Breaking down the biggest injuries of the 2015 college football preseason and how teams are coping with those losses.

By Chris Johnson
September 01, 2015

Injuries are an unfortunate inevitability of college football, even before actual games kick off. Players who have spent all off-season preparing for the fall can have their seasons snatched away from them with one awkward cut or hard hit.

The list of players who have gone down this preseason includes a few headliners. Below is a compilation of some of the most significant blows, listed alphabetically, and how teams are attempting to overcome them in the lead-up to Week One.

Noah Brown, Ohio State, WR

Injury: broken leg
Expected time out: entire season

College Football
2015-16 Preseason Bowl Projections: Who will make the playoff this year?

This injury could particularly test the Buckeyes in their season opener. Ohio State was already preparing for their Sept. 7 road date against Virginia Tech without suspended receiver Corey Smith and H-backs Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson. With Brown out, the Buckeyes will look to top wideout Michael Thomas and tight end Nick Vannett while hoping that quarterback-turned-H-back Braxton Miller takes well to his new position. Ohio State can also lean on standout running back Ezekiel Elliott to extend drives on the ground. When those suspended players return, the Buckeyes’ passing attack should be O.K.—though Urban Meyer had pegged Brown as a potential breakout player before his injury. For this game, however, Brown’s injury represents a significant blow to a position of concern.

Ed Davis, Michigan State, LB

Injury: knee
Expected time out: entire season

Michigan State needed to replace the architect of its succession of dominant defenses, Pat Narduzzi, when he left to become Pittsburgh’s coach in December. Now the Spartans have to unexpectedly replace one of their top defensive players, as well. Davis was named All-Big Ten honorable mention after recording 58 tackles and seven sacks last season.

Michigan State fans should take comfort in coach Mark Dantonio’s track record of developing relatively unheralded recruits into stars. Yet it’s hard to say how expected replacement Chris Frey—who appeared in 13 games as a freshman in 2014—will fare filling in for a player who led the Spartans with 200 “production points” during the regular season. Frey better not need much time to get acclimated, as Michigan State will face Oregon’s high-octane offense in Week Two.

Marcus Jackson, Tennessee, OL

Injury: biceps
Expected time out: possibly the entire season

Tennessee entered the preseason in a favorable, yet delicate, position. The Volunteers appear to have sufficient talent in the starting lineup to compete in the SEC East, but they lack depth. Right on cue, one of their top offensive linemen suffered a serious injury. After starting 12 games at left guard last season, Jackson was expected to help protect promising quarterback Josh Dobbs and clear running room for backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara.

Making matters worse for Tennessee is that it also lost redshirt sophomore guard Austin Sanders for the season with a biceps injury. In a depth chart released Monday, Tennessee listed sophomore Jashon Robertson and junior Dylan Wiesman as starters at guard. Robertson has experience from 13 starts, but Wiesman has recorded only two starts.

Jarron Jones, Notre Dame, DL

Injury: torn MCL
Expected time out: entire season

College Football
Preseason Heisman Watch: Sizing up favorites, second tier, long shots

Notre Dame will need its run defense to hold up without the services of one of its top linemen: Jones, a senior projected to start at nose guard. One could argue that the Fighting Irish should be somewhat prepared for this exact scenario, as they had to play without Jones at the end of last season—when he went down with a foot injury after logging 11 starts.

Still, relying on a true freshman (Jerry Tillery) and a sophomore (Daniel Cage), who has recorded only four tackles at a pivotal position, is far from ideal. Notre Dame will hope standout senior tackle Sheldon Day can offset the impact of Jones’s loss while helping Tillery and Cage get their bearings before a Week Three game against Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack.

Andrew Jelks, Vanderbilt, OT

Injury: knee
Expected time out: entire season

C.J. Duncan, Vanderbilt, WR

Injury: lower leg
Expected time out: entire season

Vanderbilt ranked 118th in the country last season in Football Outsiders’ offensive S&P+ ratings. The Commodores scored 10 points over their first two games and finished last in the SEC in both scoring and total offense.

In hopes of improving on that performance in 2015, head coach Derek Mason fired Karl Dorrell as offensive coordinator in December and hired Andy Ludwig to replace him. Unfortunately for Ludwig, he won’t have two of Vanderbilt’s best offensive players to work with in what could be a pivotal year for Mason.

Duncan recorded more receiving yards than any other Commodores wideout last season, and Jelks was a two-year starter at tackle. Their removal from the lineup means Vanderbilt will need to shuffle its offensive line rotation and get increased production from receivers Latevius Rayford and Trent Sherfield.

