Which teams were most affected by draft decisions?
Posted: Wednesday January 18, 2006 10:57AM; Updated: Wednesday January 18, 2006 8:49PM
Penn State All-America LB Paul Posluszny opted to return to school after suffering a knee injury in the Orange Bowl.
Last year, the undisputed top story of college football's annual postseason draft scramble was USC quarterback Matt Leinart's decision to bypass NFL riches and return for his senior season. A year later, nearly all the big names -- Vince Young, Reggie Bush, LenDale White -- took the money and ran.
One can hardly fault such upper-echelon prospects' decisions. Their stock was unlikely to get much higher, and signing bonuses upwards of $20 million await them. It's the lower-tier defectors -- guys who leave school early despite little chance of going in the first two rounds -- who drive college coaches and fans bonkers, because in most cases they would have been valuable contributors to their teams next season.
Of course, some teams are better stocked to replace unexpected departures than others. Here are the biggest winners and losers after college football's 2006 underclass exodus:
Winner: Penn State
Coach Joe Paterno loses 13 senior starters from last year's 11-1 squad, including standouts such as QB Michael Robinson, DE Tamba Hali and CB Alan Zemaitis, but he was able to retain his two All-America juniors, LB Paul Posluszny and LT Levi Brown. "I have decided to declare myself eligible," joked Brown, "for another year of coaching under Joe Paterno."
Obviously, having Butkus-winner Posluszny back for another season is a huge plus, but Brown's decision may prove even more beneficial. It took three years for Penn State to develop a formidable offensive line (the Nittany Lions went from ninth in the Big Ten in rushing in 2004 to second in '05), and now four of those starters are graduating. With a mentor like Brown back, perhaps the next crop of newbies won't take quite so long to mature.
Coach Pete Carroll's talent-stocked program has weathered the departures of star players nearly every offseason. But until this year, he'd actually gone relatively light on underclass defections, losing just three (DE Kenechi Udeze, WR Mike Williams and LB Lofa Tatupu) in four seasons. Now he's lost a staggering five: RBs Bush and White, OLs Winston Justice and Fred Matua and S Darnell Bing. All but Matua were expected to leave, though Carroll reportedly tried hard to sway Justice and Bing into returning and improving their stock.
The Trojans' backfield will likely be a work in progress next season. Incoming freshmen like Emmanuel Moody will have a chance to contribute immediately. Former starter Hershel Dennis, who had just 28 carries in 2004 and missed last season with a knee injury, is expected back, but isn't nearly as explosive as Bush or White. Three other returnees in the backfield, Desmond Reed, Chauncey Washington and Michael Coleman, are expected to miss spring practices. An equally big loss is Bing, USC's defensive leader, who along with departed senior Scott Ware leaves holes at the two safety positions. Possible replacements include identical twins Ryan and Brandon Ting, who saw significant playing time this season.
Winner: Notre Dame
The Irish, looking to build on their first nine-win season in five years, lost one standout underclassman, tight end Anthony Fasano, but that loss pales in comparison to quarterback Brady Quinn and receiver Jeff Samardzija returning for another year. Both will enter next season as arguably the top players in the country at their positions.
Even with Fasano out of the equation, coach Charlie Weis will have 16 starters back in 2006, the most of any team in the AP's final top 10. Someone will need to step up big at tight end, however. Fasano accounted for 47 catches and 576 yards; his backup, John Carlson, had just seven catches for 56 yards.
Loser: Ohio State
Losing Santonio Holmes was one thing -- the junior, who will likely be the first receiver taken, was long assumed to be going pro. The Buckeyes still have a solid returning receiving corps with Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez and Roy Hall. The defections that really hurt were those of cornerback Ashton Youboty and safety Donte Whitner, both borderline first-rounders. OSU, already faced with replacing all three starting linebackers, lost its entire secondary as well.
The buzz out of the Fiesta Bowl, where Troy Smith and the Buckeyes put up 617 yards in a win over Notre Dame, was that OSU would be a logical preseason No. 1 headed into next season, but you don't see a whole lot of preseason No. 1s with two returning starters on defense. Coach Jim Tressel does have, however, some promising youngsters in the secondary. Freshman cornerback Malcolm Jenkins was the third-leading tackler in the Fiesta Bowl, and safety Jamario O'Neal was one of the nation's top recruits a year ago.