August 22, 2005

Last season's stars leave big shoes to fill

It happens every year in college football. Standouts and coaches move on and unheralded reserves, highly recruited backups and ready assistants assume their spots. Sometimes it works out great, and other times, not so much.

While one lone change won't make or break a team, certain changes fall into the high-profile category. And never are the newcomers to those positions more in the spotlight than right now in summer camp, with the start of 2005 season less than two weeks away.

The following are 10 situations that fit the above description, situations that have been grabbing and will continue to grab headlines around the nation, even after the games begin.

1. Southern California

We don't start with an individual but rather with a program that is experiencing a great amount of change. Still, to many it's a foregone conclusion that the Trojans will win a third consecutive national title this season. But there are questions to answer, most notably on the defensive line, at linebacker and with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin stepping in for Norm Chow, who's now with the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

USC lost a pair of standout defensive tackles in Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody from last year's squad. While several players will be asked to play significant roles at that spot, there are especially high hopes for Sedrick Ellis. The 6-foot-1, 285-pound sophomore made just two tackles in a reserve role last season, but he was dominant in spring practice and is having a solid summer camp.

In the same boat is middle linebacker Oscar Lua, who will be called upon to fill the void left by defensive team leader Lofa Tatupu. The 6-1, 240-pound Lua was in on 13 stops a year ago and has impressed in practice so far this summer.

And finally, there's Kiffin, who has the unenviable task of replacing Chow, long regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football. With the likes of Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Steve Smith, LenDale White, Dwayne Jarrett and a solid offensive line, if the offense struggles this season, fingers will be pointed at the 30-year-old Kiffin, who's in his fifth season at USC.

2. Kyle Whittingham, HC, Utah (For Urban Meyer)

Only eight months removed from an undefeated season, the Utes are flying well below the national radar. Why? Quarterback Alex Smith and several other key players are gone, as is Meyer, who's set to begin his first season at Florida. Meyer was the hot commodity among coaches last year, and the Gators were able to fend off Notre Dame for his services.

Enter Whittingham, who has spent the last 11 seasons as a defensive assistant for Utah. He has said that he'll use portions of Meyer's offense, but that pro-style sets also will be implemented. Will Whittingham succeed in Salt Lake City? Probably. But Meyer's a tough act to follow.

3. Ramonce Taylor, Selvin Young and Jerrell Wilkerson, RB, Texas (For Cedric Benson)

What a career Benson put together in Austin. A four-year starter, he eclipsed 1,000 yards in each of his seasons and finished with more than 5,500 rushing yards and 64 touchdowns en route to being the selected by the Chicago Bears with the fourth-overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft.

So how do you replace that production if you're the Longhorns? By committee. Taylor, a 5-11, 195-pound sophomore, and Young, a 6-0, 215-pound junior, have combined for 945 yards and 11 TDs in reserve roles, and the 5-8, 175-pound Wilkerson comes in as a true freshman with an explosiveness that will earn him carries. Of course, Texas opponents also will have to deal with the running of quarterback Vince Young, which certainly will help the ground game.

4. Tre Smith and Kenny Irons, RB, Auburn (For Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams)

There were plenty of reasons why the Tigers were the SEC champs and an undefeated football team in 2004. But having a running back tandem like Brown and Williams, both of whom were top-five picks in April's NFL draft, was certainly a major factor. They accounted for 2,078 rushing yards, 465 receiving yards and 22 total touchdowns.

Smith and Irons, you ask? Well, potential comes to mind, and Smith has rushed for nearly 600 yards and nine touchdowns as a reserve, although he missed 10 games with a shoulder injury last season. Coach Tommy Tubberville knows that you don't replace players like Brown and Williams, but he needs Smith and Irons to be productive.

5. D.J. Shockley, QB, Georgia (For David Greene)

Greene won't go down in the history books as one of the great signal callers in college football history, but the bottom line is that he racked up a lot of yards, touchdowns, and most importantly, wins as a four-year starter. Which brings us to Shockley, who's hardly an unknown name. He's seen action as a reserve, and at key times on occasion, in each of the last three seasons.

