Auburn, Boise State among 10 teams with huge holes to fill
On campuses nationwide, fresh faces are readying for their chance to fill the voids left by last season's departed stars. There are holes to fill, and deep ones at that. It's the college football circle of life.
The SEC and ACC lost their top-rated passer and leading rusher from 2010. The Big East is down four 1,000-yard runners, while the Big 12 is missing its top two backs. The Big Ten must replace three of its four best tacklers, while the Pac-12 saw its top two leave.
And that's just a sample of the statistical void.
Consider this: Of the 18 national awards that are handed out each season, only the recipients of the Doak Walker (Oregon's LaMichael James) and the Biletnikoff (Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon) are back on campus.
Replacing yesterday's stars won't be easy, but in college football "out with the old, in with the new" is the reality, not a cliché. Here's a look at the schools with the 10 biggest holes, and the players trying to fill them.
Arkansas' current tight ends have caught just nine passes, which is 143 less than Williams had during his college career. The two players to watch are Chris Gragg and Colton Miles-Nash. Gragg is a gifted pass-catcher with deceptive speed, but is only 236 pounds. Converted defensive end Miles-Nash has a better blocking frame at 261 pounds, but doesn't possess Gragg's receiving skills.
Unless he wants to telegraph when the Hogs are going to pass or run, Bobby Petrino can't go with a revolving door based on those strengths. Gragg has the edge, but will need to work on developing into the complete package.
So instead we'll turn our attention to the defense, where a unit that ranked first in the SEC against the run has lost its leader.
Sophomores Kenneth Carter (six tackles) and Jeffrey Whitaker (seven stops) will vie for playing time at tackle along with freshman Angelo Blackson, but the player to watch is fellow first-year Gabe Wright. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Parade All-America is wearing Fairley's No. 90, and he made it known he's ready to make Tigers fans forget Fairley by wearing a "Nick Who?" hat on National Signing Day. With Auburn's other starting defensive tackle, Zach Clayton, also gone, Wright could begin making a name for himself immediately.
The punting duties will likely go to sophomore Trevor Harman, who averaged 44.7 yards on 10 tries last season and had nine touchbacks on 82 kickoffs. Freshman Jake Van Ginkle may emerge from a competition with walk-ons Dan Goodale and Michael Frisina for the points-scoring job. Van Ginkle is the California record-holder with 39 career field goals and once hit a 58-yarder ... as a high school freshman.
This is a talented but inexperienced group. How will it handle pressure? We may not have to wait long to find out, with the Broncos opening up against a ranked Georgia team in a hostile environment.
The 6-4, 280-pounder played 329 snaps as a freshman and 343 a year ago, totaling 63 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 13 QB pressures while making one start. He's shown flashes, but many at Clemson believe the No. 1 recruit from the state of South Carolina in 2009 -- he was ranked ahead of Gamecocks' receiver Alshon Jeffery -- has yet to reach his potential.
The Tigers need Goodman to replace Bowers' production, but they also need a new defensive leader to emerge. In addition to Bowers, the Tigers lost five starters including tackle Jarvis Jenkins, safety DeAndre McDaniel and linebacker Brandon Maye, who transferred to Mississippi State.
Junior Tavarres King is expected to fill Green's role as the No. 1 receiver after 47 career catches for 947 yards and four scores. At 6-1 he's a smaller target than Green, but is more of a speed threat, as is touted freshman Malcolm Mitchell.
At 6-5, junior Marlon Brown certainly has the size to be the red-zone threat Green was, but Tennessee's 2008 Mr. Football hasn't overwhelmed with 13 catches in his first two seasons. With consistent looks he could become the go-to guy for quarterback Aaron Murray this year.
Glennon, the younger brother of former Virginia Tech quarterback Sean, has 100 snaps under his belt and has thrown for 326 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions over two years. Glennon will be without the Wolfpack's top two pass-catchers from last season, though he'll have a safety valve in all-ACC tight end George Bryan.
Glennon certainly looks the part at 6-6, and he drew raves for his progress in camp. But making people forget Wilson's dynamic playmaking ability will be tough, especially with Wilson still playing in college.
Junior Antonio Bell, a former wide receiver, is in the mix, along with sophomore Ciante Evans and redshirt freshman Andrew Green. Bell played in eight games last season, mostly on the punt unit, and Bell and Evans took the field in one game each.
Evans made a strong impression in that appearance. Thrust into action when Dennard was injured against Missouri, Evans impressed with four tackles and two key pass breakups. It was just one game, but he thrived under pressure. With Dennard's running mate likely to be tested early and often, that one game should be enough to give Evans the edge.
Junior James Fry, Kirkpatrick's backup last season, appears to be the clubhouse leader, but the 6-3, 290-pounder will be pushed by sophomores Eric Tausch (6-3, 295) and John Wooldridge (6-5, 310) and redshirt freshamn Michael Thompson (6-4, 315).
The Frogs are expecting big things from first-year starter Casey Pachall, but they'll need to keep him upright if they want him to emerge from Andy Dalton's shadow. TCU allowed a paltry 21 sacks over the past two seasons; living up to that standard will largely depend on the new center setting the tone.
Mike Sherman unveiled his first depth chart in conjunction with conference Media Days, and it listed junior Caleb Russell and sophomore Damontre Moore as even in the fight to replace Miller at the hybrid linebacker/defensive end spot in A&M's 3-4 scheme.
Moore (6-4, 248) made a splash as Miller's backup, totaling 40 tackles, 5 ½ sacks and three forced fumbles. Russell, a former walk-on, had four tackles while playing in eight games last year.
Sherman has discussed the duo working together to replace Miller, but given what Moore showed as a freshman, it wouldn't be a surprise if he seizes the spot for his own.
Could D.J. Shoemate be next? The former USC transfer and Army All-America didn't make much of an impression in Year 1 in East Hartford, totaling 115 yards on 28 carries, but he's Todman's logical successor despite competition from the likes of senior Jonathan Jean-Louis, sophomore Martin Hyppolite and freshman Lyle McCombs.
Shoemate should get plenty of chances at a 1,000-yard season with the Huskies breaking in a new starting quarterback, and he'll be operating behind a solid line.