10 College Football Teams Facing Biggest Depth Chart Shakeup in 2013
College football coaches fantasize of entering a new season with a roster full of returning talent. But with every player carrying just four years of on-field eligibility, that experienced roster is often just a dream.
The reality of college football is a constant revolving door of athletes who pause briefly on some campus somewhere in America for their final foray into amateur athletics before heading off to the professional ranks—on or off the football field. Coaches, however, are left behind to plug the holes in a roster left by those who have graduated (or bailed without a degree). It's a reality that every coach at every program faces on an almost yearly basis.
But with the 2013 just about set to kick off, there are a handful of teams in the FBS facing more than the usual task of plugging a few holes. These teams are instead faced with a major overhaul of the depth chart.
We'll start with the special case of Notre Dame.
Brian Kelly and his staff was already facing an uphill climb with the task of replacing such play-makers as Theo Riddick, Tyler Eifert, Cierre Wood and Manti Te'o. But with returning third-year sophomore Everett Golson lost to academics, the offensive depth chart is shaping up to be significantly different from last season.
Tommy Rees is a familiar face under center, but he hasn't been all that consistent in his starts prior to Golson's arrival.
Add in a bevy of untried players at skill positions, and it's becoming clear that defense will again be the name of the game in South Bend in 2013 (the Irish return eight on defense, including two All-Americans).
South Carolina has a lot riding on the 2013 season. The Gamecocks are a preseason top ten team in the USA Today Coaches' Poll, but South Carolina has failed to live up to lofty preseason expectations as of late.
Touted as a possible SEC-East contender last season, the Gamecocks stumbled midseason with back-to-back losses in October (to LSU and Florida) and were never able to recover enough ground int he conference standings.
For 2013, all eyes will be on All-Universe defensive juggernaut Jadeveon Clowney and his potential Heisman race. But Clowney will be surrounded by just four other returning starters on defense.
Okay, so Clowney is worth any ten starters coming back, but it's still a pretty big shakeup on the depth chart. If teams can find a way to get around Clowney with quick passes or keeping the ball away from his side of the field (good luck), South Carolina as a team may not be as successful as Clowney as an individual could be in 2013.
Michigan returns just 12 starters to its 2013 roster, but that might not be all bad.
Brady Hoke is hard at work rebuilding Michigan into a Big Ten team, picking up the pieces after Rich Rodriguez's disastrous "Big East team in Ann Arbor" project. As more and more of Rodriguez's recruits depart Michigan, the Wolverines will begin to appear more and more like the Wolverines of yesteryear—Hoke is, after all, a former Lloyd Carr protégé, and was part of Michigan's 1997 national championship run.
Michigan will finally have a true quarterback taking the snaps this season as Devin Gardner steps into the laceless shoes left behind by Denard Robinson. While Gardner certainly isn't as athletic as Robinson, he is a real, honest to God quarterback.
No more wounded ducks flying out of the Michigan backfield.
Michigan also returns All-American tackle Taylor Lewan and a handful of other quality offensive players.
On defense, the Wolverines will need to solve a lingering problem with the pass rush and run defense. In 2012, Michigan was eighth in the Big Ten with 22 sacks while also finishing sixth in the conference in rush defense, giving up better than 150 yards per game.
It's also worth mentioning that among Michigan's six returning defensive starters is linebacker and on-field leader Jake Ryan. He'll miss a significant portion of the season with a torn ACL (although Hoke has said he hopes to get Ryan back "sometime in October").
Just in case you thought the SEC wasn't competitive enough, the Florida Gators jumped into the conference title hunt last season, somewhat unexpectedly.
In 2013, there won't be any sleeping on the resurgent Gators, and head coach Will Muschamp has his work cut out for him if he wants to get his program back into the BCS before college football moves to a playoff system in 2014.
Florida returns just 11 starters for 2013, with the Gators' stingy defense returning just four from the top of last season's depth chart. The biggest shakeup comes in Florida's defensive front seven. Six starters from a year ago are gone with only defensive tackle Dominique Easley returning for his senior season.
Now, we are talking about an SEC team here, so it's probably safe to say that Florida's depth chart will still be loaded with amazingly athletic, talented defenders ready to take on the nation each and every week. But with team's like Georgia returning 10 offensive starters, we're left wondering just how prepared Florida's underclassmen can possibly be against such veteran offenses.
After a Big 12 title and Fiesta Bowl appearance, Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder will be busy replacing just about everyone at the top of his depth chart for 2013.
Losing a quarterback like Collin Klein is bad enough, and will certainly impact the offensive production of the Wildcats in 2013. But consider that K-State has just one true starter returning on defense, there's a lot of concern for the team's prospects in a conference where defense is a necessity.
The defensive line doesn't return a single starter for the first time in 12 years. The players that do remain on the depth chart had a combined 2.5 sacks last season, whereas the entire defensive line unit accounted for 24.5 in 2012.
All-American linebacker Arthur Brown is also gone, as is essentially the entire secondary.
Snyder is a wizard when it comes to coaching, and he always managed to find some great JUCO gems, plug them into his system and confound the pundits with a better-than-expected performance. But expectations are pretty low this year, so Snyder will need to pull another rabbit out of his hat even for a mediocre finish in the Big 12 in 2013.
Over the past couple of seasons, Florida State seems to have been the team of "almost, but not quite."
Lofty preseason rankings have led to early-season disappointments, and despite recovering to win an ACC title in 2012, Seminoles fans are left feeling a bit unfulfilled; Orange Bowls are nice, but national championships are better. For 2013, though, with just 10 returning starters (fewest in the ACC), a national championship run is much easier said than done in Tallahassee.
