The loss of a star player to the NFL draft can be difficult on any college football program. The loss of a Heisman Trophy winner, an all-purpose back or a shutdown corner can change a team's scheme altogether. But the start of a new college football season gives players looking for their shot at stardom a chance to step onto the scene and fill the holes left on the depth chart and in the hearts of die-hard fans. Be on the look out for these 11 players to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.
In the locker room after the Rose Bowl, Baker Mayfield finished his last interviews, then headed straight to where Kyler Murray had been standing. He gave Murray a hug, a symbol of the passing of Oklahoma's quarterback baton.
Good luck finding a player in Oklahoma's storied history who has had bigger shoes to fill than those Murray will this season. Mayfield staked his claim as the greatest quarterback in Sooners history last season by winning the Heisman while propelling Oklahoma to the CFP, which ended in the overtime loss to Georgia in the Rose Bowl.
With Mayfield behind center, Oklahoma went 34-6 over three years, captured three straight Big 12 titles and went to the playoff twice. That expectation won't change for Murray, a former five-star recruit who was one of the most ballyhooed quarterback prospects to come out of Texas so far this century. And anything less than another Big 12 championship and return trip to the playoff would be considered a disappointment for Murray, who will have only one chance -- he's slated to move on from football and join the Oakland Athletics' farm system after this season -- to put a stamp on his own legacy.
To help Murray, the Sooners could be even better around the quarterback than they were last season. The offensive line should be among the nastiest in college football again. Rodney Anderson, who led the country in yards from scrimmage during the second half of last season, is back. So are top receivers Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb.
Murray might not be Mayfield. No other Oklahoma quarterback has been or probably will be. But Murray has more than enough talent to keep the loaded Sooners attack humming. Perhaps all the way back to the CFP. -- Jake Trotter
Saquon Barkley was so versatile in how he could be used within the Penn State offense, and his stats from the 2017 season show how the coaches utilized his talents. Barkley had 1,271 yards rushing and 632 receiving. He was the centerpiece of the Penn State offense and terrorized defenses in almost every game. Replacing him is going to be nearly impossible, so why try to replace him with one person when you can use two?
The tandem of Miles Sanders and Ricky Slade should give the Nittany Lions two excellent options in both the run and pass game. Sanders has the experience as Slade is only a true freshman, but Slade should be able to catch the ball out of the backfield while Sanders carries the brunt of the rushing load. Sanders had only 31 carries last season, but had 191 yards on those few attempts.
Coming from the 2016 recruiting class, Sanders was the No. 43-ranked prospect overall, while Slade was the No. 17 ranked recruit in the 2018 class. If both players can complement each other and give the coaches a one-two punch, they could continue to keep defenses on their toes and give Penn State a few different options within the offense. -- Tom VanHaaren
It's expecting a lot of a true freshman -- especially one who didn't take part in spring practice -- to take over for a quarterback who meant as much to his team as Sam Darnold, but JT Daniels seems to be on track to play right away. He still needs to beat out redshirt sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears, however the early takeaways from Trojans training camp -- where practices are open to media -- indicate Daniels is every bit the player he was billed as coming out of famed Mater Dei High in Southern California.
The Gatorade National High School Player of the Year is accurate, decisive and, at this point, it would come as a somewhat of a surprise if he's not the Trojans' starter when they open the season against UNLV.
Coach Clay Helton came away impressed by the freshman's display in the Trojans' first scrimmage on Saturday. "I thought JT, for the first time in a live-game situation, looked very comfortable," Helton said. "Didn't look like the situation of being in the Coliseum was too big for him. And I like the way he distributed the ball."
If Daniels does win the job, he would be just the second true freshman quarterback in school history to so. The other was Matt Barkley, who, like Daniels, arrived at USC from Mater Dei after being named the national player of the year. -- Kyle Bonagura
Denzel Ward was yet another defensive player taken in the first round out of Ohio State. He was chosen No. 4 overall by the Cleveland Browns after an outstanding combine performance where he ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash. Ward had stifling speed and was one of Ohio State's best defenders at cornerback.
Normally it would be difficult to replace that kind of speed and production, but luckily for Ohio State, they recruit at a high level and have a replacement waiting patiently in Kendall Sheffield.
The Texas product was originally part of the 2015 class, ranked as the No. 12 overall recruit. He committed to Alabama out of high school, but eventually transferred to Blinn College, a junior college program. Ranked as one of the best JUCO prospects in the 2017 class, Sheffield eventually made his way to Ohio State where he is now in his second year in Columbus.
