College Football Teams Impacted Most by Injuries in 2014
There is no game-planning for injuries.
Try as they might, college football coaches still haven't found a way to prevent the inevitable injuries that pop up and throw a wrench into their plans for the upcoming season.
Developing depth can help mitigate the impact of an injury, but only to a point. The same thing can be said with limiting the snaps that starters and key contributors get during the various offseason and preseason practices and workouts, as the lack of reps could lead to poor performance and timing that ends up being just as much a nuisance as an injury.
Since the 2013-14 season ended, nearly every FBS team has seen an important player go down with an injury. Most of them return quickly or only miss a few practices. Others, though, end up out of action for a much longer stretch. The closer that ailment comes to the start of the season the more games that player is apt to miss.
There are 10 teams, in particular, who will head into this fall without the services of at least one major player. Scroll through to see which teams are most impacted by injuries this season, and how they are dealing with it.
Key injured players: OL Alex Kozan (So.), DL Carl Lawson (So.)
Auburn's spring practice was marred by a slew of injuries, though most of them were considered minor. Then defensive end Carl Lawson injured his left knee right before the spring game and had surgery in May, causing the Tigers to completely rethink what they would do this fall on the defensive line.
Bumps and bruises continued when fall camp began a few weeks ago, with numerous players getting banged up and missing time. Most will be ready for the fall, though a notable exception to that is left guard Alex Kozan, who injured his back lifting weights in the summer and will miss the season.
The loss of Lawson has been something the Tigers have been able to plan for longer, and because they "will play as many as 10 guys" on the defensive line, according to AL.com's Joel A. Erickson, the loss of just one main starter isn't as hard to overcome. Sophomore Elijah Daniel and junior DaVonte Lambert should be the most frequent contributors at Lawson's defensive end spot.
To replace Kozan, senior right guard Chad Slade was moved over to the left side while sophomore Avery Young inherited the right guard spot. Auburn's offensive line depth is strong, so it's not expected that Kozan's absence will have much effect on a run game that averaged 328 yards per game last season.
Key injured players: RB Zac Brooks (Jr.)
With Clemson losing so many major pieces from its explosive 2013 offense, the last thing it needed was to see one of its few veteran skill players go down with an injury. But that's the situation the Tigers are facing after Zac Brooks injured his foot on Aug. 18.
Brooks, Clemson's top returning rusher from last year with 246 yards and two touchdowns, is expected to miss the season. The Tigers will start senior D.J. Howard in Saturday's opener at Georgia, according to Brandon Rink of OrangeAndWhite.com. Howard has 581 yards and five touchdowns in his career and has previously started two games.
Clemson saw quarterback Tajh Boyd, leading rusher Roderick McDowell and top receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant all graduate or go pro after last season, resulting in new starters all over the field. Running back was considered to be a solid position, though, with a by-committee approach, but Brooks' absence will lead to more work for Howard and others, such as true freshman Adam Choice.
Duke Blue Devils
Key injured players: TE Braxton Deaver (Sr.)
Duke's offense, which was a source of strength last year in its breakout season that included a trip to the ACC title game, was already going to have a different look in 2014 after coordinator Kurt Roper left to run the offense at Florida. Now with Braxton Deaver going down for the year with a torn ACL in his right knee on Aug. 18, the Blue Devils must again regroup offensively.
Deaver was Duke's second-leading receiver last year behind Jamison Crowder, catching 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns. The 6'5", 240-pound senior also missed the 2012 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee.
As big of a production loss as Deaver's is, the Blue Devils might still be okay at the position. Deaver was suspended during the summer and the first week of training camp for undisclosed reasons, with coach David Cutcliffe only telling Laura Keeley of The News & Observer that "he's doing a few things to satisfy me, which I expect to be done in a timely manner" at the start of all practice. With Deaver out, Duke had time to develop backups D.J. Reeves and Erich Schneider.
Key injured players: RB Brandon Bourbon (Sr.), RB Taylor Cox (Sr.)
Whatever questions might have existed about Kansas' offense heading into fall practice, they've all been moved down the list and replaced at the top with this pressing query: Who is going to run the ball for the Jayhawks in 2014?
James Sims graduated and Darrian Miller transferred to Northern Iowa, and on Aug. 19, coach Charlie Weis announced (subscription required) both Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox had gone down with season-ending knee injuries. The duo had combined for only 235 yards and three touchdowns last season, but as the top returners at that position, they were expected to provide some balance and stability in the background.
The carries will go to dual-threat quarterback Montell Cozart and a trio of newcomers: freshman Corey Avery, junior college transfer De'Andre Mann and freshman Joe Dineen, a converted safety. The Jayhawks were hoping to go with incoming freshman Traevohn Wrench, but he didn't qualify academically and ended up at a junior college.
Key injured players: WR DeVante Parker (Sr.)
As one of the few playmakers back from last season's 12-1 team, DeVante Parker was expected to be a big part of the offensive plans that new coach Bobby Petrino had in store for this year. But when news broke Friday that Parker had suffered a foot injury and was out indefinitely, Louisville's plans have to change just a week before its season opener.
According to Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal, Parker is set to visit an orthopedic surgeon in Charlotte on Monday. According to Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports, the surgeon, Bob Anderson, is the same one that performed surgery in 2012 on Derek Jeter's ankle and the future Hall of Fame shortstop missed most of the 2013 season.
