Players who have the biggest shoes to fill in 2013
With the NFL Draft drawing closer, let's take a look at the biggest holes that must be filled in college football as 2012's stars say goodbye to their programs.
Kansas State QB (Collin Klein)
Besides Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, no player was as valuable to his team last year as Collin Klein was to Kansas State. The 6-5, 225-pound Heisman Trophy finalist was often a one-man show for the Wildcats the last two seasons, recording over 6,600 yards and 79 total touchdowns. And for as many times as he carried the football, he fought through injuries and remained relatively healthy. So now Bill Snyder will turn his offense over to Daniel Sams, who played last season when Klein was sidelined with a concussion. The 6-2, 204-pounder averaged over 7.0 yards per carry and had three touchdowns in 2012, and he will continue to keep the dual-threat pipeline going in Manhattan. But filling Klein's huge shoes will be a tough task.
Stanford RB (Stepfan Taylor)
Barry J. Sanders will try to help Stanford make up for the loss of Stepfan Taylor.
Despite the obvious productivity during his time on The Farm, I never felt Taylor quite received the attention he deserved for being such a standout running back for the past three years. Perhaps a lot of that had to do with the fact that he was teammates with future NFL No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck, the Cardinal defense was so stout and he played for, well, Stanford. But no one should sleep on David Shaw's program anymore or overlook how great Taylor was in his career. Emerging quarterback Kevin Hogan will need help from his backfield mates because this will still be a run-first attack. Stepping in to help make up for the loss of Taylor will primarily be seniors Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson as well as redshirt freshman Barry J. Sanders, whose real starpower in 2013 could be as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Meanwhile, Wilkerson had 50-plus carries in 2012 and Gaffney has 12 career touchdowns. He also should be fresh after missing last season while concentrating on baseball.
Tennessee WRs (Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson)
Junior receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson joined quarterback Tyler Bray in leaving Knoxville early for April's NFL Draft, and Zach Rogers has graduated as well. So new head coach Butch Jones and the Vols have serious question marks on offense, particularly a lot of inexperience at receiver for rising junior Justin Worley or redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman, the quarterbacks who will battle for the starting job. Last fall, Hunter had nine games of 65 yards or more and two contests in which he scored three touchdowns, while Patterson had a 219-yard receiving game and was a threat on reverses in addition to being a deep threat for Bray. So the pressure is on rising sophomore Pig Howard, who will have a chance to become the No. 1 target. Early enrollee Paul Harris is also being counted on to step in and contribute right away. Also keep an eye on Devrin Young, who will move from running back to slot receiver this spring. Drae Bowles and Jason Croom will also be given plenty of reps to help fill the big shoes of Hunter and Patterson.
USC QB (Matt Barkley)
While the Trojans suffered through a very rough 2012 season, there's no question that Lane Kiffin and Co. will severely miss the steady presence of Barkley, who was a fixture in Los Angeles throughout his entire career. And while he didn't win the Heisman Trophy or national title that he so desired, he was the face of the Trojans as they were coming out of NCAA purgatory. So now Kiffin most likely will turn to Max Wittek, a strong-armed sophomore who started the final two games of last season when Barkley was hurt. Wittek, however, was inconsistent at best against Notre Dame and in the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech. But it will still be difficult for either Cody Kessler or freshman spring enrollee Max Browne to win the job. Either way, the Trojans will have a quarterback not named Barkley taking the reins of the offense for the first time since 2008. Because of Wittek's familiarity with the playbook, he should have the edge after the spring game on April 13. However, there will still be uncertainty surrounding this offense all the way up until the start of the season.
UCLA RB (Johnathan Franklin)
Franklin rushed for a school-record 1,734 yards and averaged over 6.0 yards per carry on his way to 13 touchdowns as the Bruins were revived under Jim L. Mora last fall. The versatile tailback also had 33 catches for 323 yards and two scores. The Doak Walker Award finalist shined in the Pac-12 title game against a Stanford run defense that was one of the best in the nation, as he rushed for nearly 200 yards and two touchdowns. Mora and Co. now hope that quarterback Brett Hundley gets help on the ground from a committee led by Damien Thigpen, who is coming back from a knee injury, as well as Steven Manfro and Jordan James. But none are every-down type of backs. That's why redshirt freshman Paul Perkins, incoming freshman Craig Lee (if he is able to get academically eligible) and former star recruit Malcolm Jones, who has returned to the team as a walk-on, will be competing for carries as well.
Florida State DEs (Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine)
The Seminoles didn't quite break through and become part of the nation's elite last year, but they did get back to the BCS. And that's a start. But Jimbo Fisher lost several key pieces from the Orange Bowl squad, including quarterback EJ Manuel. But how will the 'Noles replace star defensive ends Werner and Carradine, who combined for 24 sacks in 2012? It appears that youth will have to be served with Mario Edwards Jr. being the lead guy to fill the top void. Giorgio Newberry, who played well as a redshirt freshman last fall, will also be expected to make a big jump after backing up Werner. But it will be quite a chore for the 'Noles to live up to the play of last year's defense with coordinator Mark Stoops now the head coach at Kentucky.
West Virginia ATH (Tavon Austin)
While quarterback Geno Smith and fellow wide receiver Stedman Bailey were so vital to the Mountaineers' air attack last year and will obviously be missed, filling the void of Austin could be even more difficult because he also excelled on special teams and in the backfield. Remember his 344 yards on the ground against Oklahoma? He recorded 2,760 all-purpose yards last fall, and he is quickly rising up NFL Draft boards because of his incredible speed and quickness. Mario Alford, meanwhile, will have a chance to help fill the void at receiver after being one of the most productive JUCO players. But also keep an eye on Jordan Thompson, who was expected to do a lot more in 2012 after a strong spring but caught just 13 passes for 75 yards last season. However, replacing Austin's do-everything ability is, quite simply, impossible. Maybe the Mountaineers' defense can improve a bit to help ease the burden on the offense. Or not.
Other notable huge voids to fill
Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell
Georgia LB Jarvis Jones
Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o
Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore
Alabama O-Linemen Chance Warmack (LG), D.J. Fluker (RT) and Barrett Jones (C)
LSU DEs Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery