Biggest shoes to fill for 2011 season
One of the many trappings of college football is that it’s forever changing, a perennial revolving door of talent and new faces on every campus and in every corner of the map.
Out with the old and in with the new.
Yeah, of course you’ll miss watching the likes of Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones and Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. Terrific kids and defenders, but those pangs will last a few hours, or about as long as it takes for you to scare up some video clips of their successors.
Like the changing of the seasons, college football proceeds at a pace that’s about as anticipated as spring following winter. The junior becomes a senior, the sophomore becomes a junior, the freshman becomes a sophomore and the redshirt is removed from a whole mess of last year’s rookies. It’s a timeless process that moves with all of the precision of a fine timepiece.
The sport has lost a slew of senior stars since the end of the bowl season. Big deal. In their place is a collection of young and relatively inexperienced players eagerly pining to fill the void.
11. Buh-bye: Florida State G Rodney Hudson
Hello: Jacob Fahrenkrug – The Seminoles did not travel all the way to North Dakota State College of Science to sign a backup. Although Hudson is the best offensive lineman to ever play for Florida State, that won’t unnerve a 6-foot-4, 320-pounder who many believe was the best junior-college transfer in America. Already on campus, he’s hoping to blend his physicality and attention to detail with line coach Rick Trickett’s mentoring to someday become one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s premier blockers. The JUCO All-American has two seasons of eligibility left, with the expectation that both will be spent as an integral part of the lineup.
Texas' Jackson Jeffcoat — three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks — was off to a fast start last season before an ankle injury.Getty Images
10. Buh-bye: Texas DE Sam Acho
Hello: Jackson Jeffcoat – The graduations of Acho and Eddie Jones subtract nearly half of the Horns’ 31 sacks from a year ago. Someone will need to step up and start filling the void. Jeffcoat hopes to be that guy in his second year in Austin. One of the country’s top recruits of 2010, he had a fast start stalled by an ankle injury, finishing with 13 tackles, three tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Even with limited exposure, it was obvious why major programs from coast to coast were pining for his signature. He has the natural build of a pass rusher, using long arms and good feet to get off the edge. The sky is the limit for the sophomore, who has the talent and the opportunity to make a big splash this fall.
9. Buh-bye: Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara
Hello: Ciante Evans – Although Evans wasn’t one of the nation’s top-rated cornerback coming out of high school a year ago, he sure looked as if he was underrated once he got on the field. Working his way up the depth chart shortly after arriving from Arlington, Texas, he eventually moved up to No. 3 corner behind Amukamara and holdover Alfonzo Dennard. When Dennard was injured vs. Missouri on Oct. 30, Evans came off the bench and made a couple of big plays to preserve the win. Although he plays with the swagger and pop of a safety, he also possesses improving cover skills, lending hope that the Huskers will continue to be home to one of the nation’s better pass defenses.
8. Buh-bye: Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi
Hello: Ricky Wagner – How good is Wisconsin at developing offensive linemen? The kid projected to supplant the 2010 Outland Trophy winner has a chance to be the Badgers’ best blocker this season. As a sophomore, Wagner began to bloom in Madison, starting the final 10 games on the right side in place of injured Josh Oglesby, and earning All-Big Ten honorable mention. This season, he will switch to the left side to fill the void left by Carimi. A 6-6, 322-pounder, who began his college career without a scholarship, he just keeps getting better with each passing year. A former basketball player and tight end in high school, Wagner has incredible feet for such a big athlete and a future that’s going to include an NFL career.
7. Buh-bye: Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick
Hello: Tyler Lantrip – The graduation of Kaepernick signifies the end of an era in Reno, one marked by a considerable number of records and big moments. If nothing else, Chris Ault will be able to hand the ball to a senior during the transition period if he chooses. Lantrip has been around the system for four years and knows the nuances of the pistol offense. Although he may not have a higher ceiling than, say, redshirt freshman Cody Fajardo, he probably gives the Wolf Pack their best shot of keeping the momentum going in 2011. The No. 2 guy the past two seasons, he rarely has gotten reps: only 23 passes.
