Florida, USC hit hardest at draft deadline; Ohio St. fairly unscathed
Losing five underclassmen could significantly slow down Florida
North Carolina brings back every key junior from a stellar defense
Alabama, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Penn State all had mixed results
Lost in the frenzy over last week's coaching carousel was the fact that Friday was the last day for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft.
There were no bombshells like last year when stars such as Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Taylor Mays announced their return to school. If anything, most of the guys you assumed would turn pro, did turn pro; however, initial fears that the NFL's impending labor strife might prompt a mass exodus of draft entrants have proven false.
As always, certain teams were hit heavier than others. A few borderline prospects made questionable decisions, and a few have the opportunity to dramatically improve their stock next season. All could have a direct impact on the 2010 college season.
Florida: As if the start of the post-Tim Tebow (and possibly post-Urban Meyer) era wasn't daunting enough, the Gators lost a season-high five underclass stars -- defensive end Carlos Dunlap, cornerback Joe Haden, tight end Aaron Hernandez, offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey and safety Major Wright. Of the group, Hernandez (last year's receptions leader) and Haden (their most important defender) will be toughest to replace.
Georgia Tech: The defending ACC champs had a chance to return a staggering 19 starters, but leading rusher Jonathan Dwyer, leading receiver Demaryius Thomas, second-leading tackler Morgan Burnett and ACC sacks leader Derrick Morgan all turned pro. The Jackets' running game should be fine with Josh Nesbitt and Anthony Allen, but Thomas was their lone receiving threat, Morgan and Burnett their best defenders.
USC: New coach Lane Kiffin has his work cut out restocking a Trojans offense that lacked the kind of playmakers we've become accustomed to in the past. Making matters worse, the two best from last season -- receiver Damian Williams and tailback Joe McKnight -- both bolted. (So, too, did defensive end Everson Griffen.) Ronald Johnson and Allen Bradford must become the new go-to guys.
Georgia: The Bulldogs' defense struggled in 2009, costing coordinator Willie Martinez his job. New coordinator Todd Grantham would have inherited a depleted unit regardless, but his job wasn't made any easier by the defection of Georgia's two best juniors, linebacker Rennie Curran and safety Reshad Jones. The defense will now return just four starters.
North Carolina: Every key junior from the Tar Heels' sixth-ranked defense -- defensive tackle Mavin Austin, cornerback Kendric Burney, safety Deunta Williams, and linebackers Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter -- is coming back. UNC, which finished 8-5, returns 19 starters and could contend for the ACC crown if it gets its offense cranking.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes suffered one big blow in losing defensive end Thaddeus Gibson, but defensive end Cameron Heyward, cornerback Chimidi Chekwa, linebacker Ross Homan and safety Jermale Hines all chose to return for their senior seasons, legitimizing Ohio State as a potential national championship contender.
West Virginia: It came down to the 11th hour, but star running back Noel Devine -- who ran for 1,465 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per carry -- opted to put off the NFL. So, too, did leading receiver Jock Sanders. New quarterback Geno Smith (who played in the second half of the Gator Bowl) will have plenty of weapons around him.
Pittsburgh: The Big East's co-defensive player of the year, defensive end Greg Romeus (eight sacks), stayed true to his word and announced he's coming back. He'll pair with Jabaal Sheard as part of the conference's top pass-rushing tandem. The Panthers have several key seniors to replace, but bring back stars Romeus, Dion Lewis and Jonathan Baldwin.
Oklahoma: Technically, the Sooners lost three potential first-rounders in Bradford, tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy -- but we've know for some time they were gone. The only other defector was cornerback Dominique Franks; running back DeMarco Murray, receiver Ryan Broyles, defensive end Jeremy Beal and linebacker Travis Lewis are all back.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes lost two All-Big Ten juniors, tackle Bryan Bulaga and cornerback Amari Spievey. However, their biggest defensive standout, Orange Bowl MVP Adrian Clayborn, made the somewhat surprising decision to stay put, giving Kirk Ferentz's team eight returning starters from an already stout defense.
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