Oklahoma, Ohio State headline draft deadline winners and losers
After the NFL draft declaration deadline, we're ranking the winners and losers
Florida, Oklahoma and Ole Miss all were able to retain key players
Ohio State and Georgia, on the other hand, lost crucial players to the draft
The NFL's early entry deadline passed on Thursday, and now everyone can move on with their lives. The college stars staying in school can buy books, pick up syllabi and frequent quarter beer night at whichever sticky-floored campus bar they prefer. The departing stars can buy Escalades and prepare for the combine. Meanwhile, several coaches must either fill gaping holes in their depth chart or bask in the glory of an unexpected bounty. Today, we'll look at which teams emerged winners and losers after the early entry sweepstakes.
Not only is Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford back, but so are tight end Jermaine Gresham, offensive tackle Trent Williams and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. If you thought you could pencil in Texas as the Big 12 South champ, think again. The Sooners will have to replace most of their offensive line -- tackle Phil Loadholt, guard Duke Robinson, center Jon Cooper and right guard Brandon Walker were seniors -- but Williams, who knocked out an Oklahoma State defender with a block in November, should provide some stability for a young group. Gresham proved in the BCS title game that he is one of the nation's most dangerous offensive weapons, and if the Sooners can develop some receivers for Bradford to throw to, the offense should still hum.
Oklahoma's defense began preparing for 2009 the moment middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds went down against Texas. The Sooners lose safeties Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes, but at least they don't lose McCoy, an athletic tackle who will disrupt all those high-powered Big 12 offenses next season.
The Gators lost a lot when receiver/tailback Percy Harvin entered the draft, but everyone knew when Harvin signed in 2006 he'd only be around for three seasons. The surprise return is middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, the heart and soul of a defense that helped the Gators to a national title without a single senior on the two-deep depth chart. Spikes may have gotten some advice from Brandon Siler, the leader of the defense that carried Florida to a 2006 national title. Siler was told he'd be a first-day draft pick and left after his junior season. He was drafted by the Chargers in the seventh round. Spikes likely would have been drafted much higher, but if he stays healthy, he'll still be a high draft pick next year.
Add Spikes and the defense to an offense still led by 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, and the Gators should have plenty of talent to compete for a repeat. Tebow toyed with the idea of going pro, but he was the least likely of Florida's big three to leave. With Tebow and OU's Bradford back, the rest of the 2009 Heisman hopefuls will have to have all-world seasons to even get invited to New York.
Bet you thought I would put the Trojans in the "Losers" category because quarterback Mark Sanchez opted to turn pro. I considered it, but then I remembered that the Trojans' third-string quarterback in 2008 (Mitch Mustain) went 8-0 as a freshman starter at Arkansas. Between Mustain, 2008 backup Aaron Corp and 2009 freshman Matt Barkley -- who already is enrolled in classes -- USC should have little trouble finding someone to run the offense. More important, safety Taylor Mays returns, and he seemed a lock to turn pro. Mays will provide leadership for a defense that loses six of its front seven, but has its entire secondary coming back.
4. Ole Miss
The trendy preseason top 10 pick for 2009 got a big boost this week when defensive end Greg Hardy announced he would return. Hardy has had plenty of ups and downs at Ole Miss, but he has averaged a sack in every game he has played the past two seasons. The Rebels lose defensive tackle Peria Jerry, but they welcome back a front that includes Hardy and monster nose tackles Ted Laurent and Jerrell Powe. Add that to an offense led by quarterback Jevan Snead and speedy jack-of-all-trades Dexter McCluster, and it's easy to understand why the Rebels are getting so much hype.
Notice I didn't say Ole Miss should be the favorite to win the SEC West. Here's why. Offensive tackle Ciron Black and tailback Charles Scott are coming back to LSU, which should get better after an ugly 2008. The Tigers lose left guard/human solar eclipse Herman Johnson and center Brett Helms, but they get back bookend tackles Black and Joseph Barksdale. With a full offseason to take command of the offense, experienced linemen in front of him and a dangerous back like Scott behind him, rising sophomore quarterback Jordan Jefferson should grow by leaps and bounds. He won't have Brandon LaFell to throw to -- LaFell entered the draft -- but Terrence Toliver and Richard Dickson will be more than happy to catch passes.
On defense, the Tigers lost tackle Ricky Jean-Francois to the draft. Combine that with the departure of seniors Tyson Jackson, Charles Alexander and Kirston Pittman, and LSU needs an all-new defensive line. At most schools, that might be a problem, but LSU always seems to have plenty of quality defensive linemen waiting for a shot. Defensive coordinator John Chavis -- who joins the Tigers after leaving Tennessee -- should shore up some of the issues the Tigers had last season. In fact, the only unexpected loss the Tigers suffered is quarterback Andrew Hatch, the Harvard transfer who chose to transfer back to Harvard.
Forget the surprise then-assistant Dabo Swinney pulled when he plucked tailback C.J. Spiller from the clutches of home-state favorites Florida and Florida State. Swinney's first major coup as Clemson's head coach was an even bigger shocker. Spiller, who led the Tigers with 1,170 all-purpose yards in 2008, announced this week he would return for his senior season. That's a major shot in the arm for an offense that loses quarterback Cullen Harper and bruising back James Davis. If Jamie Harper, another Florida native Swinney lured to South Carolina, can develop, he and Spiller could make quite a tag-team combo. Maybe, under Swinney, Clemson coaches will figure out that if they put both their star backs on the field at the same time, the defense won't automatically know who is getting the ball.