Jimbo Fisher is going to see a significant shakeup on his depth chart, both on offense and defense. First, the defensive front will be almost completely different from 2012. Among the front seven, only one—All-American linebacker Christian Jones—is returning.
On offense, the entire backfield will be new to the role of starter this fall, and there's only one returning wideout, as well. That's one-for-six among the skill positions.
Whoever ends up taking the snaps for Florida State this fall (likely freshman Jameis Winston after Clint Trickett's transfer) will be a first-time college quarterback. That first snap will also come on the road, on Monday night, in prime time as the Seminoles visit Pitt on Labor Day (at Heinz Field).
The good news for FSU is that the offensive line will be among the most experienced units in the nation, returning all starters except for tackle Menelik Watson, who is off to the NFL. But will that be enough to keep Florida State atop the ACC throughout 2013?
The transition to the Big 12 didn't go as smoothly as Dana Holgorsen and company had hoped, but the Mountaineers can still be considered a major player in their new conference for 2013.
The Mountaineers finished 7-6 in 2012 with a 4-5 conference mark that put them in a four-way tie for fifth place. But as the rest of the conference looks to step things up a bit this season, WVU is going to need to replace the bulk of the offense—including passing phenom Geno Smith. With just nine total starters coming back, and only three on offense, no Big 12 team will be replacing more players than Holgorsen's Mountaineers.
A near whole-sale change to an offense can sometimes limit the success of a team. That problem is only exacerbated by the Mountaineer's new conference home in the pass-happy Big 12.
West Virginia will also need to replace five defensive starters, greatly reducing the experience of a defense that wasn't all that great to begin with. In the Big 12 last season, only Baylor allowed more passing yards per game, and no team allowed more points than the 38.1 per game the Mountaineers gave up.
Ordinarily, coaches would count on the defense to make up for any offensive shortcomings. But for the 2013 WVU defense, keeping the rest of the Big 12 in check long enough for the offense to find its footing will be a tall order.
Last season, Louisiana Tech fell victim to conference bowl tie-ins and was left out despite finishing 9-3.
This season, nine wins is probably a pipe dream with the utter lack of experience on the roster. Even diehard Tech fans will be reaching for a game-day program and the Bulldogs return just six starters from 2012.
No, not six on offense, or six on defense. Six. Total. No other team in the FBS returns as few.
The Bulldogs led the WAC last season in total offense, putting over nearly 580 yards per game. With only two returning starters on offense—one lineman, one receiver—combined with an unfamiliar schedule (the Bulldogs move to Conference USA for 2013), Louisiana Tech won't come anywhere close to that level of production in 2013.
If you can believe it, the prospects are even worse on defense. Despite returning four starters, those starters were part of the lowly WAC's worst defensive unit in 2012. The Bulldogs allowed 526.1 yards per game, which also would have been the worst defensive in Conference USA last season—by over 40 yards per game.
To understand just what kind of depth chart shakeup Ohio State has undergone since last season, look no further than the unit under co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers. While the Buckeyes will be returning a potential national powerhouse offense, the defense—which wasn't Ohio State's strength last season—could prove to be the one chink in the armor.
In 2012, Ohio State surrendered 359.6 yards per game, sixth in the Big Ten. The problem this season, as it was in 2012, could be the pass coverage. Despite the services of All-American Bradley Roby, the Buckeyes still ranked 11th in pass defense last season in the Big Ten (243.5 ypg). Roby, slated to return, is still mired in the aftermath of an assault arrest. His status is still up in the air.
That's in addition to running back Carlos Hyde's three game suspension for a similar incident.
If Roby doesn't return to the active roster in time for the season opener in Columbus against the University at Buffalo on August 31, that will leave Ohio State's secondary with just two returning starters.
Luckily, it appears the Buckeyes will be scoring more than enough points to keep well ahead of the curve in 2013—but that assumes everything goes according to plan on that side of the ball.
What's that old saying about best laid plans?
There's little doubt that most of the talk surrounding Texas A&M in the run up to 2013 has and will continue to focus on the name of Johnny Manziel. His off-field issues have been well covered by the sports media, Bleacher Report included, but we've yet to see how, if at all all of this attention will affect his on-field play.
Even if Manziel's performance does fall off, say 10 percent, he would still be heads and shoulders better than 95 percent of the quarterbacks in the FBS. Suffice it to say the quarterback position is well taken care of at A&M.
But taking a quick peek around the rest of the A&M practice field will show you plenty of new faces all vying for those precious few top positions on the depth chart. On offense, nearly the entire wide receiving corps, save Mike Evans, will be new starters this fall.
There's plenty of young talent head coach Kevin Sumlin has to work with, including sophomore Sabian Holmes and freshmen Edward Pope, Ja'Quay Williams and Sebastian Larue, but any or all of these receivers will need to bring their game up several levels during fall camp to have even the faintest glimmer of hope in keeping up with Johnny Football; great quarterbacks aren't made with mediocre receivers.
Last season, the Aggies' defensive backs were the weak leak statistically, ranking 12th in pass defense in the SEC. With only four returning starters in the defensive backfield (and no returning linebackers), that weak link could rear its ugly head again in 2013.
You can't have a porous pass defense in the SEC and hope to win championships, and Coach Sumlin will need to find some youngsters to step up quickly and secure a spot atop the depth chart before Alabama comes calling on September 14.
Texas A&M returns the fewest starters—just 10—of any team in the SEC, and the Aggies will obviously need to overcome that massive depth chart shakeup if they have any hopes of challenging for an SEC-West crown in 2013.
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