Top College Football Offenses with Biggest Holes to Fill in Spring Practice
A season ago, offense was the most popular currency in the college football marketplace. Passers put up big numbers, running backs added to yardage totals and receivers were there to break defensive backs' ankles to turn short receptions into big gains.
For some schools, such as Baylor, even in losing pieces the offense remains largely intact. As Lache Seastrunk and Tevin Reese leave for the NFL, quarterback Bryce Petty, running back Shock Linwood and receiver Antwan Goodley are back in the fold. Other teams are not so lucky, losing quarterbacks, receivers, running backs and linemen to send the offense into rebuilding mode.
Here is a quick look, in alphabetical order, of some of last season's high-level collegiate offenses, based on talent and numbers, with big pieces to replace in the 2014 season.
The Arizona Wildcats were the No. 11 rushing offense in college football a season ago. They posted an 8-5 record and the team will be back at the drawing board in year three under Rich Rodriguez. Ka'Deem Carey, who posted 1,885 yards in 2013, left for the NFL and that is biggest blow to the Wildcats.
However, Carey is not the only major loss to this offense. Quarterback BJ Denker is also an NFL hopeful and the Wildcats lost his 949 yards on the ground, as well. While Carey's numbers are monumental in scope, it is the loss of Denker that will be the most interesting element to follow in spring.
As the Tuscon Citizen's Anthony Gimino reported in December, the Wildcats could see as many as seven quarterbacks duke it out to replace Denker. The quarterback is the key for the offense and whomever Rich Rod puts out there will have some large, albeit underrated, shoes to fill.
The Clemson Tigers likely have the most high-profile losses this side of Texas A&M as Dabo Swinney's team loses its quarterback and top two receivers. In other words, the nation's No. 9 total and No. 8 scoring offense loses the pieces that made those numbers possible.
Tajh Boyd was the undisputed leader of the Tigers team that won the Orange Bowl. Now that position will be in the hands of the winner of a quarterback battle. Cole Stoudt has the experience, but the youth at the position, Chad Kelly and Deshaun Watson, have the talent. Kelly has thrown a handful of passes and Watson is a touted early enrollee who wants the keys to the program.
While Boyd was the leader, Sammy Watkins was the superstar of the bunch. The junior is headed to the NFL and his opposite receiver, a developing talent in Martavis Bryant, is also looking to get a jump start on professional football. The Tigers have some talented youth on campus but replacing Watkins and Bryant will not be easy, especially as young receivers have to get used to multiple quarterbacks taking reps this spring.
Fresno State Bulldogs
Derek Carr is thought to be a top-five quarterback entering the draft and the senior leaves Fresno State with a quarterback vacancy. Not only is the quarterback leaving t he program, but two of the three 1,000-yard receivers are also headed to the NFL.
Davante Adams was one of the nation's leading receivers, putting up 1,719 yards to go with 24 touchdowns for the 2013 campaign. Isaiah Burse, a 1,026-yard receiver a season ago, is also headed to the NFL after exhausting his eligibility. That leaves Josh Harper—with a new quarterback—to try and maintain success at Fresno State.
On the positive side, the run game should remain intact and if that means head coach Tim DeRuyter has to lean on the ground as his passing game grows, the Bulldogs should make it work. After a double-digit win season in 2013, returning to the pack in the Mountain West will not be an easy pill to swallow.
When a team loses a 1,400-yard running back, two 1,000-yard receivers and a quarterback with a 22-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio, it has to sting. For LSU, 2013 was one of the most productive seasons to date and now offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will have to find a way to maintain that standard.
First up is the quarterback position, where Hayden Rettig, Anthony Jennings and early enrollee Brandon Harris are vying for the spot. Jennings played a season ago, Harris was Cameron's selected quarterback, but Rettig is a quality player who can surprise some people. Cameron will be the key to developing the talent as he's been the best addition to LSU during Les Miles' tenure.