Chris Bernacchi/AP

Abner Logan, Maryland, LB

Injury: ACL
Expected time out: entire season

Logan appeared in only seven games in 2014 after violating team rules and being placed on disciplinary probation by the university. But he was expected to start this season in a linebacking corps replacing several key contributors as the Terrapins switched to a 4-3 alignment under new coordinator Keith Dudzinski.

A former four-star recruit, Logan showed promise as a redshirt freshman in 2013, when he made four starts and registered 25 tackles combined over a two-game stretch. Without him, Maryland is expected to start sophomore Jalen Brooks and UConn transfer Jefferson Ashiru at outside linebacker. Even if those players acquit themselves well in the new scheme, the absence of Logan will hurt a defense that finished 10th in the Big Ten in yards allowed per play last season.

LaDarrell McNeil, Tennessee, S

Injury: neck instability
Expected time out: likely the entire season

Rashaan Gaulden, Tennessee, CB

Injury: broken foot
Expected time out: entire season

College Football
Nick Chubb, Joey Bosa lead's 2015 Preseason All-America Team

It’s been a rough preseason for Tennessee. The previously mentioned injuries to Jackson and Sanders will test the Volunteers’ depth in the trenches. And the loss of two other players will force them to tap into their reserves on the back end of the defense.

Senior McNeil has made 22 consecutive starts at safety, while sophomore Gaulden contributed mostly on special teams last season but had been competing to start at nickel back. Promising sophomore Todd Kelly Jr. will step in at safety, and junior Malik Foreman is listed as the starter at nickel. The new faces will need to get themselves up to speed in a hurry, as the Volunteers begin their season against Bowling Green coach Dino Babers’s Baylor-inspired offense before hosting Oklahoma and its new Air Raid attack.

Jalen Mills, LSU, S

Injury: fractured fibula
Expected time out: 4–6 weeks

Mills has been a fixture in LSU’s defense since 2012, when he started 13 games at cornerback as a true freshman. He switched to safety at the end of the next season and made 12 starts at the position in ’14, helping the Tigers lead the SEC in pass efficiency defense.

The good news for LSU is twofold: Mills could be back in time for the Sept. 19 conference opener against West division favorite Auburn, and LSU has a talented player ready to fill in while Mills recovers. Rickey Jefferson has appeared in 20 games and made one start over two seasons. In 2014 the junior recorded two interceptions and two pass breakups while contributing in DB-heavy alignments.

De’Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska, KR/WR

Injury: foot
Expected time out: 6-8 weeks

Pierson-El is one of those returners against whom you wish your favorite team would punt the ball out of bounds every time. As a freshman last season, he led the country with 596 total punt return yards and ran back three punts for scores. The former three-star recruit was also one of Nebraska’s top pass-catching threats and figured to have even more balls thrown his way this season following the departure of leading receiver Kenny Bell.

The Huskers also lost another wideout, Lavan Alston, for the season with a knee injury. During Pierson-El’s absence, which could extend into Big Ten play, Nebraska is expected to look to junior Jordan Westerkamp to run back punts and several other players, including heralded true freshman Stanley Morgan, to step up at receiver.

Jonathan Williams, Arkansas, RB

Injury: foot
Expected time out: through regular season

College Football
2015 SEC preview: Can Auburn's D get it past Alabama to a conference title?

Since leaving Wisconsin to become Arkansas’s coach in December 2012, Bret Bielema has worked to construct a team that can dominate opponents up front and mount long drives by running the ball. With four offensive line starters and two 1,000-yard rushers returning, the Razorbacks seemed built to execute that formula. Now one of those rushing options is gone.

A powerful back with the lateral quickness to evade defenders, Williams finished fourth in the SEC with 1,190 yards and eighth with 5.64 yards per carry last season. Arkansas will need Alex Collins to shoulder a bigger load while also possibly working in fellow junior Kody Walker—who ran for 174 yards with three scores in the Razorbacks’ spring game—and true freshman Rawleigh Williams III. Arkansas is unfortunate to lose Williams, but it can sustain an effective ground game without him.

• THAMEL: How Bret Bielema reinvented Arkansas's culture

Other notable injuries: Jared Crump, Wake Forest, WR (torn ACL); Gus Edwards, Miami, RB (foot); Byron Fields, Duke, CB (torn ACL); Steven Richards, BYU, TE (knee); Thomas Tyner, Oregon, RB (shoulder); Korin Wiggins, Clemson, S (torn ACL); Carter Wood, Arizona, OL (foot)

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)