Spring Preview 2010
The Biggest Shoes To Fill
One of the many trappings of college football is that it’s forever changing, a perennial revolving door of talent and fresh 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 Colt McCoy. Great kid and a great quarterback, but those pangs will last 15 minutes, or about as long as it takes for you to scare up some video clips of his successor in Austin, Garrett Gilbert.
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 swath of last year’s rookies. It’s a timeless process that moves with all of the precision of an expensive watch.
The sport has lost a ton of stars since the end of the bowl season. Big deal. In their place is a slew of young and relatively inexperienced players eagerly hoping to fill the void.
10.Buh-bye:Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy
Hello: Soph. Jamarcus McFarland – Deep down, everyone in Oklahoma sort of figured they’d only have McCoy for three seasons. He’s a dominant inside lineman, with the intangibles and work ethic that will also be sorely missed. McFarland is the type of mega-recruit from the 2009 recruiting class, who’s capable of sliding into the lineup next to senior Adrian Taylor and becoming an immediate contributor. He laid a nice foundation in seven games as a rookie, flashing the strength and quickness off the snap that has the coaching staff buzzing about his long-term potential in Norman.
9.Buh-bye:Oklahoma State T Russell Okung
Hello: Jr. Nick Martinez – As if losing an All-American, like Okung, isn’t bad enough, the Cowboys will also be without a pair of senior tackles, Brady Bond and Andrew Mitchell. Martinez enters the season with the most experience at the position, playing in a dozen games and serving as the backup on the left side a year ago. He’ll have to keep getting better, however, to fend off the cadre of second-year players, who redshirted a year ago. Parker Graham is an example of the competition, a raw lineman who’s packed on a bunch of weight since arriving and made nice strides with his technique and fundamentals.
8.Buh-bye:Tennessee S Eric Berry
Hello: Soph. Darren Myles – Lane Kiffin may be long gone, but remnants of his lone recruiting class in Knoxville will remain for the next few years. Myles made seven tackles in an injury-filled debut, and is about to realize a major boost in playing time and responsibility in the secondary. No, he’s not Berry, but he does possess the all-around athleticism, ability to stop the run, and instincts in pass defense to draw some favorable comparisons. Plus, at 6-1 and 190 pounds, he has good size and the long, lean frame to add another 10 or 15 pounds of muscle in the weight room.
7.Buh-bye:Clemson RB C.J. Spiller
Hello: Soph. Andre Ellington – The tricky aspect to replacing Spiller is that you can’t possibly do it with a single player. He was simply too valuable and versatile for one guy to replace his production on offense and special teams. Ellington will team up with Jamie Harper to give Clemson a poor-man’s version of Spiller and James Davis, when the pair shared the load out of the backfield. A top recruit from the 2008 class, Ellington runs with outstanding quickness, acceleration, and change of direction in and out of space. The second-leading rusher a year ago, he went for 491 yards and four touchdowns on only 68 carries, a healthy seven-yard average.
6.Buh-bye:Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen
Hello: Jr. Dayne Crist – The departure of Clausen to the NFL left the Irish with just one scholarship quarterback before this latest recruiting class was inked in February. Now, Crist is a good one, but he’s had limited reps in his two years and is recovering from last November’s ACL surgery. The raw talent, however, is clearly there for him to pick up where Clausen left off, especially with Brian Kelly monitoring his development. Not only does he possess the arm strength to make all the throws, but he’s a far better athlete than you’d expect from a 6-4, 235-pounder. If Kelly can transform lightly-recruited prospects, like Dan LeFevour, Tony Pike, and Zach Collaros, into playmakers, it’ll be interesting to see what he can do with Crist, a bona fide blue-chipper.
5.Buh-bye:Alabama LB Rolando McClain
Hello: Soph. Nico Johnson It’s a good thing Nick Saban has recruited this position so well in recent years because replacing McClain will require elite talent. Johnson has the potential to be one of those guys for the Tide. Pressed into action as a true freshman after Donta Hightower got hurt, he made 28 tackles and gobbled up more reps than anyone originally anticipated. With a full season behind him and ‘Bama looking to regroup at linebacker, he has an ideal opportunity to parlay all of his intensity and big hits into a starring role in Tuscaloosa.
4.Buh-bye:Stanford RB Toby Gerhart
Hello: Soph. Stepfan Taylor – In Gerhart, the Cardinal doesn’t just lose its leading rusher. It’s forced to move on without the face of last year’s revival and return to the postseason. Fortunately, Taylor lettered as a true freshman and played rather well. He turned 56 carries into 303 yards and a pair of scores, getting on the field for all 13 games. Emblematic of the outstanding recruiting being done by Jim Harbaugh and his staff, he’s a powerful 210-pounder, yet has the speed and acceleration to bust through the second line of defense when he gets a little daylight.
3.Buh-bye:Texas QB Colt McCoy
Hello: Soph. Garrett Gilbert – Absolutely nobody expected to see Gilbert make an appearance in the BCS championship game with Alabama. Yet an early injury to McCoy gave the true freshman national exposure about eight months ahead of plan. Predictably erratic at first, he got better as the game progressed and will greatly benefit from the unexpected three quarters of work on that grand stage. One of the most sought after quarterbacks of 2009, he has all of the physical and mental tools to eventually become a star in Austin. He may not have a rifle, but, like McCoy, he’s got pin-point accuracy and the kind of poise under pressure that every coach wants behind center.
2.Buh-bye:Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh
Hello: Soph. Baker Steinkuhler – You could argue that Suh was the best defensive lineman of the past decade. And you’d probably win that debate. Fortunately for the Huskers, all-star Jared Crick is back, but he needs a new partner on the inside. Steinkuhler is a possibility, though he’s sure to get a stiff challenge in the spring and summer from junior Terrence Moore. The most decorated member of the 2008 class, he’s got a combination of strength, tenacity, and get-off that’ll keep opposing linemen from doubling Crick. After seeing some action in blowouts last fall, he’s poised to be one the Big 12’s breakout players of 2010.
1.Buh-bye:Florida QB Tim Tebow
Hello: Jr. John Brantley – The answer to a trivia question someday, Brantley has the enormous task of replacing a legend of the sport and a cult hero around Gainesville. Not easy. However, don’t expect the junior to cower about the upcoming season. He’s not Tebow, and no one expects him to be. Still, he is a very talented quarterback, which is exactly what you’d expect from a kid who received offers from just about every school in the South and Southwest in 2007. Although he won’t run nearly like Tebow, he has the potential to be a much better thrower, forcing the Gators to tweak the offense considerably this fall.