Replacing players is an annual rite of college football, but some are more difficult to replace than others.
The downside of big-time players is that they leave big-time holes when they're gone, and great teams usually are dependent on great performers. Take a star out of the lineup and more often than not the team suffers, at least for a season or two.
Of course, that's not always the case.
Former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin may be the greatest replacement of all time. He'd watched from the sidelines as Peyton Manning set every major school passing record and established himself as one of the greatest – if not the absolute best – players in Tennessee's glorious history.
In the four seasons in which Manning was the starting quarterback, the Volunteers were 40-9 and won an SEC championship.
Yet, Martin filled Manning's colossal shoes by quarterbacking Tennessee to a 13-0 finish and national championship in 1998.
Here's a look at some of this season's players who are filling the biggest shoes:
Rivals.com 2006 Players with Big Shoes to Fill
1. Colt McCoy & Jevan Snead, QB, Texas: Shoes? More like skis. Whichever freshman emerges as Texas' starting quarterback assumes the unenviable position of replacing Vince Young, who in June was voted the best player in school history by Rivals.com members. All Young did last season was average 313.3 yards per game, account for 38 touchdowns and lead the Longhorns to their first national championship in 35 years. He's the only player in college football history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season and he was 30-2 as a starting quarterback. Neither McCoy nor Snead has taken a collegiate snap, but at least the starter will surrounded by a talented lineup.
2. Chauncey Washington, TB, USC: Following Reggie Bush is like headlining a concert with Springsteen as the opening act. How do you improve on that? Washington has rushed for 65 yards in his college career, an amount Bush typically reached in a quarter - if not on one carry. On the way to winning the Heisman Trophy, Bush rushed for 1,760 yards and 16 touchdowns. Matching that is a tall order even for Washington, who was a highly coveted prospect three years ago. And coach Pete Carroll isn't even asking Washington to return kicks.
3. John David Booty, QB, USC: Southern Cal's two most recent quarterbacks – Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart – both won the Heisman Trophy, so there's a high standard to live up to. Leinart was 37-2 as a starter and quarterbacked the Trojans to one undisputed national championship (in 2004) and another disputed one (by LSU in 2003). He also set 16 USC records and Pac-10 career records with 99 touchdown passes and a 64.8 completion percentage. Booty, who missed most of spring practice with a sore back, completed 27 of 42 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns last season, which would have equaled an average game for Leinart.
4. Terrence Jones, LB, Alabama: Even though DeMeco Ryans' team-leading tackle total was just 76 – with 16 for losses – he was the heart and unquestioned leader of arguably the nation's best defense. The Crimson Tide finished 10-2 because of its stingy defense, which held opponents to 16 or fewer points in 10 of 12 games. The Tide surrendered just 19 points and one touchdown in a five-game stretch from Oct. 1 to Nov. 5. In seven games after receiver Tyrone Prothro was lost for the year with a broken leg, the Tide scored 18 or fewer points six times, which underscored the importance of their defense. Jones had 31 tackles in 2005, but graded out higher than any other linebacker in a recent scrimmage.
5. Marcus Freeman, LB, Ohio State: There are more big shoes to fill in Ohio State's defense than in Shaquille O'Neal's closet, but without a doubt A.J. Hawk's cleats are the biggest. A two-time All-American, the 2005 Lombardi Award winner posted 121 tackles to lead the Buckeyes in that category for the third consecutive year. That sets the bar awfully high for Freeman, who last season backed up Bobby Carpenter (more big shoes) at strongside linebacker. This year Freeman will move into Hawk's spot on the weak side. Freeman is coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss almost all of the 2005 season, but has added 12 pounds of muscle and has the speed to swoop down on ball carriers like … well, like a Hawk.
6. Jim Shaw, DE, Penn State: The Nittany Lions' linebackers got most of the attention last year, but All-American defensive end Tamba Hali caused more than his share of havoc. Hali had 65 tackles (17 for loss) and recorded 11 sacks, which tied for the sixth-highest total in the country. The Lions' linebackers will be good again, but without Hali, a first-round draft choice of the Kansas City Chiefs, Penn State will be hard-pressed to match the 41 sacks it notched during its 11-1 campaign last season. Shaw, who transferred from Rice two years ago, hopes to pick up much of the slack left by Hali's departure. Shaw trimmed down by 18 pounds to 264 and was timed at 4.65 last spring, but managed only one sack last season.
