that we’re in pretty good shape right there with Dan directing it.”

Oh, and don’t forget that each will be starting a redshirt freshman at left guard — Michael Dieter at Wisconsin and Ross Pierschbacher at Alabama.

These two teams have a ton of things in common, but Wisconsin’s biggest advantage may come in the form of having the more experienced offensive line. Alabama has 37 starts amongst three returning players with starting experience, while the Badgers return 47 starts amongst just two players returning with starting experience.

Not just that, but Alabama’s three-deep (because its Alabama) features five true freshman, including two on the second team in Lester Cotton (left tackle) and Dallas Warmack (left guard). Wisconsin will feature two redshirt freshman in back up roles, with Jacob Maxwell backing up at left tackle and Micah Kapoi at center and right guard.

Still, these two teams are so loaded with talent coming in on an annual basis, youth may just mean inexperience and not ability. Perhaps the biggest matchup may come with Alabama’s left tackle, Cam Robinson, who was a freshman All-American, against sophomore end Chikwe Obasih.

Wisconsin needs its lone returning starter on the defensive line to show the way for the rest of the youngsters on his line in order for them to win the matchup.

On the flip side, UW will need its tackles to play huge against star defensive end A’Shawn Robinson and that will be a big ask for Biegel in his first ever start. It may not be the same for the veteran Tyler Marz, who will be making his 28th career start at left tackle for the Badgers.

What will make these offensive lines even more key is the fact that they will be blocking for run games that need to get going in order to release the passing attacks. The Badgers and Crimson Tide each have new starters at running back, and chemistry between the back and

Last season both teams had their backup running backs rush for over 900 yards, and while both Corey Clement and Derrick Henry are likely stars in 2015, they can’t do it without efficient offensive lines in front of them.

The offensive line that is quicker to figure things out and dominate the opposition, the more likely that team wins on Saturday — it’s just that simple.

Doing so against two pretty talented front sevens is going to be a challenge, but the offensive line that does the most damage is likely going to be the one on the winning end of the scoreboard inside AT&T Stadium on Saturday night.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10.com

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