He played in all 14 games in the 2017 season and had nine pass breakups within the secondary. Sheffield showed off his speed in February 2018 by breaking Ohio State's 60-meter dash record by running a time of 6.663 seconds, breaking the previous record of 6.665.
Sheffield should be prominently featured in the Buckeyes' defense in the 2018 season and will get some help from his experience and the fact that Ohio State returns Damon Arnette, Jordan Fuller and Jeffrey Okudah in the secondary to complement Sheffield. -- VanHaaren
Finding a replacement for Bradley Chubb is more than just the numbers, though those were certainly significant. Chubb's personality was infectious. He was the unquestioned leader -- not just of the D-line, but of the entire locker room. In the weight room, he pushed everyone. On the field, he was a high-motor guy who also joked around and talked smack. He wasn't just the most talented guy on the field. He was the most energetic.
So while NC State has nabbed some big names on the recruiting trail, and the addition of transfer Joe Babros offers some depth, the burden of filling Chubb's sizable shoes rests largely with senior Darian Roseboro.
Considered the fifth starter on last year's line, Roseboro toiled in the shadows of his more established teammates, but this should be his year to blossom into a star in his own right. As a sophomore, Roseboro finished with 11.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, and only a loaded depth chart seemed to be standing in his way of a breakthrough. Last year, however, Roseboro saw a little less work and offered a bit less production, finishing the year with just 2.5 sacks. Still, he was a critical part of NC State's defensive line, and he has spent the past three seasons learning from the best.
No, Roseboro isn't likely to be the next Bradley Chubb. That's a high bar. But Roseboro is a clear leader for the defense, and Dave Doeren is on record saying that Roseboro will be the next NC State pass rusher taken early in the NFL draft.
That's certainly not to suggest Roseboro's in line for 25 tackles for loss -- Chubb's total from 2017 -- but he should be a pest for offensive linemen around the ACC, and he'll be the foundation of the Wolfpack's pass rush this year. -- David. M Hale
Quenton Nelson was drafted No. 6 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2018 NFL draft. It speaks volumes to Nelson's talent and ability to get drafted so high as a guard. Typically tackles are the offensive linemen taken in the top 10, but Nelson was considered a can't-miss prospect for many NFL teams.
Replacing an offensive lineman of that caliber is always difficult, but Alex Bars is going to try. Bars is moving from right guard to left guard to take over for Nelson and help push the Notre Dame offense forward.
Bars is a 6-foot-6, 315-pound lineman out of Nashville, Tennessee, with only one year of eligibility remaining. In his time at Notre Dame, he has moved all over the offensive line. He even has experience replacing Nelson from the 2015 season when Bars filled in at left guard for an injured Nelson. He started two games before sustaining an injury of his own.
In 2016, Bars started all 12 games at right tackle and then moved to right guard in the 2017 season. Seeing that he has moved around so much in his career, it shouldn't be difficult for him to move from right guard to left guard for the 2018 season.
Bars and Sam Mustipher will be the two senior leaders of a revamped line and Notre Dame will need those two to make a big impact. -- VanHaaren
Georgia coach Kirby Smart doesn't expect another Roquan Smith to come through the door in Athens. The former Butkus Award winner who racked up 137 tackles last season is gone.
"It might take three linebackers to fill the role of what Roquan Smith did," Smart said.
But if you're not satisfied with the by-committee approach and you're looking for one guy who might be able to fill his shoes best, look to Monty Rice, who has the kind of sideline-to-sideline speed that coaches covet.
He's young and he hasn't necessarily proven himself yet, but Rice has that kind of potential. Smart said there were times he forgot that the 6-foot-1, 235-pound linebacker was a freshman last season because he had enrolled early.
"Here's a kid that comes in midyear, embraces the role of being a linebacker behind Roquan," Smart said. "He learned from Roquan. Those other players really embraced him. Then he comes out and makes a lot of tackles. The one unique characteristic he has is he can run. I think the linebacker position if you had to cut everything else, outside intangibles, you want speed. He can do that."
Rice appeared in 14 games last season and registered only 22 tackles. But in Georgia's spring game last April, he showed what he could do with more opportunities, leading the team with 14 stops. -- Scarborough
The thing that makes Derwin James so difficult to replace is that it's impossible to boil down his impact on Florida State's defense to any one thing. He was tough against the run and brilliant in coverage. He lined up at safety, nickel and corner. FSU could bring him on the blitz or use him as a decoy. He commanded attention wherever he went, and so the trickle-down effect on the rest of the defense was immense.