7. Brandon Cox, DE, Louisville: At 6 feet 4, 255 pounds, Cox is significantly taller than his predecessor as Louisville's speed rusher – 5-foot-11 Elvis Dumervil. But approaching Dumervil's production is a tall order. Dumervil led the nation with 20 sacks for the 9-3 Cardinals last season. The Cardinals could make a run at the Big East championship – and maybe even the national title – provided their defense doesn't let them down. Maintaining an effective pass rush will be a key factor. Cox has just one career sack, but had two in the Cardinals' spring game.
8. Chris Nickson, QB, Vanderbilt: Nickson is the leading candidate to start at quarterback for the Commodores. If he emerges over Mackenzi Adams and Richard Kovalcheck, he'll have the unenviable task of replacing the SEC Offensive Player of the Year. Jay Cutler, who holds several Vandy passing and total offense records, couldn't get the Commodores into a bowl game but did lead them to a victory over Tennessee. Nickson attempted three passes last season. Adams redshirted and Kovalcheck was a backup at the University of Arizona.
9. Joseph Doss, TB, Memphis: Although the Tigers were just 7-5 last season, one wonders how they would have fared without DeAngelo Williams. Williams led the nation with 1,964 rushing yards last season and left Memphis as the school's all-time leading rusher with 6,026 career yards (fourth in NCAA history). How's that for a tough act to follow? Doss isn't bad. He rushed for 440 yards and two touchdowns on 85 carries and was one of the Tigers' emotional leaders last season.
10. Ben Olson, QB, & Chris Markey, RB, UCLA: Quarterback Drew Olson and running back Maurice Drew were so productive they led the Bruins to a 10-2 finish despite a defense which ranked 113th nationally. Drew Olson ranked fifth nationally in passing efficiency and threw 34 touchdown passes. Meanwhile, Drew was among the nation leaders in all-purpose yardage with 1,863 and scoring with 20 touchdowns. Ben Olson – no relation – threw just four passes last season. Markey was UCLA's second-leading rusher with 561 yards.
The Rivals Five
Players aren't the only ones stepping into the spotlight. Here's a look at five others with big shoes to fill off the field:
1. Bret Bielema, coach, Wisconsin: Replacing the most successful coach in school history is never easy – ask Ray Perkins or Ron Zook or Gary Moeller. Bielema replaces Barry Alvarez, who took over a program that had endured five consecutive losing seasons and in four years won the Big Ten championship. The Badgers were 118-73-4 in 16 seasons under Alvarez, who won more than twice as many games as any other coach in Wisconsin history. Big shoes to fill, indeed.
2. Ron Prince, coach, Kansas State: See above. Not since Lazarus was there a more stunning awakening than what Bill Snyder orchestrated at Kansas State, which had gone 27 games without a victory when Snyder took over in 1989. In fact, the Wildcats had managed just one winning season – 6-5-1 in 1982 – in the 18 years before Snyder took over. Seventeen years later, Snyder left Kansas State with 136 victories, four Big 12 North championships and a Big 12 Conference crown. Although the Wildcats struggled to 4-7 and 5-6 finishes in Snyder's last two seasons, Snyder still left a tremendous legacy and standard to reach.
3. Mike Patrick, announcer, ESPN: Ron Franklin just sounds like college football, and he had taken over for Keith Jackson as the game's most recognizable play-by-play voice. Yet, the suits at ESPN curiously chose to take Franklin off the network's Saturday night broadcast and replace him with Patrick, who most recently called NFL games on ESPN.
4. Don Criqui, announcer, Notre Dame: After 26 years as Notre Dame's radio play-by-play announcer, the popular Tony Roberts was replaced last May by Criqui. A 40-year broadcast veteran and Notre Dame alum, Criqui carries some big shoes of his own.
5. Ohio Stadium: The Big Horseshoe, as it's called, seats 102,329 – now that's a big shoe to fill. Of course, last season Ohio State averaged 105,017 for its seven home games and even drew more than 63,000 for its spring game, so filling that shoe should be no problem.