Blog Entry

The biggest shoes to fill in college football

Posted on: February 29, 2012 11:01 am

Posted by Tom Fornelli

With teams having already started or starting spring practice over the next few weeks. there are a lot of players across the country who will be charged with replacing someone who has come and gone before them. It's an annual rite of spring in college football, when the senior quarterback from last season is putting the finishing touches on his final semester as a college student, and the sophomore who isn't even sure what he's majoring in yet realizes he's going to be majoring in Playbook 101 for the next few weeks.

Of course, while roster turnover is a common occurence in college football, there are bigger shoes to fill than others, and in this post we take a look at the ten biggest pairs looking for a new owner this spring.

10. Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma

Ryan Broyles began re-writing the Oklahoma record books the moment he stepped on the field in his first game as a Sooner. He caught 7 passes for 141 yards against Cincinnati, both of which were freshman records. Four years later he finished his career having caught more passes than any other receiver in FBS history, pulling in 349 passes for 4,586 yards and 45 touchdowns.

In other words, he's not the type of player that Oklahoma can just replace with anybody. This spring receivers like Kenny Stills, Jaz Reynolds and Trey Metoyer will try to replicate Broyles' production in Norman. Whether it will be one of them doing it, or a group effort, Oklahoma will need it to happen if the Sooners want to win the Big 12 and contend for a national title.

9. Matt Kalil, OT, USC

Understandably, USC fans were extremely excited by the news that Matt Barkley would be returning for his senior season, and many have pegged the Trojans as a title favorite because of it. What you don't want to do, however, is overlook the fact that the man who was in charge of protecting Barkley's blindside these last few years won't be back.

Though that's how life generally works for offensive lineman like Matt Kalil. As large as they are, they're often overlooked. Kevin Graf, Jeremy Galten, David Garness and Nathan Guertler will all be competing for the unenviable task of being the man in charge of making sure nothing happens to the most valuable piece of the USC offense.

8. Mark Barron, S, Alabama

One of the problems with having a defense as strong as the one we saw in Tuscaloosa last season is that you're bound to lose players to the next level, and the Crimson Tide have no shortage of beasts making their way to greener pastures. Still, the Tide have a knack for churning out defensive lineman and linebackers, but safeties like Mark Barron don't come along all that often.

Barron made 231 tackles for Nick Saban in his four seasons, including 13 for a loss, while picking off 12 passes. Barron was the type of player that could defend the pass and the run, and he won't be easily replaced. Can Robert Lester or freshman Vinnie Sunseri step up and be the next stud in the Alabama secondary?

7. Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

Based purely on production, there may be no larger shoes to fill in the country than Luke Kuechly's. There may not have been more than 3 plays run by opposing offenses in which Kuechly wasn't in on the tackle. Kuechly finished 2011 with 191 tackles. The next highest total on the Boston College defense belonged to Kevin Pierre-Louis, who had 74.

As our own Chip Patterson put it, "for Boston College, replacing Kuechly is like any other team replacing 2 1/2 players." Though it's been proven that it can be done, as Kuechly himself once had to fill the shoes left behind by Mark Herzlich. Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto -- who has a name that would be hard to replace -- will be the two linebackers looking to repeat the feat.

6. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

Many casual college football fans never truly appreciated how amazing a player Morris Claiborne was for LSU in 2011 simply because opposing offenses weren't dumb enough to test him all that often. Throw in some Honey Badger exploits with a bit of Les Miles being Les Miles, and Claiborne gets a bit lost in the gumbo. Still, Claiborne truly was the definition of a shutdown corner for LSU, playing a pivotal role on one of the best defenses in the country.

While Tyrann Mathieu will be back in 2012, he's not the cover corner that Claiborne was, so it will be up to Tharold Simon to fill the role. One he seems capable of considering he led LSU with 10 passes broken up in 2011 playing mostly as a nickel back.

5. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

I won't lie to you. Even when Mark Ingram will still in Tuscaloosa running through SEC defenses, I always felt that Trent Richardson was the best running back on the Alabama roster. Now both are gone, and Richardson will be harder to replace than Ingram was simply because Trent can't replace himself.