But now a senior, the 6-1, 206-pound Shockley will be handed the reins to the Bulldogs offense in a full-time capacity. He's played in 26 career games, passed for 967 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for 329 yards and three scores. Georgia coach Mark Richt is highly optimistic about how the senior will perform, while Bulldogs fans could be best described as cautiously optimistic.

6. Jason Avant and Steve Breaston, WR, Michigan (For Braylon Edwards)

To say the cupboard is bare at receiver for the Wolverines would be wildly inaccurate. But it would be equally erroneous to assume that replacing Braylon Edwards will be an easy task. Avant and Breaston are great talents, but their combined receiving production from 2004 fell 25 catches, 592 yards and nine touchdowns shy of what Edwards' totals (97 catches, 1,330 yards and 15 touchdowns) were for the season.

Michigan will need Avant or Breaston, who's been better known to this point for his exploits returning punts and kicks, to become a force if it hopes to enjoy the balance on offense that it did a year ago.

7. Brandon Kirsch, QB, Purdue (For Kyle Orton)

Injuries and a few tough losses were the only things that kept Orton, now battling for a starting job with the Chicago Bears, from a serious run at the Heisman Trophy last season. He passed for nearly 3,100 yards, 31 touchdowns and just five interceptions a year ago. But while Orton was hurt, Kirsch played well, passing for more than 700 yards and seven TDs.

The 6-3, 208-pound junior also saw significant action as a true freshman in 2002, when he started four games and passed for 1,067 yards and eight touchdowns. Kirsch also rushed for 423 yards in those games and is a threat on the move. Look for some minor changes in the Boilermakers offense minus Orton this season, but Kirsch will be given every opportunity to post big numbers.

8. Josh Huston, K, Ohio State (For Mike Nugent)

If you're surprised to see a kicker on this list, you must not have been paying attention to what Nugent did for the Buckeyes the last few years. How about 61-for-70 on field goals in his Ohio State career, including 5 of 6 from 50-plus yards a year ago. Nugent was, at times, the Buckeyes best and most reliable weapon.

Now it's Huston's turn. The 6-1, 195-pound senior was beaten out by Nugent in 2002 and has been biding his time ever since. His chance is now, and he's sure to face a lot of pressure in replacing a man who was almost automatic. Huston hasn't attempted a place kick in a game since 2001, when he shared time with Nugent and finished 3-for-10 on field goals and 9-for-9 on extra points.

9. Thomas Clayton, RB, Kansas State (For Darren Sproles)

The diminutive Sproles piled up big numbers in Manhattan, including more than 4,900 career rushing yards and 45 touchdowns. Enter a much bigger back in Clayton and a runner who comes in with his own reputation as a playmaker.

A high school All-American and the No. 10 running back in the class of 2002, according to Rivals.com, Clayton headed to Florida State. After things didn't work out in Tallahassee, the 6-0, 210-pound junior transferred to the Wildcats. He picked up 71 yards on 15 carries last season as a reserve. He's since emerged as the No. 1 guy in spring and summer practice, and time will tell if he can come close to matching Sproles' production.

10. Sam Keller, QB, Arizona State (For Andrew Walter)

Andrew Walter put up sensational numbers in Tempe the last few years, including more than 3,100 yards and 30 touchdowns last season. Now, it's Keller's turn to take over ASU coach Dirk Koetter's high-powered offense.

Keller is big and strong, and he showed what he could do last season as a reserve and in the Sun Bowl against Purdue as the replacement for an injured Walter. He passed for 370 yards and three TDs in the 27-23 victory against the Boilermakers, but this year he'll have to deliver every week.

Others to watch: Chris Capps, OT, Alabama (For Wesley Britt); Nate Harris, LB, Louisville (For Robert McCune); David Irons, CB, Auburn (For Carlos Rogers); Matt Baker, QB, North Carolina (For Darian Durant); Jonathan Stupar and Tom Santi, TE, Virginia (For Heath Miller); Zackary Bowman, CB, Nebraska (For Fabian Washington); Joseph Ayoob, QB, California (For Aaron Rodgers); Rhett Bomar and Paul Thompson, QB, Oklahoma (For Jason White).



 

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