Attrition and finding replacements are a key part of any college football offseason. A coaching staff may find answers through the junior college ranks for a quick fix, or they may feel comfortable with a replacement that’s been on the roster waiting for his turn to step into the starting lineup. Regardless of how the player is replaced, all-conference and All-America talent departs every year, leaving big shoes to fill for coaching staffs at all 128 FBS teams.
The Pac-12 has made significant progress in catching the SEC in overall conference hierarchy over the last few seasons and is one of the deepest leagues in the nation. However, all of the expected frontrunners have key personnel voids to fill in 2015. Oregon heads into spring practice looking for a replacement for quarterback Marcus Mariota, while each of the key contenders on the South Division have question marks to address on both sides of the ball.
5 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in the Pac-12 for 2015
Jeff Lockie, QB, Oregon
Replacing: Marcus Mariota (2014 Heisman Trophy Winner)
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
There’s no doubt Lockie has the biggest shoes to fill of any player on this list. Needless to say, following a Heisman winner and replacing Marcus Mariota’s production will be nearly impossible for the Ducks in 2015. The quarterback battle in Eugene is up for grabs, but Lockie has to have a slight edge based on his experience for the last two seasons as the backup. In his brief Oregon career (2013-14) Lockie has completed 29 of 41 passes for 264 yards and one score, while adding 32 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Although Lockie enters the spring at the top of the depth chart, the battle to replace Mariota is far from finished. Freshmen Travis Waller and Morgan Mahalak are expected to push for time, while sophomore Ty Griffin is eligible after sitting out 2014 due to NCAA transfer rules. Could the Ducks pursue a graduate transfer?
Kyle Murphy, OT, Stanford
Replacing: LT Andrus Peat (first-team All-Pac-12 in 2014)
2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior
Stanford’s offensive line has been one of the Pac-12’s top units in recent years, placing a lineman on the first-team for all-conference honors for seven consecutive seasons. The Cardinal return four starters in 2015, but there’s a huge hole to replace on the left side. Andrus Peat finished his career with 27 consecutive starts at left tackle and should be a first-round pick in the 2015 draft after leaving with one season of eligibility remaining. Murphy started all 14 games at right tackle in 2014 and is a candidate to flip to the left side to replace Peat. Murphy earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2014 and will be counted upon to replace Peat, as well as be the lead blocker for a Stanford ground attack that averaged 4.4 yards per carry in conference games last year.
Elijah Qualls, NT, Washington
Replacing: Danny Shelton (first-team All-Pac-12 in 2014)
2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore
Replacing Danny Shelton’s production from the nose tackle position (93 tackles, 16.5 TFL and nine sacks) will be a tough assignment for coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. Shelton was a key cog in a rush defense that held Pac-12 opponents to 125.5 yards per game in 2014. He was also selected to the Athlon Sports first-team All-American squad and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2014. Needless to say, Qualls has big shoes to fill in replacing the 339-pound nose tackle. In 14 appearances last season, Qualls recorded 13 tackles (two for a loss) and registered one quarterback hurry. The California native rated as the No. 116 recruit in the 2013 247Sports Composite, and the Washington defensive line needs him to emerge as a force in 2015.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Replacing: Brett Hundley (second team All-Pac-12 in 2014)
2015 Year of Eligibility: Freshman
A true freshman quarterback starting for UCLA? It’s certainly possible next season. Brett Hundley capped a standout career with the Bruins by recording second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2014. Hundley threw for at least 3,000 yards in each of his three years at UCLA and tossed 75 touchdown passes to just 25 interceptions. The battle to replace Hundley will begin this spring, with Jerry Neuheisel and Asiantii Woulard competing with Rosen for the starting job. Neuheisel has the edge in experience, but there’s a clear talent edge to Rosen. The California native ranked as a five-star prospect and the No. 12 recruit in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. How quickly can Rosen get acclimated to the collegiate level? If he picks up the offense this spring, there’s a good chance he takes the first snap for the Bruins in 2015.
JuJu Smith, WR, USC
Replacing: Nelson Agholor (first-team All-Pac-12 in 2014)
2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore
USC is pegged as the early favorite in the Pac-12 South, but for coach Steve Sarkisian’s team to claim the conference title, the offense has to find a replacement for standout receiver Nelson Agholor. The first-team All-Pac-12 performer isn’t the only loss for USC, as top end Leonard Williams also must be replaced. Both sides of the ball have key holes to fill, but Smith is one of the Pac-12’s rising stars and caught 54 passes for 724 yards and five scores in his first season with the Trojans. The California native was a five-star prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite and may play a few snaps on defense next year. Regardless of whether Smith is on offense or defense, he’s one of USC’s top playmakers and will play a key role in replacing Agholor.