Max Wittek is one of 10 players replacing college football's biggest names.
The start of spring practice is still over a month away, but college football coaches have already turned the page from 2012 to 2013. With the passing of the NFL Draft deadline and new recruits coming in after Signing Day, coaches have a good idea about their roster and some of the holes facing their team.
Even though it’s January, it’s never too early to start thinking about replacements for some of college football’s top departing players.
USC had a disappointing 2012 campaign, but the Trojans still have the talent to compete for the Pac-12 South title. However, replacing quarterback Matt Barkley will be no easy task. Max Wittek made two starts late in the year and will begin spring practice as the favorite to start under center for USC.
In addition to Wittek, the spotlight will be on Oklahoma’s Blake Bell, Stanford’s Barry Sanders and Wisconsin’s James White and Melvin Gordon – just to name a few.
10 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in College Football
Max Wittek, QB, USC
Matt Barkley finished his USC career with a solid 2012 season but it certainly wasn’t the year most expected. Pegged as a heavy Heisman favorite in the preseason, Barkley finished the year with 3,273 yards and 36 touchdowns but missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. While not having Barkley certainly contributed to USC’s disappointing close to the year, his absence allowed Max Wittek to get a head start on 2013. In eight games this season, Wittek threw for 388 yards and three touchdowns but also tossed five picks and completed just 52.2 percent of his throws. With wide receiver Marqise Lee and running back Silas Redd returning next season, if Wittek quickly settles into the starting role, the Trojans will have a chance to push UCLA and Arizona State for the Pac-12 South title.
Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma
While Landry Jones never led Oklahoma to a national championship or emerged as a serious Heisman contender, the New Mexico native threw for 16,646 yards and 123 touchdowns over the last four seasons. Jones also guided the Sooners to 32 victories over the last three years, one BCS bowl appearance and an outright conference title in 2010. Bell is the frontrunner to replace Jones, although he will face competition in the spring from Drew Allen, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson. Bell has played sparingly over the last two seasons, throwing only 20 passes for 115 yards and no scores. The Kansas native has been a bigger factor on the ground, rushing for 372 yards and 24 touchdowns. There’s no question Bell will be a major factor in Oklahoma’s rushing attack. However, he has to show he can beat defenses with his arm on a consistent basis.
Mario Edwards Jr., DE, Florida State
Injuries to Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius Carradine forced Edwards into a bigger role than he anticipated in the preseason. However, stepping into significant snaps wasn’t an issue for the No. 2 rated recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. Edwards played in 11 games, recording 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks. The freshman made three stops in the Orange Bowl victory over Northern Illinois and picked up seven tackles in the ACC Championship win over Georgia Tech. Even though Florida State will have a new defensive coordinator (Jeremy Pruitt), the addition of Sal Sunseri and Charles Kelly as assistants should keep this unit among the best in the nation. If he picks up where he left off at the end of 2012, Edwards Jr. has potential to be an All-ACC selection in 2013.
Ego Ferguson/Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
No team was hit harder by the NFL Draft deadline than LSU. The Tigers lost 11 players a year early, including defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan. In addition to the early departures, Josh Downs and Lavar Edwards expired their eligibility after the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Ferguson and Johnson enter their junior season poised to emerge as standouts for LSU’s defense. Both tackles played in all 13 games this season, with Ferguson recording 14 stops, while Johnson made 30 tackles and three sacks. The Tigers need some time to let the new pieces on defense come together, but if Ferguson and Johnson emerge early in the year, LSU’s defensive line won’t miss a beat.
Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
Kelly has some of the biggest shoes to fill in college football next season. Barrett Jones departs Alabama as one of the most successful linemen of the BCS era, garnering first-team All-American honors for 2011 and 2012. Jones battled a foot injury last season, which allowed Kelly to gain valuable experience. The Ohio native played in 10 games in 2012 and is a key piece to Alabama’s offensive line next year. Kelly probably won’t match Jones’ postseason accolades next season, but he should keep the Crimson Tide line playing at a high level.
Julien Obioha, DE, Texas A&M
Obioha isn’t technically replacing Damontre Moore, but the sophomore will be counted on for a bigger role in the defense next season. Moore was one of the SEC’s top defenders in 2012, leading Texas A&M with 85 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks. Obioha started 12 games as a true freshman, making 25 tackles and one sack. With Moore no longer in College Station, it’s up to Obioha to keep the Aggies’ pass rush among the top half of the SEC. Texas A&M will need more than Obioha to replace Moore, but considering he started 12 games as a true freshman, bigger things could be in store for the Louisiana native in 2013.
Daniel Sams/Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State
Replacing Collin Klein’s production is no easy task for Kansas State in 2013. However, with Bill Snyder on the sidelines in Manhattan, the Wildcats can’t be counted out of the Big 12 title mix. Klein finished 2012 with 3,561 yards and 39 total scores and ranked third behind Johnny Manziel and Manti Te’o in Heisman voting. Sams played eight games in 2012, throwing for 55 yards on six completions and rushing for 235 yards and three scores on 32 attempts. Considering his experience last season, Sams should be the frontrunner to open 2013 as the starter. However, junior college recruit Jake Waters will compete with Sams in the preseason. Waters is regarded as one of the top junior college recruits in the nation and certainly isn’t being brought to Manhattan to hold a clipboard.
Barry Sanders, RB, Stanford
Coming off a 12-win season and a victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Stanford will be a legitimate national title contender in 2013. The Cardinal does have a few concerns to address in the offseason, starting on offense with the departure of running back Stepfan Taylor. The Texas native had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and scored 40 rushing touchdowns in his career. While Taylor is a huge loss, coach David Shaw does have capable options on the bench. Anthony Wilkerson has been a dependable backup over the last three years, while sophomore Remound Wright was a top-25 running back coming out of high school. Although Wilkerson and Wright will see a share of the carries, redshirt freshman Barry Sanders is ready for a breakout season. The Oklahoma native was regarded as one of the top 50 recruits in last year’s signing class and will have one of the Pac-12’s top offensive lines paving the way next season.
Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
The pieces are in place for Ohio State to compete for a national title in 2013. However, there’s one glaring area of concern for coach Urban Meyer. The defense is losing ends John Simon and Nathan Williams, along with tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel. If the Buckeyes quickly reload up front, Ohio State could be making a trip to Pasadena to play for the BCS title. Spence was one of the Buckeyes’ top recruits last season and recorded 12 tackles in 11 games this year. The Pennsylvania native should benefit with another offseason to work in the weight room and is a key centerpiece in Ohio State’s defense in 2013.
James White/Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Even though record-setting running back Montee Ball expired his eligibility after the Rose Bowl, there’s not too much concern about the rushing attack in Madison. And despite a coaching change, Wisconsin won’t stray too far from its usual ground and pound offense. James White rushed for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2010 and has 1,519 yards and 18 scores over the last two years. Gordon redshirted in 2011 and rushed for 621 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman in 2012. His breakout performance came against Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship, gashing the Cornhuskers for 216 yards on nine carries. White isn’t built to handle 200-250 carries a year, which makes Gordon the perfect complement back at 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds.
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