A host of household names departed the corps of college football last winter. So did some lesser-known but crucial moving parts. Today, we get acquainted with their replacements. Here are 10 teams (listed alphabetically) with gaping holes to fill:
Alabama: Trent Richardson
Last year: Richardson finished the 2011 season ranked fifth nationally in rushing, averaging perilously close to 130 ground yards per contest. He ranked sixth in scoring, averaging more than 11 points per contest. About all he failed to do was follow up Mark Ingram’s Heisman with a stiffarm trophy of his own.
This year: The next guy up, if you want to get technical about it, is 2011′s No. 2 man Eddie Lacy. It’s a big dropoff from Richardson’s 130-yard average production to Lacy’s 56, but you have to like the numbers Lacy put up on such a paltry allowance of carries (674 rushing yards, 95 touches). Lacy recently returned to action following offseason foot surgery and will be a full participant in fall camp.
But like CBS’ Daniel Lewis, we are almost more intrigued by the guys coming up behind Lacy: Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and T.J. Yeldon. These players are always fun to track at ‘Bama because, like Richardson behind Ingram, they are undeniably talented, have to wait their turn and will be endlessly clamored for on the radio and message boards the first time Lacy has an off night.
Baylor: Robert Griffin III
Last year: A shootout victory over No. 14 TCU to open the season, wins over No. 5 Oklahoma (the program’s first) and No. 24 Texas to close it out, a rip-roaring offensive airshow of an Alamo Bowl and the Heisman Trophy are all the next guy has to live up to. Go right on ahead and follow the player who put Baylor ball on the map. No big thing.
This year: Please re-welcome to the stage one Nick Florence, who stepped in to start for the injured Griffin and Blake Szymanski in 2009 as a true freshmen and served backup duty in seven games in 2010. But where you remember him from is last year’s Texas Tech game, when he charged into action and scored three touchdowns after a blow to the head knocked Griffin out of the lineup. Art Briles has indicated Florence has the edge for the starting gig over sophomore Bryce Petty.
Boise State: Kellen More
Last year: When you’ve gotten to the point where finishing 12-1 and blowing a Pac-12 team off the map in your final bowl game qualifies as anticlimactic, you know you’ve had a special career. Moore finished his senior season with 3,800 yards, a 43-9 TD-INT ratio and the third best QB efficiency rating in the country; and oh, yeah, he also took the FBS record for all-time wins by a starting quarterback and smashed it into tiny bits.
This year: The favorite for the starting quarterback job appears to be junior Joe Southwick, who was 14-of-19 for 145 yards and a score in Boise’s spring game. Southwick is described as more mobile than Moore, but he’s still only got 400 career passing yards and two touchdowns on his résumé. He’s also 50 victories behind Moore on Boise State’s all-time wins list.
Boston College: Luke Kuechly
Last year: The perpetual All-American linebacker led the nation in tackles, averaging a head-turning 15.92 stops per game. The next closest defender, Akron’s Brian Wagner, averaged 13.36. The next closest guy on Kuechly’s own team, Kevin Pierre-Louis, recorded a little more than eight per game. In related news, Luke Kuechly had to be on the field a lot.
This year: Kuechly’s apparent replacement, Sean Duggan, attended the same high school as his predecessor, and started three games last season at weakside linebacker. Thinking about Boston College football makes us sad. Can we go back to asking Frank Spaziani about the Red Sox instead?
Michigan State: Jerel Worthy
Last year: The Spartans lost a big one, in both stature and impact: The All-American Worthy executed 19 solo tackles, nine solo tackles for loss and three solo sacks from the defensive tackle position last year. Compounding his departure to the Green Bay Packers is the additional loss of tackle Kevin Pickelman. What’s more interesting is who they leave behind, which is to say, almost everyone.
This year: Eight defensive starters return to shore up last year’s top 10 unit (as MSU sports information reminds us, “the program has been stockpiling talent with strong recruiting the past few seasons and still appears to have the makings of a dominant defensive line in 2012″). Listed atop the latest depth chart at the tackle position: senior Anthony Rashad White, last seen blocking Georgia’s triple-overtime field goal for an Outback Bowl win.
Mississippi State: Fletcher Cox
Last year: Though Mississippi State’s season may have been a bit of a disappointment, it wasn’t because of Cox, who was a constant disruptive force in opposing backfields. He finished with 14.5 tackles for loss and five sacks, executing all of them with way more speed and agility than any 300-pound man should have. He’s now earning first-round draft money with the Philadelphia Eagles.
