"That's the way college football goes," Georgia Tech's Anthony Allen said. "Good players come and good players leave."
Allen knows all about having to fill the void left by a star. In 2010, the senior will step into the starting B-back role vacated by former ACC Offensive Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer.
The Yellow Jackets were hit hard by NFL defections, losing All-America defenders Derrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and Dwyer. But Tech was hardly the only school that felt the pain. A record-tying 53 underclassmen entered the NFL draft, including the winners of 16 of the nation's 19 major awards; only Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and award-winning kickers Kai Forbath (UCLA) and Drew Butler (Georgia) return.
That mass exodus left a number of schools searching for replacements, but none more so than these 10.
Who's Gone: Javier Arenas, CB/KR
Who's next: The Crimson Tide lost three starters in the secondary, but Arenas was the heart of the pass defense. He was also the SEC's career leader in punt return yards, making him even more difficult to replace. Sophomore Dre Kirkpatrick could become Alabama's next lockdown corner, but Phelon Jones could be in the mix as well after making two starts in 2008 -- for LSU.
Backup running back Trent Richardson will likely return kickoffs, while star wideout Julio Jones will likely handle punt returns. Coach Nick Saban has thrown out a number of players as possible contributors, but Richardson and Jones are his most explosive options.
Who's Gone: Kyle Wilson, CB/KR
Who's next: Juco transfer Jerrell Gavins and redshirt sophomore Jamar Taylor are battling to replace Wilson, the only starter from Boise's 2009 defense not returning. Gavins made one start last year and played in the Fiesta Bowl, but the job will likely to go to Taylor, who played in all 13 games as a freshman before redshirting last season.
Titus Young is the obvious choice in the return game, but coaches have said the added responsibility may be too much for Young, who already fields kickoffs and is the Broncos' leading receiver. Coach Chris Petersen has named Chris Potter, Mitch Burroughs and Gavins as other possibilities.
Who's Gone: Aaron Hernandez, TE
Who's next: Yes, the Gators lost Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes, the faces of their offense and defense. But with the receiving corps once again the team's biggest question mark, the loss of Mackey Award winner Hernandez, who led all tight ends with 68 receptions in '09, might be the most damning.
Florida will be asking Hernandez's replacement to do more than catch passes and block, though. Jordan Reed, a 6-foot-3, 240-pounder who came to Florida as the nation's 10th-rated dual-threat quarterback but made the switch to tight end after getting buried on the depth chart, will be used at quarterback in the wildcat formation in goal-line situations.
Who's Gone: Ndamukong Suh, DT
Who's next: The mere fact that Suh turned Ndamukong into a household name shows the kind of impact he made last season.
Suh's starting gig goes to redshirt sophomore Baker Steinkuhler (17 tackles in '09), a 6-9, 290-pound redshirt sophomore who is the son of 1983 Outland and Lombardi winner Dean Steinkuhler. But in terms of leadership, Nebraska's new Suh is clearly Jared Crick, the preseason Big 12 co-Defensive player of the Year, who recorded 9 ½ sacks and 73 tackles last year while playing in Suh's sizable shadow.
Who's Gone: Trent Williams, LT
Who's next: Only one of Oklahoma's projected offensive line starters has never made a start -- but that player happens to be the key to keeping quarterback Landry Jones upright.
Junior Donald Stephenson appeared in seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2008, but was suspended last season for off-field issues. He has the size (6-6, 309) to follow in the footsteps of Oklahoma's last two left tackles, both All-Americas, but has yet to play a meaningful snap. Coach Bob Stoops doesn't seem concerned, though: He's said Stephenson was the Sooners' second-best lineman last season behind Williams.
Who's Gone: Daryll Clark, QB
Who's next: Penn State lost three starting linebackers, but the absence of veteran starter Clark will be even more glaring with the Nittany Lions fielding an inexperienced offensive line. Conventional wisdom says sophomore Kevin Newsome, who appeared in eight games in '09, should be the heir apparent, but a four-player battle is still ragging with kickoff rapidly approaching. In addition to Newsome, there's former walk-on Matt McGloin, the most conventional passer of the bunch; freshman Paul Jones, who made strides as an early enrollee; and fellow freshman Robert Bolden, who recently arrived on campus and is generating buzz.
With Joe Paterno likely making veteran running back Evan Royster the focus of a scaled-back offense, a game manager like McGloin could be the right fit, but Newsome's experience may win out.
Who's Gone: Toby Gerhart, RB
Who's next: It won't be easy to replace the production Stanford came to expect from Gerhart, who led the nation in yards and attempts last season while carrying the ball 343 times. No other Cardinal back had more than 56 carries.
There's not another 235-pound workhorse waiting in the wings. Instead, it appears Stanford will go the running back-by-committee route, with senior Jeremy Stewart (6-0, 218) and sophomores Tyler Gaffney (6-1, 216) and Stepfan Taylor, who had 303 yards on 56 carries as Gerhart's backup last season. But even with three backs, it may be difficult to replicate Gerhart's 1,871 yards and 28 TDs.
Who's Gone: Jerry Hughes, DE
Who's next: Despite losing a two-time All-America in Hughes, coach Gary Patterson feels this defensive line could be better as a whole than last year's unit. Experience won't be an issue, as the returnees have 51 career starts between them. But if Patterson believes this line can be as effective without Hughes, he's clearly banking on Wayne Daniels' star to keep rising.
In his first year as a starter, Daniels (6-2, 250) was second on the Frogs with 5 ½ sacks. He also had nine tackles for loss and earned second-team all-Mountain West Conference honors. There's no doubting his pass-rushing talent, but his ability to handle the pressure -- and double-teams -- that comes with being the star of the Frogs' line should determine how dominant this defense is in 2010.
Who's Gone: Colt McCoy, QB
Who's next: Thanks to being thrust into the BCS title game after McCoy's injury, Garrett Gilbert isn't an unknown commodity. Now it's time for the sophomore to begin carving his own legacy.
He has some tough acts to follow. McCoy ended his career as the NCAA's alltime winningest quarterback. His predecessor, Vince Young, brought Texas a championship. Coach Mack Brown isn't expecting Gilbert to live up to that lineage just yet. The Longhorns will scale back the offense to more heavily feature the running game and take pressure off the young passer. The new approach will also have Gilbert taking snaps under center, something he hasn't done since pee-wee football.
In order to keep teams from keying on the run, though, Gilbert and an inexperienced receiving corps will have to pose a threat. It's imperative Gilbert find a go-to pass-catcher like McCoy had with Jordan Shipley. Two names to watch: wide receiver Malcolm Williams, and, considering the emphasis on the run, tight end Barrett Matthews.
Who's Gone: Jason Worilds, DE
Who's next: Worilds' early departure left the Hokies in a bind on the defensive front, with only one returning starter, tackle John Graves. For Virginia Tech to produce a top 10 scoring defense for the seventh straight year, Steven Friday will have to help the revamped line produce.
The fifth-year senior came to Tech as a four-star recruit, but has been biding his time while Chris Ellis and Worilds starred, totaling just 19 tackles and 3 ½ sacks while appearing in 24 games. Friday is big (6-4, 235) and strong (he's bench-pressed 440 pounds) and will surely draw plenty of attention from the opposition, but the Hokies need him to step up and lead a line missing a true force.