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January 20, 2011

College Football Report - The Departing Underclassmen Effect:

When college underclassmen leave early for the NFL, there are without a doubt consequences a team must overcome.

Seniors are expected to leave, in fact, they can’t stay. So that’s something coaches have planned for. Last season, when Tim Tebow was set to leave Florida, Urban Meyer and staff had that covered. It was supposed to be Cam Newton waiting in the wake; he left, so they had the Florida High School Player of the Year in John Brantley, to plug in at quarterback. No problem.

What Florida coaches hadn’t planned for was the five key underclassmen who would denounce their senior seasons. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap, cornerback Joe Haden, offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey, safety Major Wright and tight end Aaron Hernandez would all be leaving. It’s the departing underclassmen effect.

Did it have an effect on the Gators 2010 team? If dropping from a 13-1 record in 2009, to an 8-5 record this year is a problem, then yes, it did. A big reason the Gators dropped so far from one year to the next could also be the fact that they lost one of college football’s greatest players ever in Tebow, but the other five certainly played a role.

From week-to-week, the Gators were continuously placing one of the youngest teams’ together on Saturdays. From freshman and redshirt freshman alone the Gators had a combined 37 starts. Three other true freshmen were consistent contributors on defense.

The loss of Tebow surely had an effect, but the youth and inexperience might have played a larger role than most think.

Florida wasn’t the only team affected by the 2010 Draft early entrees. Georgia Tech lost wideout Demaryius Thomas, defensive end Derrick Morgan, running back Jonathan Dwyer and safety Morgan Burnett. Apart from quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, the four lost players can be argued as the best the Rambling Wreck had to offer, as they led Tech to an ACC Championship and 11-3 season.

This season, Georgia Tech struggled mightily on defense and lacked fluidity on offense, on their way to a 6-7 year.

Notre Dame improved from a 6-6 season in 2009 to an 8-5 record in 2010. Even with the early departures of quarterback Jimmy Clauson and wideout Golden Tate, the two biggest offensive weapons for the Irish. The Irish may have been better with Clauson and Tate still around, though.

Notre Dame’s defense, which had been its achilles heal for the last decade, had finally become the focal point and key contributor to Notre Dame wins in 2010. The offense, without Clauson and Tate, dropped from No. 24 in total offense, to No. 61 this season. In some cases, Clauson and Tate could have helped the Irish to an even better 2010 record.

In other cases, it gets hard to point at underclassmen leaving contributing to holding a program back. Without the departure of Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford last season, Landry Jones doesn’t have a breakout season. If Dez Bryant were still around at Oklahoma State, we would not have gotten to marvel in the play of wideout Justin Blackmon.

In most instances, however, the underclassmen effect still holds true. Next season may be no different for a few notable teams from the 2010 season:

Alabama: 2010 -10-3

Head Coach Nick Saban has almost seemed to plan for early departures while at Alabama. In his numerous over signed classes and continuing success, early departures haven’t seemed to hurt the Tide, yet. Two of ‘Bama’s biggest offensive weapons depart in running back Mark Ingram and wideout Julio Jones. While some may argue that backup running back Trent Richardson is just as good as Ingram, replacing a Heisman winner will still have an effect. On the defensive side of the ball, Marcell Dareus will be a much larger loss than most expect. Not only did Dareus disrupt a countless number of plays, but he took up space and blockers along the defensive front better than anyone.

Georgia: 2010 - 6-7

Past drafts and early departures have taken a toll on the Bulldogs. Next season may be no different, with the early departure of star wideout A.J. Green. Georgia’s offensive production dropped mightily when Green was serving a suspension, and if no one steps up in Greens absence, next season may be no different. Not only has Georgia lost their best offensive player, but they also lose their best defender, in linebacker Justin Houston. A pass rushing demon, Houston was a key part to the Bulldogs 3-4 defense.

Auburn: 2010 -14-0

The Tigers lose just three players, but it hits Auburn hard, most notably at quarterback where Cameron Newton will depart. Newton certainly contributed to a few of the Tigers wins this season by himself and the quarterbacks behind Newton are an inexperienced group. Consensus All-American and Lombardi winner Nick Fairley also departs. A disruptor on nearly every defensive play, Fairley may be even harder to replace than Newton. The last is wideout Darvin Adams, who led the team in receiving this season. The departure of Adams leaves the Tigers with just one experienced wideout in Emory Blake.

Illinois: 2010 -7-6

In a team not built for early departures, the Illini should take this season’s three with a grain of salt. Running back Mikel Leshoure broke-out this season, rushing for nearly 1,700 yards and will be a heavy piece of the offensive puzzle to replace. Linebacker Martez Wilson and defensive tackle Corey Liuget were the Illini’s top two defensive playmakers and should leave the defense behind, for at least next season. Liuget went often unnoticed, but became a key part to the success Illinois enjoyed down the stretch this season.

Missouri: 2010 -10-3

Like Georgia, Missouri loses just two players early to the NFL Draft. Also like Georgia, though, those two players happen to be the Tigers two biggest playmakers on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert became the pride of Gary Pinkel and a key piece to the success of a 7-0 start this season. Gabbert is considered by some, the draft’s top quarterback, and definitely would have helped the Tigers to a great 2011 season. On defense they lose defensive end Aldon Smith. Smith built on his Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honor, bringing in 11 sacks in 2010.

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