This year: If the Bulldogs can’t find a replacement for Cox, it won’t be for a lack of prospects from which to choose. Senior Curtis Virges appears to have claimed Cox’s spot at the moment, but keep an eye on freshman Quay Evans, who enrolled in January as one of the jewels of Dan Mullen’s 2012 recruiting class. Evans has already made a name for himself with six tackles and three sacks in the Maroon and White Game this past April, and should figure into the Bulldogs’ playing rotation early on in the season.
Oklahoma State: Justin Blackmon
Last year: It’s hard to be a standout on an offense that lit scoreboards on fire all over the Great Plains and finished third in the nation in total yardage, but Blackmon managed it. He finished with 1,522 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns, including three in the Fiesta Bowl win over Stanford; so enamored were the Jacksonville Jaguars of his abilities that they traded up to the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to snag him.
This year: Replacing Blackmon’s skill and explosiveness is such a daunting task that Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy has stated flat-out he’s not going to attempt it with just one guy. Instead, seniors Isaiah Anderson (315 yards, four TDs in 2011) and Tracy Moore (672 yards, four TDs) will vie for the starting role. The pair has bigger things to worry about than simply filling Blackmon’s shoes, though — they’ve gone from 28-year-old senior Brandon Weeden at quarterback to 18-year-old Wes Lunt, the first freshman to start at quarterback for the Cowboys since 1950.
Stanford: Andrew Luck
Last year: The No. 1. pick in the 2012 NFL Draft (and first patron saint of our blog banner) was pretty good at football while he was in college, as it turns out! Luck captained the nation’s No. 8 offense to an 11-2 record and a Fiesta Bowl berth. Along the way, he amassed more than 3,600 yards of total offense and accounted for 39 touchdowns.
This year: No Cardinal player will wear No. 12, for one thing. Luck’s jersey has been put “on ice” for an as-yet undetermined period of time. Campaigning to fill his position: junior Josh Nunes and sophomore Brett Nottingham. Nunes has seen brief action in six games over two seasons at Stanford, while Nottingham appeared for mop-up duty six times in 2011. He has one career touchdown to Nunes’ zero — one of two passes Nottingham threw last September against San Jose State. (Nunes was nursing a foot injury at the time.) The two split reps in spring ball, and David Shaw hopes to name a starter by the midpoint of fall camp.
USC: The entire defensive line, pretty much
Last year: The Trojans’ defense had an up-and-down season overall in 2011, but it was solid up front, finishing 18th in the nation against the run (only 111.4 rushing yards allowed per game) and 20th in sacks (52). Evidently the NFL scouts liked what they saw, as junior Nick Perry, last year’s Pac-12 sack leader, was taken in the first round of the draft by the Green Bay Packers; teammate DaJohn Harris is now a Tennessee Titan.
This year: When people talk about what the Trojans will be missing in 2012, offensive tackle Matt Kalil’s name is always one of the first to come up, but USC’s losses on the D-line may have more lingering effects. Perry, Harris and nose tackle Christian Tupou combined for 92 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks last season; all-conference player Wes Horton will be able to hold his own at one end position, but fellow senior Devon Kennard is coming off surgery on a torn pectoral muscle and is out indefinitely. On the interior, we might see even more hiccups. The Trojans’ three-deep at the tackle position features only two upperclassmen, George Uko and Zack Kusnir. The former is a junior with two career starts, while the latter is a walk-on redshirt senior.
Washington: Chris Polk
Last year: One of our favorite midseason memes emerged after Washington’s 42-31 win over Arizona, which also happened to be Polk’s seventh game rushing for more than 100 yards in eight tries:
Solk for Polk?
— SC_DougFarrar (@SC_DougFarrar) October 30, 2011
This year: Polk is now a Philadelphia Eagle, and some UW fans we know are harboring serious sadfaces. But fear not, sayeth the oracle Bill Connelly: According to the maths, Polk’s production could be matched or even exceeded by Bishop Sankey and Jesse Callier:
[It] is worth pointing out that Polk only produced 5.1 yards per carry and a minus-0.4 Adj. POE. Polk was good but replaceable, and Sankey, Callier and others could be more than up for the job, especially running behind a line that returns three starters and 58 career starts.