If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then no one is looking forward to the college football season more than this group of men.
Some of these players exchanged football pads for casts and crutches last season. Others missed 2004 due to disciplinary reasons, while the rest have sat out the mandatory year after transferring to a new school.
Whatever the reason, you can bet that these guys are chomping at the bit to exchange the street clothes for uniforms and make an impact on the gridiron once again. Meet the top 10 players returning to field after an absence in 2004.
QB Marcus Vick (Virginia Tech) Even though Vick hasn't suited up since 2003, he has been center stage at Virginia Tech since arriving on campus. After a highly publicized mixup with the law before last season, the rising star was suspended for 2004.
Critics will say that Vick's national hype is due in large part to his older brother's success, but Marcus has loads of talent of his own. After an average freshman season in which Vick threw two touchdowns and five interceptions, his status as starter was in doubt. Upon his return, however, Vick turned in an excellent spring and won back the starting position for the Hokies.
The expectations are astronomical for a young quarterback who hasn't competed in 20 months, but if Vick even comes close to what is expected of him, then he will have a huge season for Virginia Tech.
OT Winston Justice (Southern California) Justice has started for the Trojans since the second game of his freshman year, which was in 2002. He was named to several freshman All-American teams during that season. After his sophomore season, Justice was an All-Pac-10 team honorable mention selection.
Expectations were high heading into last season, but Justice's season ended before it began. He was suspended for pulling a replica gun on a fellow student. He managed a redshirt for the season, though, so Justice will enter 2005 as a highly touted junior.
DL Dusty Dvoracek (Oklahoma) Unlike some of the other players on this list, Dvoracek's place isn't sealed by potential - it's sealed by proven talent. In 2003 he was a consensus All-Big 12 first-team selection after recording 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
Dvoracek was dismissed from the team after two games last season when he got into a bar fight. Though 2004 would have been his senior season, the NCAA granted him a hardship ruling, giving Dvoracek one more year of eligibility.
Even if Dvoracek hasn't improved any from 2003, he'll be on of the most dominating linemen in the Big 12 this season.
RB Brian Calhoun (Wisconsin) Though Calhoun got carries in every game for Colorado during his freshman year, he didn't break out until the end of the season. In the final two games of the regular season, Calhoun hung 137 yards on Nebraska and 122 yards on Oklahoma. He followed that up with 810 yards during the 2003 season for the Buffaloes.
Calhoun sat out the 2004 season after transferring to Wisconsin. He did participate in track in the spring, where he was a member on the Badgers' Big Ten champion 4x100-meter relay team.
Calhoun should excel at Wisconsin, a school which has a penchant for producing successful running backs.
Barrington Edwards (North Carolina) Even though he came out of high school as a four-star recruit, Edwards got lost at LSU in the depth and talent of the Tigers' backfield. Ranked as the 10th-best running back in the nation as a senior, Edwards is a big pickup for the Tar Heels.
At LSU Edwards picked up 161 yards in a backup role, averaging more than 4 yards per carry. As the top tailback at North Carolina, he figures to get around 200 carries this season for the Tar Heels.
CB Sammy Joseph (LSU) After Colorado suffered through its rocky offseason in 2004, Joseph decided to transfer back home to Louisiana. Before leaving Boulder, Colo., Joseph played in 12 games for the Buffaloes as a freshman. During 2003 he logged 55 tackles and two interceptions, including a team-high 11 tackles against Florida State.
With Tigers' cornerbacks Corey Webster and Travis Daniels departed, Joseph will start for LSU this season. The four-star defensive back was one of the most sought-after recruits in Louisiana in 2002.
LB Kevin Simon (Tennessee) Since Simon led the Volunteers with 115 tackles in 2003, he was a lock for this list. He also registered 4.5 sacks, tying him for the team lead in that category. His best game to date was a 16-tackle performance against Florida in 2003 as Tennessee held the Gators to 10 points.
Simon's season came to an end in 2004 when he suffered an ACL tear during the second game. After the departure of leading tackler Kevin Burnett, Simon will play a big role in the Volunteers' defense. Rivals.com has named him to the Preseason All-SEC team for 2005.
WR Martin Nance (Miami-OH) Nance caught 90 passes for 1,498 yards during his sophomore season. Both totals set new school records for the Redhawks, and his touchdown total (11) was only one shy of a third Miami record. Nance had the biggest game of his career against Kent State when he caught 10 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns.
Nance was on pace to lead Miami again last season when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in late September. He had 25 receptions for 337 yards through four games. Nance will have a tough welcome-back party waiting for him on Sept. 3, when he and the Redhawks travel to Columbus to face the Buckeyes.
DT Chase Page (North Carolina) Page started his career as an offensive guard for the Tar Heels. After his freshman season, he switched to defensive tackle and started all 12 games as a sophomore. Across his sophomore and junior seasons, Page recorded 96 tackles and nine tackles for loss.
Page missed all of last season after severely tearing a tendon in his left pinkie. He quickly regained his starting role this spring, and is just as important to North Carolina as a vocal leader on and off the field. Page has been named to Rivals.com's Preseason All-ACC second team.
DE Phillip Alexander (Duke) Alexander showed huge potential in 2003 when he racked up a team-leading 18.5 tackles for loss. He also recorded 6.5 sacks and 59 tackles. Alexander had one of his biggest games against Florida State with nine tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks and two fumble recoveries.
The Blue Devils lost Alexander for the season during the second game of last year when he broke his leg while blocking downfield when a teammate returned an interception for a touchdown.
But Alexander received a medical redshirt for what would have been his senior season. He is healthy and will lead the Blue Devils' defensive front. If he picks up where he left off, don't be surprised to see Alexander land on postseason All-ACC teams.