Although the wide receiver production will be difficult to replace, watch for the run game to be LSU's strength. A young quarterback with youth at receiver is a recipe for inconsistency, but LSU's run game will be good enough to power the Bayou Bengals. Kenny Hilliard is back to get carries and come fall camp, Leonard Fournette will be on campus for LSU.
Jordan Lynch rushed for the second-most yards in college football a season ago, totaling 1,920 yards, and now the Huskies are replacing the graduated senior. While Lynch hopes to find his way into the NFL, head coach Rod Carey will have to find a way to replace his best player in both the run and pass games.
Replacing the third-place finisher in the 2013 Heisman race will not be easy. Northern Illinois has set its sights on staying strong in the MAC as the public spotlight fades away. As the playoff comes into focus, NIU, with the rest of the Group of Five, will hope to find a way to stay relevant on the larger stage.
The positive for whoever wins the quarterback battle is that there is experience all over the offense. While matching Lynch's production seems impossible, getting quality quarterback play should go a long way toward NIU continuing to sit near the top of the MAC.
Texas A&M Aggies
The Texas A&M Aggies were a top-five offense in scoring and total numbers, and now the team loses its leaders in passing, receiving and rushing, plus its starting left tackle, all of whom are expected to be first-round draft picks.
Johnny Manziel led the ground and air attack for the Aggies and the 2012 Heisman winner is heading to the NFL, taking his production with him. Ben Malena is also in the draft after two seasons as the No. 2 rusher for the Aggies, behind Manziel.
Mike Evans was the leading receiver and he, along with No. 2 receiver Derel Walker, is in the draft. Left tackle Jake Matthews joins Evans and Manziel as an expected first-round draft pick.
Kenny Hill versus Kyle Allen will be the focal point for the Aggies offense, as the quarterback makes the machine run. On the edge there is a wealth of talent to replace Evans; the question will be if these players are ready to step in and fill his shoes. Cedric Ogbuehi, 2013's right tackle, will move to Matthews' spot and all eyes are on who moves into the right tackle spot.
Luckily for Hill, Allen and the Texas A&M coaching staff, the run game should be strong as Trey Williams, Tra Carson and Brandon Williams are all back in the mix.
Several teams lose their quarterback, pass catchers and running backs from the 2013 season. However, Washington is one of the few going through major losses in addition to a full new coaching situation on campus. For that reason, the Huskies are going to be interesting to watch, starting with the spring season.
Keith Price was the quarterback and he worked with running back Bishop Sankey and tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins to power this Washington offense under head coach Steve Sarkisian. Now with Sark at USC, new head coach Chris Petersen gets a fresh state in Seattle.
The positive for Petersen is that he will benefit from the prior seasons of the offensive line struggles. This group of young men was forced to play early and they took their lumps. However as they gelled in 2013, they set themselves up for a 2014 season that makes the line a strength for Petersen.
Other Notable Losses
At Ohio State, the loss of Carlos Hyde, Corey Brown and four of the five linemen is a major hurdle for the offense this spring. However, the team returns Braxton Miller, plus there are plenty of talented players waiting to step into the mix for Urban Meyer. If Ezekiel Elliott can grow into a key contributor, the Buckeyes should be just fine.
Another team eyeballing the inaugural playoff is Florida State. This offense loses Devonta Freeman, Kenny Shaw, Kelvin Benjamin plus center Bryan Stork. While eyes will be focused on replacing the skill positions, folks are excited for Karlos Williams to take the reins at running back. Replacing the center will be the point to watch. Stork helped get the Seminoles in the right protections and that was invaluable for quarterback Jameis Winston.
Meanwhile, as Louisville transitions to a new conference with a new coach, it does so without Teddy Bridgewater and Damian Copeland. Bridgewater is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL draft while Copeland was the team's second-leading pass catcher. Bobby Petrino will find a way to get plenty of work out of returning leading receiver DeVante Parker, but he'll do so without Bridgewater tossing it or Copeland on the opposite side.