We know all about guys like Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, and Colt McCoy—the All-Americans returning to make another run at a national title, returning to positions that will have to wait another year to be vacated.
What often times decides championships, though, are the players that have to step up out of obscurity and take the place of a star.
Take the quarterback that now has the reins of a national program where all the pressure is on his shoulders—like Aaron Corp at USC or Joe Cox at Georgia.
How about replacing the workhorse that was the fuel to an offense a year ago like Knowshon Moreno at Georgia, or the most prolific wide receiver in school history like Michael Crabtree at Texas Tech?
What these players do when it's their time to shine is what can determine whether teams are one-year wonders or whether those programs go on to become sustained national programs.
So let's take a look at what I think are some big shoes to fill in 2009. Not only do they have to replace a great player, but whether they do so will have a big impact on the outcome of the college football season.
New Guy(s): QB Joe Cox, Georgia, Senior/RB Caleb King, Georgia, Sophomore
Replacing: Matt Stafford, first overall draft pick, 3,459 passing yards, 25 touchdowns/ Knowshon Moreno, 12th overall draft pick, 1,400 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns
Although Stafford didn't get his SEC title ring, he will go down as one of the best QBs in Georgia history. Fifth-year senior Joe Cox has paid his dues, and now it's time for him to be the quarterback Georgia fans want him to be in order to win an SEC title.
Cox actually hasn't lost a football game as a starting quarterback since middle school, including a win over Colorado two years ago. Cox doesn't have the flash that Stafford did, but Bulldog fans won't care if he gets them back to 10 wins again.
Like Stafford, Moreno will go down as a true Georgia legend, but without that SEC title ring. What will be tough for sophomore Caleb King to do is match the passion and fight that Moreno brought with him every Saturday.
King didn't exactly shine last season in Moreno's shadow, but let's see now that he's the No. 1 guy if he can step up his game and be the caliber back that's needed to win an SEC title.
New Guy: QB Aaron Corp, USC, Sophomore
Replacing: Mark Sanchez, fifth overall draft pick, 3,207 passing yards, 34 touchdowns
Really, Corp is replacing more than Sanchez. He's trying to continue the legacy of Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, John David Booty, and then Sanchez with four straight top Heisman candidates.
Corp has to hold off freshman Matt Barkley and transfer Mitch Mustain, and he would be maybe the most unlikely of the three candidates to replace Sanchez. Stud wideout Damian Williams, along with a loaded backfield, should help ease the transition.
New Guy: RB Chris Rainey, Florida, Sophomore
Replacing: Percy Harvin, 22nd overall draft pick, 1,300 total yards, 17 touchdowns
Harvin was to Florida what Reggie Bush was to USC. It's taken USC three backs to try to match what Bush could do; we'll see how Rainey does in replacing the electric Harvin. Although Rainey is a little smaller than Harvin, he has the sprinter speed and pass catching ability to do the same things that Harvin did in the SEC.
As anyone who watched the national title game against Oklahoma knows, Harvin was every bit the reason the Gators won that game as Tebow was. Florida will need that production from Rainey to repeat as national champs.
New Guy: QB Jarrett Brown, West Virginia, Junior
Replacing: Pat White, Round Two, 44th overall draft pick, 1,842 passing yards, 934 rushing yards, 17 total touchdowns
No big deal, Jarrett—you are only replacing the best football player in West Virginia football history. I know Mountaineer fans don't realistically expect Brown to be another Pat White, and that's a good thing because Brown is different than White: less running, more passing, but still the mobility to really make a team pay on the ground.
New Guy(s): QB Taylor Potts, Texas Tech, Junior/WR Detron Lewis, Junior
Replacing: Graham Harrell, 5,111 passing yards, 45 touchdowns/ Michael Crabtree, 10th overall draft pick, 1,165 receiving yards, 19 touchdowns
Even though Graham Harrell was maybe the best quarterback Texas Tech has ever seen, that program always churns out quarterbacks because of the system. It produces accurate, efficient quarterbacks every year, and there's no reason to think Taylor Potts won't be the next one. Potts is probably the most highly recruited quarterback the Red Raiders have landed and has big-time potential.
Replacing Michael Crabtree is an entirely different story. While the Mike Leach offensive system produces numbers, it can't reproduce a freak athlete like Crabtree was. Incredible hands, moves, everything that made Crabtree a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Detron Lewis will have to try to replace. Lewis had almost 1,000 yards last season himself, but he had only three touchdowns, a long cry from Crabtree's 19.
New Guy: OT James Carpenter, Alabama, Junior
Replacing: Andre Smith, sixth overall draft pick
It's not easy to replace a three-year starter, let alone a 6'5", 350-pound three-year starter. JUCO transfer James Carpenter should be able to step in this year and do a more than adequate job in replacing Smith.
Carpenter will have to hold off freshman giant D.J. Fluker, 6'5" and 340 pounds, but he should be your game one starter. If you want to know how important that left tackle spot is, go watch the Sugar Bowl against Utah, a game played without Smith. Bad ending for the Tide.
Here's a fun fact: Anyone know who signed Carpenter out of high school in Georgia two years ago? Try then Iowa State head coach and now Auburn head coach Gene Chizik.
New Guy: QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri, Sophomore
Replacing: Chase Daniel, 4,335 passing yards, 39 touchdowns
While Mizzou fans will never forget Daniel taking the Missouri Tigers to the peak of a national title and putting Mizzou football back on the map, they have much to be excited about in Gabbert.
The No. 1 high school quarterback in the country coming out of high school in 2008, Gabbert has the size and ability to help the Tigers rebuild in a hurry. The problem is the Tigers are replacing the most prolific quarterback in school history with a guy who has only thrown 13 career passes.