The playoff will never let the Group of Five in, they said. Now, with the Cincinnati Bearcats breaking through in 2021, will the college football public acknowledge just how good the football talent is outside the Power Five? One area that many point to as being a stark difference between the G5 and P5 conferences is the talent in the trenches. We know the SEC, Big 12, Pac 12, ACC, and Big 10 all boast future NFL offensive linemen playing college football in the 2022 season. But the best Group of Five offensive linemen playing this season boasts plenty of talent themselves. All five of these players were named to the Outland Trophy watch list heading into the 2022 season.
Best Group Of Five Offensive Linemen Returning For The 2022 Season
Fifth Best: Sidy Sow – Eastern Michigan
A two-time All-Mac selection in his career, Sidy Sow will anchor the Eastern Michigan offensive line this season. Sow picked up a first-team All-Mac team selection last year. Sow also brings back a wealth of experience for the Eagles. He enters the season appearing in 44 games, with 42 of that as a starting tackle. The 6-5, 326 tackle has already earned pre-season accolades landing on two preseason first-team All-MAC selections ahead of the 2022 season. Sow currently is not garnering a lot of NFL draft buzz, but he has established himself as one of the best Group of Five offensive linemen.
Fourth Best: Jake Renfro – Cincinnati
It has been quite a ride for the Bearcats the last 12 months. Before the 2021 season, Cincinnati found out it would be joining the Big 12. Then it went on to have the greatest season in program history. An undefeated season and a birth in the college football playoff. Now, the Bearcats know this will be their last season in the AAC. And while Cincinnati lost a ton of talent to the NFL, it is stilled anchored by its first-team All-AAC center. Jake Renfro has been on the field from the moment he stepped on campus in 2020 as a freshman. Renfro already boasts 19 starts in two seasons for Cincinnati. Head coach Luke Fickell aims to continue to have positive momentum for his team. Renfro is going to play a major role in keeping that going.
Third Best: John Ojukwu – Boise State
The last two seasons have looked very un-Boise State. After winning double-digit games for four straight seasons, the Broncos have only won 12 combined games in the last two seasons. Yes, one was a shortened season, but it feels like college football hasn’t heard from Boise in quite some time. That doesn’t mean all the talent has just up and left. A first-team All-Mountain West player in 2021, and a second-teamer in 2020, John Ojukwu is one of the best players returning in the Mountain West regardless of position. Ojukwu enters 2022 with 37 career starts and hopes to capitalize on his “super senior” year.
Second Best: Cooper Hodges – Appalachian State
All Cooper Hodges has done is stand out in the Sun Belt since he began starting games for Appalachian State in 2019. Thanks to his 39 consecutive starts, Hodges was selected to the first-team All-Sun Belt in 2019 and 2021, with a second-team selection sandwiched in 2020. According to his Appalachian State bio, he “[amassed] a team-high 84 knockdown blocks in 967 plays.” Hodes was good for a pancake on more than eight percent of all his snaps last year. The Mountaineers are poised to get back to the top of the Sun Belt in 2022. All expectations point to another stellar season out of the seasoned tackle. And while Hodges’ career accomplishments are the best of any Group of Five offensive linemen, there is one other player who stands (literally) just a bit taller.
Best Group Of Five Offensive Linemen: Patrick Paul – Houston
Another team that will be playing its final season in the AAC is the Houston Cougars. And although he is technically a sophomore thanks to the 2020 season, Patrick Paul will be starting his 20th game at left tackle for the Cougars when this season kicks off. The two-time all-conference selection (with a first-team selection in 2021) has the frame of an NFL offensive lineman (6-7, 310 pounds). Paul is certainly grabbing the attention of NFL scouts. Between his build, and who he has gotten to practice against (he has blocked former teammates and current NFL defensive linemen Payton Turner and Logan Hall), Paul currently is projected in the third-fifth round of the draft, if he were to declare. If Houston is going to build on a 10-2 camping, it’s going to begin upfront with Paul elevating his play to the next level.