Alabama, Boise State among 10 teams with huge voids to fill
Record-tying 53 underclassmen turned pro, including 16 of 19 award winners
Title-game participants Alabama and Texas need replacements to step up big
Stanford hopes three running backs can replicate Toby Gerhart's production
"That's the way college football goes," Georgia Tech's Anthony Allen said. "Good players come and good players leave."
Allen knows all about having to fill the void left by a star. In 2010, the senior will step into the starting B-back role vacated by former ACC Offensive Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer.
The Yellow Jackets were hit hard by NFL defections, losing All-America defenders Derrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and Dwyer. But Tech was hardly the only school that felt the pain. A record-tying 53 underclassmen entered the NFL draft, including the winners of 16 of the nation's 19 major awards; only Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and award-winning kickers Kai Forbath (UCLA) and Drew Butler (Georgia) return.
That mass exodus left a number of schools searching for replacements, but none more so than these 10.
Who's Gone: Javier Arenas, CB/KR
Who's next: The Crimson Tide lost three starters in the secondary, but Arenas was the heart of the pass defense. He was also the SEC's career leader in punt return yards, making him even more difficult to replace. Sophomore Dre Kirkpatrick could become Alabama's next lockdown corner, but Phelon Jones could be in the mix as well after making two starts in 2008 -- for LSU.
Backup running back Trent Richardson will likely return kickoffs, while star wideout Julio Jones will likely handle punt returns. Coach Nick Saban has thrown out a number of players as possible contributors, but Richardson and Jones are his most explosive options.
Who's Gone: Kyle Wilson, CB/KR
Who's next: Juco transfer Jerrell Gavins and redshirt sophomore Jamar Taylor are battling to replace Wilson, the only starter from Boise's 2009 defense not returning. Gavins made one start last year and played in the Fiesta Bowl, but the job will likely to go to Taylor, who played in all 13 games as a freshman before redshirting last season.
Titus Young is the obvious choice in the return game, but coaches have said the added responsibility may be too much for Young, who already fields kickoffs and is the Broncos' leading receiver. Coach Chris Petersen has named Chris Potter, Mitch Burroughs and Gavins as other possibilities.
Who's Gone: Aaron Hernandez, TE
Who's next: Yes, the Gators lost Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes, the faces of their offense and defense. But with the receiving corps once again the team's biggest question mark, the loss of Mackey Award winner Hernandez, who led all tight ends with 68 receptions in '09, might be the most damning.
Florida will be asking Hernandez's replacement to do more than catch passes and block, though. Jordan Reed, a 6-foot-3, 240-pounder who came to Florida as the nation's 10th-rated dual-threat quarterback but made the switch to tight end after getting buried on the depth chart, will be used at quarterback in the wildcat formation in goal-line situations.
Who's Gone: Ndamukong Suh, DT
Who's next: The mere fact that Suh turned Ndamukong into a household name shows the kind of impact he made last season.
Suh's starting gig goes to redshirt sophomore Baker Steinkuhler (17 tackles in '09), a 6-9, 290-pound redshirt sophomore who is the son of 1983 Outland and Lombardi winner Dean Steinkuhler. But in terms of leadership, Nebraska's new Suh is clearly Jared Crick, the preseason Big 12 co-Defensive player of the Year, who recorded 9 ½ sacks and 73 tackles last year while playing in Suh's sizable shadow.
Who's Gone: Trent Williams, LT
Who's next: Only one of Oklahoma's projected offensive line starters has never made a start -- but that player happens to be the key to keeping quarterback Landry Jones upright.
Junior Donald Stephenson appeared in seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2008, but was suspended last season for off-field issues. He has the size (6-6, 309) to follow in the footsteps of Oklahoma's last two left tackles, both All-Americas, but has yet to play a meaningful snap. Coach Bob Stoops doesn't seem concerned, though: He's said Stephenson was the Sooners' second-best lineman last season behind Williams.
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