September 01, 2015

(STATS) - South Dakota State is forced to replace Zach Zenner, the first Division I running back to rush for over 2,000 yards in three seasons.

All must be lost in Brookings. Maybe cancel the season.

Southern Conference champion Chattanooga no longer has defensive end Davis Tull, who won the last three SoCon defensive player of the year awards.

It might be time to switch schemes in Chattanooga.

Yes, it's easy for fans to overreact like that when a star player departs a program, thinking only the worst for their team.

But turnover comes quickly in college football - with players having only four seasons of eligibility - so coaches are used to it and their programs are always busy developing backup players and building depth. The two-deep chart that gets announced each game is fluid, and the depth of a team goes even further.

"What you're always trying to do is bridge that gap," new Youngstown State coach Bo Pelini said of the first-team unit to the reserves.

"Let's face it, you're not going to hit on every guy you take. You're going to have your misses, some guys aren't going to be quite as good as you thought (and) everybody develops at a different rate. Hopefully, it will help in a good amount of competition going on our football team. On the practice field, every single day, I think it will build more competition, instill depth and hopefully bridge that gap that is inherently there between the first team and second team."

South Dakota State had an understudy to Zenner a year ago even though few paid attention to Brady Mengarelli, then a redshirt freshman. He drew praise from Zenner, rushing for over five yards a carry and totaling 635 all-purpose yards. This season, he will be part of a running back-by-committee that Jackrabbits coach John Stiegelmeier is optimistic about.

At Chattanooga, the Mocs had another standout defensive end starting opposite Tull in Keionta Davis, now a junior. And Toyvian Brand was always there in practice last season, biding his time in a redshirt season after he had played in 31 games from 2011-13. He hopes to break out to an all-SoCon level this year.

"The next guy has got to be able to step in and play," said North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman, whose FCS championship team saw it happen last season when then-sophomore linebacker Nick DeLuca was excellent in replacing injured starter Travis Beck in the playoffs.

Building depth starts with solid recruiting, which doesn't provide immediate answers. Many players redshirt as true freshmen and need time to get bigger physically and develop their skills. They often gain experience in practices and in small samples in games.

There are fewer scholarships on the FCS level than at FBS programs, a maximum of 63 compared to 85, so the depth of the second team can be less consistent on the lower level of Division I. So FCS coaches have to work especially hard to make sure their team's reserves will be effective when they have to replace starters, especially standout players.

"Coming from where I came from - the I-A level," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said, "when you're fifth-year senior goes down for a week or two, he's replaced by a junior or a sophomore with playing experience. At our (FCS) level, when the fifth-year senior goes down, he's replaced by the redshirt freshman. So he's going to be talented, there's no question about that. But unless he's committed himself to being ready to be the starter while he's watching the All-American in front of him, he's not going to have the same kind of success."

No program will have the real answers until the backups are given playing opportunity, as New Hampshire's national semifinalist squad is doing with 12 new starters. Coach Sean McDonnell says a lot of the new starters have raw ability, they just "haven't been in the hot water yet."

But they're there and eager to make a name for themselves. Sometimes they wind up being better than the player they replaced.

No, all is not lost.

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