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10 Toughest Players to Replace in the Pac-12 in 2016

Scooby Wright

Scooby Wright

The dust has barely had time to settle on the 2015 college football season, and in less than a month's time, the early phases of the 2016 season begin with the earliest of spring practices opening. Arizona takes the first steps into the 2016 campaign among Pac-12 Conference members, opening offseason workouts Feb. 10.

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As the spring season gets underway, coaching staffs get a first impression of their fall rosters. Some noticeable gaps will be plainly evident, some bigger than others.

The Pac-12 says farewell to a host of outstanding players, but the following 10 may be the conference's most difficult to replace based on production and how adequately their teams at equipped to find a successor.

10 Toughest Players to Replace in the Pac-12 in 2016

(Listed in alphabetical order)

Vernon Adams, QB, Oregon

The Eastern Washington transfer spent less than a full season as an Oregon Duck, missing a chunk of his lone fall in Eugene due to a finger injury. However, in his limited time with Oregon football, Adams made a considerable impression.

He passed for 26 touchdowns against just six interceptions and rushed for another two scores. His play when at full strength — specifically in November when Oregon scored impressive wins over Stanford and USC — could haunt Ducks fans left to wonder how 2015 might have unfolded with him in the lineup all season.

Oregon's search for a new starting quarterback could very well spark that same feeling if none of the potential replacements shine this offseason.

Jake Brendel, OL, UCLA

Offensive line play at UCLA has gone through ups and downs over the last few seasons — more often down than up. However, through times of struggle up front, Brendel provided needed stability at center.

Brendel's not the only starter leaving the program this offseason. Guard Alex Redmond surprisingly declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft, but Redmond didn't have quite the same presence on UCLA's front five as Brendel.

DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon

No individual defensive player in the Pac-12 played a more central role to his team than Buckner. Lined up at tackle or end, Buckner was equally effective as the Ducks' chief run-stopper or primary pass rusher.

His 2015 numbers are staggering: 83 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks. The statistics alone only reveal a portion of Buckner's importance to Oregon's defense, as his ability to draw double-teams opened the field for teammates, as well.

Su'a Cravens, LB, USC

Cravens just might be the case study for players who are so good, they don't really need a position. Such was Cravens' role on the USC defense. Sure, he ended his career officially listed at strong-side linebacker, and he made an impact as the Trojans' most dangerous blitzing presence playing that role.

But Cravens was just as effective dropping back into pass coverage, losing nothing from his freshman season when he flourished at safety. Cravens' versatility allowed USC to operate through personnel limitations during 2013 and ‘14 campaigns when the roster was thin.

D.J. Foster, WR, Arizona State

Foster made an indelible impact on the Phoenix area football scene, first as a standout at Scottsdale prep powerhouse Saguaro, then as a four-year contributor at Arizona State.

Foster is a rare talent who thrived no matter what was asked of him. He functioned as a flanker his freshman season, took over for record-setting Marion Grice at the end of 2013 and into ‘14 as the Sun Devils' primary ball carrier, then established himself as the team's top pass-catcher this past season.

Players with the versatility Foster brought the Arizona State offense are rare.

Jared Goff, QB, Cal

Cal's return as a competitive program in the Pac-12 coincided directly with Goff's growth at quarterback. Goff is the only starter in head coach Sonny Dykes' three years at the helm of the Golden Bears, and his task of finding a new signal-caller coincides with the hunt for a new play-caller.

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In addition to Goff, Cal parts ways with offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, who took the same position at Middle Tennessee State earlier this month. The record-setting Goff thrived in Franklin's wide-open variation of the Air Raid, passing for nearly 100 touchdowns in his three-year career.

Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford

Following Stanford's Pac-12 Championship Game defeat of USC in December, which landed the Cardinal their third conference championship in four seasons, head coach David Shaw made a bold proclamation.

He said Hogan, starter for all three of those conference titles, belonged on a hypothetical "Mount Rushmore" of Stanford's all-time great quarterbacks with Andrew Luck, John Elway and Jim Plunkett. Company does not get more exclusive, and Hogan's accomplishments set a high bar for the next Stanford quarterback. He also helped set the foundation.

"I had Ryan [Burns] and Keller [Chryst] check out the [defensive backs], and they always give me a report on the sideline," Hogan said. "They've been a great help for me; an extra set of eyes."

Gionni Paul, LB, Utah

The Miami transfer joined a loaded Utah defense and helped make it even better. Paul put together a 2015 season worthy of consideration for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, racking up 117 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, and perhaps most impressive, four interceptions.

Paul quickly established himself as a threat defending both the run and pass, a quality increasingly necessary of linebackers against the Pac-12's many up-tempo and spread offenses.

Joshua Perkins, TE, Washington

By season's end, Washington developed a consistent offense around the freshmen backfield pairing of quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. For the two months-and-change prior, however, the Huskies needed Perkins' veteran presence at tight end to provide stability.

Perkins finished 2015 as Washington's second-leading receiver, functioning as a red zone threat and via intermediate routes customary of a player his size and position. However, Perkins embodied the new wave of tight end capable of running deep routes like a wide receiver. That's an invaluable asset for any offense.

Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona

Arizona learned firsthand just how difficult replacing Wright would be this season, with the 2014 All-American sidelined for much of the campaign.

The Wildcats ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12, if not the nation, in nearly every defensive statistical category with Wright sidelined. The run defense suffered without his tenacious ball-hawking, and opposing quarterbacks operated from largely unfettered pockets without Wright bringing pressure.

He capped his standout career with a stellar performance in Arizona's New Mexico Bowl, proving one last time he's arguably the most difficult player to replace in the Pac-12's departing class.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.