The 6'3", 208-pound Parker decided not to turn pro after last season, when he caught 55 passes for 885 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was hot down the stretch in 2013 and figured to thrive in Petrino's up-tempo offense. Instead, the Cardinals must turn to fifth-year seniors Kai De La Cruz and Matt Milton, who last year combined to catch just 16 passes for 277 yards and three TDs.
Key injured players: RB Duke Johnson (Jr.), QB Ryan Williams (Sr.)
Miami has been dealing with its injury issues for quite some time—10 months, in one case—but the effect of those injuries continues to linger as the season opener looms Sept. 1 at Louisville.
First and foremost is the injury to Ryan Williams, who tore knee ligaments in spring practice and had surgery in April. Williams was expected to be the starting quarterback after backing up Stephen Morris last season, but with him out until at least midway through the season, the Hurricanes' starting job has been handed over to true freshman Brad Kaaya for the opener. Coach Al Golden announced that decision on Sunday.
Beyond that, Miami still has to worry about how effective running back Duke Johnson will be after missing the second half of last season with a major ankle injury. Johnson has rushed for 1,867 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first two years, and he's gained weight to become stronger. Golden told Mike Huguenin of NFL.com that there's certainly anticipation for Johnson's return, saying, "I think the biggest thing is we all want to see him pick up where he left off."
Key injured players: CB Charles Jackson (Jr.), LB Michael Rose (So.)
If Nebraska is going to break its streak of four-loss seasons, it will have to do so without two key defensive players who were both deemed done for the year on Aug. 8. Combined with a third player suspended for the season, the Cornhuskers have to replace 25 percent of their projected starting defense.
Cornerback Charles Jackson and linebacker Michael Rose both suffered knee injuries, while safety LeRoy Alexander was suspended for the season. Jackson was in line to start this year after serving as a backup and special teams standout in 2013, while Rose set a school record for tackles by a freshman in 2013 with 66.
With those players out of action, a trio of Nebraska newcomers are in line to get thrown into the mix in the secondary. Junior college transfer Byerson Cockrell and true freshmen Josh Kalu and Trai Mosley should all see a lot of playing time now, according to Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Key injured players: QB Braxton Miller (Sr.)
Of all the injuries to pop up during preseason camp, Braxton Miller's shoulder going out again was by far the biggest bombshell. It meant a national title contender went from having a veteran quarterback with a chance to set school, conference and FBS career records this season to having to use an untested backup.
Miller, who had offseason shoulder surgery after getting hurt in the Orange Bowl and missed spring practice, apparently reinjured the shoulder on Aug. 18 on a passing play and would need season-ending surgery. Miller's replacement will be redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, a 4-star dual-threat recruit from Texas who was part of Ohio State's 2013 recruiting class, per 247Sports.
OSU coach Urban Meyer remains optimistic about the season under the guidance of Barrett, but with the new passer's lack of experience and familiarity with the playboo, the offense will need to be simplified early on. He told ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike show (h/t The Columbus Dispatch) that "we're not at this point going to ask (Barrett) to throw that post corner on the field a 35-yard route on a seven-step drop. He's not made for that yet."
The Buckeyes had to live briefly without Miller last season when he suffered a knee injury, but senior Kenny Guiton was an experienced veteran and stepped right in for the seamless transition. That won't be the case with Barrett, and with OSU opening against Navy and Virginia Tech, the chances of early losses are more likely that before.
Key injured players: WR Bralon Addison (Jr.), OT Tyler Johnstone (Jr.)
When Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota tweaked his knee last season, his ability to run was compromised, and the Ducks' offense was seriously compromised. Mariota is healthy for this fall, but now he'll have to worry about protection on his blind side after left tackle Tyler Johnstone tore his ACL on Aug. 11.
It was the same ligament Johnstone tore in Oregon's Alamo Bowl win over Texas last December, and it is the second major injury to affect the Ducks' offense in the offseason. Bralon Addison blew out his knee in spring practice.
Johnstone was one of five starters returning on the Ducks' offensive line, but even with experience still around on the rest of the line, his spot is among the most important when it comes to keeping Mariota upright. In his absence, Oregon will turn to Andre Yruretagoyena, a junior who more or less filled in for Johnstone during spring ball.
Addison's loss means Oregon has to replace its top three receivers from 2013, so senior Keanon Lowe and track star Devon Allen will be the main targets for Mariota.
Key injured players: DT Kenny Bigelow (R-Fr.), LB Jabari Ruffin (So.)
USC's NCAA sanctions are officially over, but the impact of scholarship limitations that were part of the penalties still mean depth is an issue. That means every injury the Trojans suffer is exacerbated, which is being seen on the defensive side with Kenny Bigelow and Jabari Ruffin going down for the year.
Bigelow was expected to contribute to USC's defensive line play this season, but with new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox switching to a 3-4 alignment, it meant Bigelow wasn't guaranteed to start. According to Michael Castillo of SI.com's Reign of Troy blog, Bigelow was behind Antwaun Woods at nose tackle before getting hurt.
The story was different with Ruffin, who was hurt after getting tackled following his interception of backup quarterback Max Browne during a drill, according to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. Ruffin was in a battle with Scott Felix, Quinton Powell and J.R. Tavai for the two outside linebacker jobs, but now USC has one fewer viable candidate to choose from.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.