Cohesive unit

Barrett Jones. Chance Warmack. D.J. Fluker. Anthony Steen. Cyrus Kouandjio.

Ring a bell? These may not necessarily be household names, but they were the driving force behind Alabama’s third national championship in four seasons.

It’s the best offensive line I’ve seen at the collegiate level in 30 years of watching the sport. The Crimson Tide had a strong defense, a solid quarterback and talented skill position players – something we’ve come to expect under Nick Saban, yet nothing out of the ordinary.

The true difference in Alabama’s 42-14 dissection of Notre Dame on Monday night came in the trenches. The Irish’s vaunted front seven was not only neutralized, but overwhelmed by the Tide’s quintet of human pancake makers.

Par for the course in a season dominated by the big uglies wearing crimson and white.

Jones and Warmack -both seniors and consensus All-Americans – are projected first-round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft. Fluker may come out early and end up on the opening-day draft board as well. Steen and Kouandjo will return next year, but also have bright professional careers ahead of them according to most experts.

Line play dictates the ebbs and flows of a football season. Period. Iowa’s year went south in a hurry after Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal went down against Penn State. Iowa State was pushed around by Tulsa on the ground lost in the Liberty Bowl as a result.

Similar to having a stellar kicking game, power at the point of attack won’t necessarily guarantee victory – but the absence of either leads to trouble. They also tend to be equally overlooked and underappreciated by fans who think injuries or attrition can be overcome by a ”next man in” philosophy.

Alabama’s 2012-13 version of the ‘fab five’ made an aggregate total of 160 career starts. They were healthy, hungry and rightfully heralded. For as much as the SEC is sold as a league filled with speed, the linemen here are as good as it gets on both sides of the ball.

Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M. Manziel could scramble and improvise like no other, but it’s no coincidence that two Aggie offensive linemen – Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews – will be first-round NFL selections. We’ll see what kind of season Manziel puts together next fall without his blocking body guards.

This year’s Crimson Tide may not have been the best championship team of the bunch, but the program was still able to build on its dynasty thanks in large part to the large men who speak softly and carry a big stick.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at