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August 22, 2008

Injuries, grades and suspensions affect all

The Southeastern Conference could put together an all-star team with all the guys who won't be playing for their respective teams this fall.

Defending national champion LSU kicked its prospective starting quarterback off the team.

Georgia, the top-ranked team in both major polls, will play the season without its top offensive tackle. Ole Miss' defensive line will play the first month of the season without two All-America candidates.

And we haven't even mentioned the injuries that decimated the secondaries of potential national-title contenders Florida and Auburn.

Of course, the SEC teams aren't alone. The ACC watched Virginia, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Duke lose key players because of injuries or off-field issues.

Penn State and Pittsburgh are other ranked programs that must replace key components from their front seven on defense.

So many players across the country are missing substantial portions of the season for injuries, academic reasons or other off-field issues that we couldn't limit our list of the biggest absences to 10 people. We instead have rated the 20 schools that have the largest unexpected holes to fill, and we're listing them in order of importance.

1. LSU QB Ryan Perrilloux (dismissed from team)
THE BUZZ: Perrilloux's involvement in a series of off-field incidents caused LSU coach Les Miles to kick the MVP of the 2007 SEC Championship Game off the team after spring practice. The move leaves the defending national champions without an experienced quarterback. Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch, redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee or true freshman Jordan Jefferson will start the Aug. 30 opener against Appalachian State. There's a good chance all three will get plenty of playing time in the Tigers' first three games before Miles settles on a guy to lead the offense in LSU's Sept. 20 SEC opener against Auburn.
2. UCLA QBs Patrick Cowan (knee injury) and Ben Olson (foot injury)
THE BUZZ: UCLA's season changed course in a matter of moments in the spring when Cowan and Olson were hurt on back-to-back plays. Cowan had just been named the starting quarterback by new UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel when he suffered a season-ending injury that required surgery to the anterior cruciate ligament on his left knee. Olson broke his right foot and later re-injured it, which will keep him out until sometime in October. UCLA will start the season with Kevin Craft, who threw for 4,231 yards and 44 touchdowns with 10 interceptions last season at Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) College. Craft began his career at San Diego State.
3. Georgia OT Trinton Sturdivant (knee injury)
THE BUZZ: Georgia was the nation's hottest team at the end of last season in part because of the way Sturdivant performed as a true freshman left tackle. But Sturdivant injured his left knee in the Bulldogs' first preseason scrimmage and will miss the season, creating more uncertainty on a line that already was relying heavily on underclassmen. Georgia coach Mark Richt has moved sophomore Kiante Tripp the projected starter at right tackle to fill Sturdivant's spot on the left side. The rest of the starting line at the moment has junior Vince Vance at left guard, sophomore Chris Davis at center, true freshman Cordy Glenn at right guard and sophomore Josh Davis at right tackle. The only returning starter in that group is Davis, who played left guard last year, though the line will gain more experience after sophomore guard Clint Boling returns from a one-game suspension.
4. Penn State LB Sean Lee (knee injury) and DTs Chris Baker (dismissed from team), Devon Still (ankle injury) and Phillip Taylor (dismissed from team)
THE BUZZ: Lee recorded 228 tackles the past two seasons and seemed on his way to following Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor as All-America linebackers from Penn State, but he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during spring practice and will miss the entire season. Lee's injury leaves senior Tyrell Sales as Penn State's only returning starter at linebacker. The other two likely starters sophomore Bani Gbadyu and junior Josh Hull combined for only 24 tackles last year. Sophomore Chris Colasanti and junior Navorro Bowman also could work their way into the mix. Baker and Taylor combined to make 11 starts last year for a Penn State defense that ranked seventh in the nation against the run. Their absence will seriously hurt Penn State's depth on the front four. Still is out eight to 10 weeks after breaking his left ankle in a Saturday practice. He missed the 2007 season with an injured left knee.
5. Virginia QB Jameel Sewell (academic suspension), DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald (left school) and CB Chris Cook (academic suspension)
THE BUZZ: Virginia already was going to have a difficult enough task replacing All-America defensive end Chris Long, but the unexpected departures of Sewell, Fitzgerald and Cook make it even tougher for the Cavaliers' to repeat their surprising success of 2007. Virginia now must rely on first-year starters Sean Gottschalk and Alex Field to replace Long and Fitzgerald, who combined for 21 sacks last year. Virginia may have an easier time replacing Sewell and Cook. Peter Lalich played in eight games last season while backing up Sewell as a true freshman. Virginia returns Vic Hall as a starting cornerback and also has Ras-I Dowling, who made 44 tackles and picked off two passes as a true freshman last year.
