As another year of football inches closer, everybody is looking for replacements.
Seniors graduated. Coaches moved on. Some talented players jumped up to the NFL.
Football programs obviously need to find replacements for these loses, but they are not the only ones. We fans have some holes to fill too.
How so, you ask? We lost some of the game's best, most talented, most compelling players. Some young men that were just a treat to watch--players you would keep watching regardless of their team, their record, or what the score might have been.
But these big names are gone for whatever reason, though we as fans are not surprised. It happens every year. And college football is awfully fickle, considering how fast it is to pick up on some one new.
Still though, there are some players that you just can't forget. You just hope you can find someone like them next time around. And that's what this article is about.
Percy Harvin, the standout wide receiver, running back, and all-purpose touchdown scoring machine from Florida, was in a class by himself when it came to making plays.
Once dubbed "the most exciting player in college football" by Lee Corso, Harvin's skill set bordered on "unfair"—fast, quick, agile, and unusually difficult to tackle. He was one of the few players who could literally score at any time.
The key to Percy Harvin: Big Plays. Here are a few: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhb8eZY5EjI
He had his weaknesses, of course, number one being his durability. Harvin was fragile to the point of absurdity, missing games due to ankle, hip, and hamstring problems and, at one point, migraines. It's a miracle his ACLs never exploded mid-play. Those issues, along with a positive test for marijuana, probably cost him several spots in the NFL draft.
Still though, we watched Harvin because we knew he would rip off some ridiculous run, or turn a dead play into a touchdown. Now he's in the NFL, and we need a replacement.
What we are looking for here is a player who has the potential to adopt Harvin's role as the resident "Big Play Waiting to Happen".
No consideration is given to a player's team, expectations, age, ect. However, more attention is given to those player's whose style is closer to Harvin's—i.e. they create most of their big plays off of runs or after the catch, as opposed to generally just catching the ball deep.
Also, these comparisons are not based only on statistics, though certain stats (namely yards per carry average) can be useful.
First up on the highlight reel is Noel Devine, tail back from West Virginia. Devine is shifty and ludicrously fast, and has a subtle ability to break arm tackles and bounce off of defenders if the tackle isn't square. He's a small back (5' 8", 175lb.), but that may just make him more difficult to wrap up.
Want some highlights? Here you go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7XKj68ja4Q
Devine first burst onto the scene as part what was quietly one of the best backfields in college football history. 2007 West Virginia featured Pat White at QB, Steve Slatonas the feature back, Devine as his understudy, and Owen Schmitt at fullback. As the spell back, Devine gained over 600 yards, averaging 8.6 yards per carry.
However, his sophomore season was disappointing in numerous ways. The departure of Slaton and Schmitt hurt the WVU backfield more than anticipated, and new head coach Bill Stewart's resolution to improve the passing game came at the expense of the running game.
Devine's carries went up as the new feature back, but his yards per carry average fell to "merely" 6.3. Bizarrely, his touchdowns went down as well, despite there being no other goal line back (again, too much emphasis went to the passing game).
This year, it looks even tougher for Devine, as now Pat White is gone as well. Physically, there are few players as explosive as Devine, and he may be the most similar to Harvin in overall style. However, with an questionable new system and average supporting cast, Devine may have a much harder time ripping off those big runs we all love to see.
Another intriguing candidate for Harvin's spot, as well as a dark horse for the Heisman, is Jahvid Best, the junior tailback from California. Obvious puns aside, Best may be the best open field runner out there.
Electrifying speed, nimble and capable of cutting on a dime, Best destroys things if he gets into space. He's another small back but can break arm tackles (though he is not as good as Devine at bouncing off the defender before getting wrapped up). He has a lot of versatility; he is an impressive receiver (and not just on short little swing passes) and has played in some wildcat packages.
Here are your highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqV4OqowNnQ
Best assaulted the Pac-10 last year, easily leading the conference in rushing yards (1580) despite injuries, and also leading the nation in yards per carry average (8.1) and ripping off God-knows how many rushes of 20 yards or more. Suffice to say it was a lot. His 15 touchdowns also reflect how much the offense had to lean on him; QB Kevin Riley threw for 14 TDs, but only completed 50% of his passes.
This season looks to be good for Best: Cal returns experience and talent on O-line (though they lost center Alex Mack), and their passing attack has "promise". All the passing game really needs to do is limit the 8- and 9-man fronts defenses present.