So long story short, no one steps in and does all that James did. But this is a different Florida State defense, too, and while Stanford Samuels III isn't likely to match James' impact, he might be in an even better position to succeed.
Like James, Samuels arrived at Florida State amid a good bit of hype. A four-star recruit and the No. 7 overall corner in the country in the class of 2017, Samuels comes with ample pedigree.
In addition to his stellar work in high school, he's also the son of the former Florida State corner with the same name. The elder Samuels was a standout for FSU in the early 2000s and played for seven years in the pros. The younger Samuels may have even more upside.
The game plan for Samuels under new defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett will technically be for him to play safety, just as James did, but he'll be asked to handle man-to-man coverage routinely and will be moved around the field to best utilize his skill sets to create matchup advantages.
At 6-foot-2, Samuels offers the same size advantage as James, but he checks in almost 30 pounds lighter. That's a potential concern when playing the run or getting matched up against an athletic tight end. But in Barnett's defense, that might be less of a concern.
Samuels will be put in a position to make plays, so while his overall impact may not match James' impact, his stat line might end up looking a lot better. -- Hale
There's something about South Florida receivers going to Alabama.
First, it was Miami native Amari Cooper, who transformed into a Heisman Trophy contender with 124 catches in 2014. Then came Calvin Ridley, who grew up less than an hour from Cooper in Fort Lauderdale and finished his career at Alabama with 224 (228) career receptions -- four shy of Cooper's mark.
Now it's Jerry Jeudy's turn.
Jeudy, who became friends with Ridley in high school in nearby Deerfield Beach, didn't have quite the same breakout freshman campaigns as his predecessors, catching just 14 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. But ask around and there's no doubt he's a similar talent.
If you watched the College Football Playoff National Championship, you saw it. On the game's biggest stage, Jeudy not only saw the field, he was targeted three times and hauled in a pivotal 20-yard reception.
"Really explosive receiver, really fast, surprisingly strong," Alabama tight end Hale Hentges said of Jeudy last year. "And he kind of brings that same attitude and swagger that Calvin brings, that South Florida attitude that I feel like is really infectious and really great to have in a teammate."
With all that said, don't be surprised if there's a difference between Jeudy and both Ridley and Cooper. Unlike them, he's not expected to be quite the same kind of focal point of the offense. Rather, Jeudy is part of a trio of young wideouts who are expected to help round out the passing game.
In Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and DeVonta Smith, Alabama has what could develop into one of the better receiver corps in the SEC. -- Scarborough
After catching 31 passes for 574 yards and five touchdowns in 2016, Chico McClatcher was in line for a big season a year ago. John Ross was off to the NFL, and opposite Pettis, McClatcher figured to be the No. 2 option for quarterback Jake Browning.
Those hopes ended in September when he suffered both ankle and knee injuries that sidelined him for the final nine games of the season. Now, with Pettis also gone, all eyes are back on McClatcher. "I think everybody knows how explosive he is and how tough he is," said UW offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan, per the Seattle Times. "When he touches the ball, anything can happen."
In addition to the impressive 18.5 yards per reception he averaged in 2016, McClatcher also had 18 carries for 131 yards. His versatility makes him not only an important cog in the Huskies' offense, but potentially one of the most dangerous offensive players in the country.
We'll have to wait and see how he looks coming off the injuries, but there is no reason to expect anything other than a breakthrough year. -- Bonagura
This is a different kind of year for LSU, seeing as there's no natural handoff from the No. 1 to the No. 2 tailback a la Stevan Ridley to Michael Ford, Ford to Jeremy Hill or Leonard Fournette to Derrius Guice. Because when Guice left for the NFL after rushing for 1,251 yards and 13 total touchdowns last season, so did the team's second-leading rusher, Darrel Williams. Which leaves Nick Brossette, who rushed for just 96 yards on 19 carries. Now, he's the active leader in rushing yards in the locker room with 306.
But what Brossette lacks in stats, he makes up for in overall experience and talent. He's already a senior with 34 games under his belt. Now, the 6-foot, 221-pound Baton Rouge native isn't buried on the depth chart and could show more than the flashes of power and athleticism we've seen.
He won't have to do it on his own, though. Coach Ed Orgeron said at SEC media days last month that the Tigers have "two or three outstanding backs," including Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Orgeron seemed excited about what Chris Curry, a former four-star freshman from Florida, will do as well.
LSU fans who grew accustomed to a one-two punch like Fournette and Guice might have to adjust expectations this season. This might be a three-man rotation with Brossette in the lead. -- Alex Scarborough