Can Eddie Lacy be the next Heisman finalist in the Alabama backfield? He showed some promise in 2011, and in an offense like Alabama's, the opportunities will be there. Still, even if Lacy is extremely talented, there are only so many shoes capable of doing this.

4. Brandon Weeden/Justin Blackmon, QB/WR, Oklahoma State

A bit of a cheat, I know, but the truth is that Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon felt like extensions of one another for the past two seasons in Stillwater. Their success was as a duo. I mean, Blackmon caught 40 touchdowns over the last three seasons, which accounted for 53% of the 75 touchdown passes Weeden threw with the Cowboys.

Now we know that Oklahoma State is going to continue putting points on the board without them, but will the offense ever be as prolific when the combination is Clint Chelf or Wes Lunt to Tracy Moore? We'll get our first clues this spring.

3. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon

Maybe you think that LaMichael James isn't all that hard to replace given the weapons Oregon has in the backfield. I can see your point, but I can also point out that James nearly doubled Kenjon Barner's rushing total (1,805 yards to 939) in 2011. I mean, this is a man who rushed for 1,805 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per carry in 2011, yet we didn't think it was so amazing based simply on the fact we'd already seen him do similar things in the previous two seasons.

We just got used to it.

Yes, Barner and DeAnthony Thomas are extremely talented backs, but the fact is there's no easy way to replace a back who accounted for 5,888 all-purpose yards and 58 touchdowns in three seasons as a Duck, all at the speed of light.

2. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Will it be harder to fill RG3's shoes, or his socks? Neither will be easy. While we all know how talented Griffin was as a quarterback for Baylor in 2011 and the two seasons before it, it's his impact on the program that will leave the biggest impression. Baylor went from a perennial bottom-feeder in the Big 12 to a team that can call itself the home of a Heisman Trophy winner.

Nick Florence will be the favorite to replace Griffin this spring, but he'll never be able to have the impact on the Baylor program that Griffin did. Instead he'd be much better served to focus on replacing the production on the field. Something that won't be easy, either, but given Art Briles' history with quarterbacks and the way Florence performed in place of Griffin against Texas Tech, it may not be that far-fetched, either.

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

Andrew Luck didn't win the Heisman Trophy like Robert Griffin did, but that doesn't diminish the impact he had on the Stanford program. In the three seasons before Luck showed up in Palo Alto, Stanford was 10-26, including a 1-11 season in 2006. In Luck's three seasons the Cardinal went 31-8, played in two BCS bowl games and became a national program.

Stanford is essentially the school Notre Dame used to be, and it's all thanks to Luck. Of course, the question now is whether or not Stanford can maintain the success they had under Luck with a new quarterback. Brett Nottingham, Josh Nunes and Robbie Picazo will all enter spring practice looking to replace the most important player in the history of Stanford football, and that's a list that includes John Elway.

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Since: Dec 10, 2009
Posted on: March 1, 2012 7:59 am

The biggest shoes to fill in college football

stuz = Goofball

Since: Feb 11, 2009
Posted on: March 1, 2012 5:24 am

The biggest shoes to fill in college football

What position does Kellen Moore play, chief whiner to the officials?  That proved to be the case in the game against TCU.  Everytime his fourth quarter passes went wide or fellshort, Moore was crying to the officials, looking for some sort of call.  People make a big deal that BSu lost the game on a failed field goal attempt, but as the tv announcers mentioned repeatedly, that field goal attempt was set up by a very suspicious interference call.  The only people missing Moore this coming season will those real crackshot football experts like Dennis Dodd and Tim Brando. 

Since: Sep 21, 2006
Posted on: March 1, 2012 1:57 am

The biggest shoes to fill in college football

Agreed. He put up sick numbers, but his value to the team went far beyond his contributions on the field. UH won't contend for a BCS berth, but David Piland will keep the offense moving. He redshirted last season after filling in for an injured Keenum in 2010. He threw for 24 TDs and over 2,600 yards as a true freshman, and having a season to learn under Keenum should gear him up for a big 2012.