However, one point that Best really needs to improve on is his play against quality opponents. The only two games where Best did not have a run of 15 yards or more were against Maryland and USC—both good defenses, both losses.
To erase all the question marks, Best needs to some highlights against the Trojans (after all, Jaquizz Rodgers got plenty). With USC on a possible down-cycle, he could get them this year. One way or another, he is definitely a player to watch this year, because you never know--that next carry might be something special.
Moving onto the Big XII, the most accomplished returning receiver, Dez Bryant, is just about everything you want in a playmaker. He is relatively big at 6' 2", is very fast (especially for his size), and has unbelievable hands.
Bryant is also in the running for Best "Screw the Coverage, Just Throw it to Him" Receiver award (along with Julio Jones and Jermaine Gresham), as he can out-jump just about anyone.
Highlights anyone?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FJcT_NYV2Q
Bryant emerged as Weapon No. 1 in Oklahoma State's stunning offense. Unlike some similarly talented receivers who might languish for lack of a good quarterback or dependable running game, Bryant flourished as defenses could not focus on stamping out any one aspect of the offense. He destroyed secondaries, racking up nearly 1500 receiving yards (second most in the country), and pulling in 19 TDs.
If, however, you think Bryant just piggybacked off of the rest of his offense's skill, consider this: He accounted for nearly half of QB Zac Robinson's passing yardage and all but six of his touchdown passes.
Bryant is unlike the previous two playmakers (and Percy Harvin) because he is a pure wide receiver.
Despite being bigger, he is not as good at breaking tackles or running through potential tacklers. He is not very explosive in the open field, but he rarely needs to be. Most of his biggest plays come on deep receptions after incinerating his coverage, rather than off of short passes that turn into long gains.
The only real knock against Bryant, other than the talent surrounding him, is the fact that he plays in the Most Flammable League on Earth. The Big XII gained a bad reputation for playing touch football last season, and for having some really horrible secondaries.
Still, Bryant produced against just about every team he faced, though the better teams held him to merely "respectable" numbers.
With Oklahoma State looking like a dark horse BCS candidate, and the offense remaining virtually intact, Bryant is virtually a lock to come up with a highlight reel of a season. His big plays may not dazzle quite like the other contender's best, but Bryant will almost certainly have more of them.
And the "Other's Receiving Votes" Category... Each of these players were considered, but missed out on the top three.
Several big-name wide outs missed the list because they make big plays, but they either make them infrequently, or don't make them spectacularly enough. Julio Jones, for example, remains the most unfair receiver in football, just because his size/strength/speed combination is unmatchable.
Really how do you cover this guy? Who has 6' 4", 220lb cornerbacks that still run 4.4s? However, his best plays do not generally score, and he remains more of a deep threat than a space threat. Also in this category: Arrelious Benn, A.J. Greene, Golden Tate, Dezmon Briscoe
C.J. Spiller has enough raw talent and raw speed to be on this list. He has the same knack for the open field as Harvin, Devine and Best. And he is also slated to be be the feature back for the first time in his career.
However, he makes his big plays less consistently than the top-class players (Clemson? Inconsistent? Noooo!), and will likely be plagued by an ugly offensive line, chaos with the new coaching staff, and an unreliable passing game.
An interesting find during this article: Jahvid Best led the nation in yards per carry average last year. Who came in second? Joe McKnight of USC. Still, McKnight is also inconsistent with his big plays and will have to split carries with the other 300 five-star running backs stacked up at SoCal.
LaGarrette Blount of Oregon happened to be third on the yards per carry average list, and he is more likely to have a huge year McKnight. He gets the backfield to himself after splitting time last year with Jeremiah Johnson.
Though the Ducks do have a good bit of turnover on the O-line and a new head coach, Blount could merit watching. But he just is not as drop-dead electrifying as some other backs.
Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey of Florida are also likely to have great seasons, though they will be sharing the same backfield. Demps is the second fastest player in football and was bizarrely good at breaking arm tackles, despite weighing maybe 165lbs. soaking wet.
He may be working from the Percy Harvin's multi-purpose position this year in Florida's offense. Chris Rainey is a better open field runner than Demps, though technically "slower" (He claims to have beaten Demps in a foot race, and Devine too in an improvised sprint outside of a Walmart).
They are both deadly with space, and will probably combine for some outlandish numbers this year. But, besides that they are splitting carries, neither was able to take over games, probably because of their sporadic usage.
Who did I miss? Sound off in the comments.