6. Buh-bye: Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray
Hello: Brennan Clay – Whether or not there’s another Murray on the roster remains to be seen. However, the Sooners will have a bunch of interesting young options with which to replace him. Clay was a five-star recruit from San Diego a year ago, but an injury in September limited him to 36 carries for 127 carries. He has feature back potential. In his place, scatback Roy Finch, from the same class, finished second on the team with 398 yards and two scores on 85 carries. Both will spend the offseason trying to hold off rookie Brandon Williams, who’s already taking classes in Norman. Another five-star get for Bob Stoops’ staff, Williams’ is the biggest of the trio and not content to simply learn from the sidelines.
TCU's Casey Pachall appeared in eight games last season, throwing nine passes.Getty Images
5. Buh-bye: TCU QB Andy Dalton
Hello: Casey Pachall – TCU without Dalton will be like Fort Worth without Sundance Square. It’s going to take a while to get used to. Dalton was a four-year fixture with the Horned Frogs, but the staff knows he rubbed off on Pachall. About to enter his third year with the program, the sophomore-to-be was last year’s backup, appearing in eight games and throwing nine passes. At least in the early going, as he hones his passing skills, he can lean a little heavier on his legs. A terrific all-around athlete who will flourish on read-option plays, Pachall ran for 94 yards and two scores on only 15 carries. He has a long and lean frame, and once he fills out and proves he can make all of the throws, he’ll have a chance to be a dangerous dual-threat.
4. Buh-bye: Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn
Hello: Broderick Binns – The Hawkeyes must replace not only Clayborn on the defensive line but also Christian Ballard. This is one of those times when a veteran, such as Binns, is a luxury for a coaching staff. Last season never materialized up to expectations for the rising senior. Binns got into some off-field trouble in the summer, fell behind on the depth chart, and ended up being a non-factor. However, this is the same player who started 13 games as a sophomore, turning 10 tackles for loss, six sacks and a team-high nine pass breakups into honorable mention All-Big Ten recognition. With a starring role and scouts watching intently, he’s capable of turning his final year in Iowa City into one big audition for the NFL.
3. Buh-bye: Oklahoma State RB Kendall Hunter
Hello: Joseph Randle – The Cowboys began preparing for life after Hunter in 2010, breaking the seal on Randle whenever it was possible. He immediately showed why he was one of the nation’s top recruits at the position, rushing for 452 yards, catching 37 passes for 427 yards and contributing on special teams. The flash in a sophomore backfield that also will employ powerful Jeremy Smith, Randle has the track speed to get to the edge and into a secondary in a hurry. He’s also versatile, a big plus in the Oklahoma State offense, running with keen vision and doing a great job as a receiver out of the backfield. In an attack built to produce playmakers, he has all the tools to emerge as one of the Big 12’s next big offensive stars.
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2. Buh-bye: Michigan State LB Greg Jones
Hello: Max Bullough – As much as Jones, an all-time great in East Lansing, will be missed, the Michigan State staff remains very optimistic about his successor. Bullough has a promising future with the program. A third-generation Spartan, he’ll be following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Hank, and father, Shane. As a rookie, Bullough earned a letter by appearing in all 13 games, making 21 tackles and standing out on special teams. At 6-3 and 235 pounds, he’s physically ready to assume a larger role in 2011. And he has the instincts and open-field tackling skills that will bring a smile to Jones’ face.
1. Buh-bye: Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan
Hello: Antwon Higgs – No senior is leaving a bigger hole at his alma mater than Kerrigan, who was the face of the Boilermakers the past two seasons. There are no clear-cut choices of who will replace him and start opposite Gerald Gooden. Second-teamer Robert Maci is a strong possibility, but the staff might want to move Higgs up a level to see how he performs as a pass rusher. A linebacker to this point, he possesses the athleticism and 6-3, 254-pound frame to thrive on the outside. After playing in only four games and making three tackles, the junior-to-be has a chance to turn Kerrigan’s graduation into his own personal ascent up the two-deep.