Since: Aug 9, 2011
Posted on: March 1, 2012 1:23 am

The biggest shoes to fill in college football

I know Luck is good and RG3 won the Heisman, but I agree that not only is this list incomplete without Kellen Moore, but he should be #1 on the list.  Please tell me how Boise's going to repeat their past 4 years of success without Moore?  Luck brought 3 years of success to Stanford, that's great but it's stanford where John Elway played, so it's not like they were never great.  Moore on the other hand played for who?  That's right Boise, a school few people ever even heard of 10 years ago and many people wouldn't even have known it was a city in Idaho unless they lived out that way.  Moore brought a team from the Mountain wastelands to Prime Time and he's not even mentioned? 

Pretty disgraceful.  Keenum is another that was worthy of mention on this list, I don't know if he did more than Luck or RG3 for their teams, but he sure had better stats and more records than either of them.  I guess when you're a non-AQ even your players don't matter enough to make the news--and yet they have some LB from BC--4-8 BC?  What was he single-handedly responsible for their whole 4 wins last year?  Wow!!

Since: Oct 7, 2006
Posted on: March 1, 2012 12:19 am

The biggest shoes to fill in college football

Have to agree that this list without Kellen Moore and Keenum is pretty ridiculous. Both these guys took their schools from nowhere to legitimate contenders. BSU will probably take a very large step backwards and Houston will probably drop into oblivion once again.  HUGE shoes to fill.

Since: Apr 26, 2010
Posted on: February 29, 2012 11:26 pm

The biggest shoes to fill in college football

The problem is that sanctions mean nothing as far as recruiting goes. Look at USC. Look at UNC. Look at OSU. Look at Miami. Look at PSU. They get or will get sanctions and yet the beat still goes on. I love the game but college football (and basketball) is a cesspoll.

Since: Dec 3, 2008
Posted on: February 29, 2012 9:56 pm

The biggest shoes to fill in college football

De'Anthony Thomas is an all-around weapon who will wreak similar havoc. Who the article doesn't mention is Tra Carson, a very capable running back, who doesn't have the speed of LMJ, but does have more power. He should be able to create a Thunder-and-Lightning scenario with Kenjon Barner. DAT will do what he does. Also, don't discount the fact that DAT is a very good receiver, combining with a burner like Josh Huff and another speedster with potential, Tacoi Sumler. We could see a greater use of the passing game, but we will be fine.

Since: Jan 25, 2012
Posted on: February 29, 2012 9:27 pm

The biggest shoes to fill in college football

Broyles is actually a good pick since as soon as he went down, Oklahoma had problems replicating his production on the offensive end. There is imperical evidence to put him in the list. 
I  would put RG3 over Luck as the bigger shoes to fill since Stanford had a stellar offensive line recruiting class. That should ease any transition for the new quarterback. Additionally some of the skill players and deep threats that RG3 had are also in the draft and need replacing.

I am surprised that the winningest quarterback in NCAA history is not on the list. I never got the impression that Moore was a "system" quarterback. He made up for a average to below average arm by his knowledge of the offense and his ability to go to his 3rd and 4th option which is rare in college.

And to say Stanford is the school Notre Dame used to be. We must be going a ways on the way back machine since Notre Dame won 10 games a season over 3 seasons. I would put that in the early 90's timeframe. I'm not sure that's a particularly useful comparison. It's like saying Alabama is what Army used to be in the 40's.

Since: Feb 27, 2008
Posted on: February 29, 2012 9:08 pm

The biggest shoes to fill in college football

@Novagoodman, Hi.  You must be new here.  It's looking like Oregon will probably not get hit too hard by sanctions.  Have a good day!

Since: Jan 13, 2007
Posted on: February 29, 2012 8:19 pm

The biggest shoes to fill in college football

Based upon this analysis, Kellen Moore's 50 wins in four seasons shoes are a cinch to fill.

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