6. Florida TE Cornelius Ingram (knee injury), SS Dorian Munroe (knee injury), SS John Curtis (knee injury) and SS Jamar Hornsby (dismissed from team)
THE BUZZ: When Ingram tore the ACL in his left knee earlier this month, it left the Gators without one of the nation's most dynamic tight ends. As good as Ingram is, Munroe may prove more difficult to replace. Ingram's injury creates an opportunity for Aaron Hernandez, a promising sophomore who already figured to garner plenty of playing time this fall. The Gators also welcome back senior tight end Tate Casey, who has seven career touchdown reception. Florida faces a much tougher situation at safety. Munroe was the likely starter at strong safety before suffering a season-ending knee injury this summer. Curtis followed with his own torn ACL that kept him from replacing Munroe. Hornsby, a former four-star prospect who came out of spring No. 2 behind Munroe, was booted in May after he was arrested for using the credit card of a dead friend. The Gators likely will open the season with sophomore Ahmad Black a converted cornerback or true freshman Will Hill at strong safety.
7. Ole Miss DE Greg Hardy (foot injury) and DT Peria Jerry (knee injury)
THE BUZZ: The good news at Ole Miss is that its top few players compare with the biggest stars at any SEC program. The bad news is that the Rebels lack the depth of the top SEC schools. The worse news is that two of the best players Hardy and Jerry now will miss the first part of the season. Hardy had 10 sacks last season and ranked fourth in the nation in tackles for loss per game and sixth in sacks per game. Jerry had 14 tackles for loss to rank sixth in the SEC. Hardy had surgery last week for a stress fracture in his right foot and will miss at least the first few games of the season. Jerry could miss the first month after surgery Monday to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee. Their absence could decimate a team that ranked last in the SEC in total defense in '07. The injury problems have turned true freshman tackle Justin Smith into a potential starter.
8. Auburn CB Aairon Savage (knee injury)
THE BUZZ: Savage is one of the SEC's better defensive backs when he can stay healthy, but he missed six games with shoulder and ankle injuries last season and will sit out this season after tearing the ACL and medial collateral ligament in his right knee this month. Auburn still has a couple of experienced cornerbacks in juniors Jerraud Powers and Walter McFadden, but Savage's injury could create early playing time for true freshmen such as D'Antoine Hood, Harry Adams and Neiko Thorpe. Auburn proved last season it could withstand the loss of Savage. Then again, Auburn and LSU seem so evenly matched that this type of injury could make the difference in the SEC Western Division race.
9. Florida State G Evan Bellamy (blood clot in left leg) and T Daron Rose (academically ineligible)
THE BUZZ: An ineffective line has been a main culprit for Florida State's struggles on offense the past two seasons. The Seminoles have more reason to worry now that they have lost two projected starters for the season. Florida State's line features two rising stars in left guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon, but the Seminoles will be relying on first-year players at the other three spots. Junior college transfer Joe Tonga is expected to start at left tackle. Redshirt freshman Will Furlong is competing with true freshman David Spurlock at right guard. True freshman Andrew Datko, redshirt freshman Antwane Greenlee or true freshman Zebrie Sanders will start at right tackle.
10. Virginia Tech WRs Brandon Dillard (injury) and Zach Luckett (suspended)
THE BUZZ: The losses of senior wide receivers Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan and Justin Harper from last season's team meant Tech's receiving corps couldn't afford any unexpected departures. The Hokies instead suffered a one-two punch this summer with the news regarding Dillard and Luckett. After arriving on campus as a walk-on, Dillard won a spot as the Hokies' first-team flanker this spring. He didn't get much time to celebrate. Dillard ruptured his Achilles tendon this summer and will miss the season. The latest setback came this week when Luckett, a projected starter, was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team policy. Luckett had been arrested on a DUI charge last weekend.
11. Syracuse WR Mike Williams (suspended)
THE BUZZ: Florida International was the only Division I-A program to score fewer points than Syracuse last season. The Orange will have to add more punch to their offense this season without Williams, who was suspended from the team for academic reasons. Williams had 60 catches for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns to lead the team in all three categories. How important was Williams to the passing game? Consider that Williams' teammates combined for eight touchdown catches last season. Syracuse's top returning receivers are junior Lavar Lobdell and sophomores Donte Davis and Dan Sheeran. Lobdell and Sheeran combined for 12 catches last season, while Davis missed the season with a hand injury.
12. Wake Forest G Chris DeGeare (academically ineligible)
THE BUZZ: Plenty of optimism surrounds Wake Forest's program this year, but an inexperienced offensive line could prevent the Demon Deacons from living up to expectations. DeGeare would have been Wake Forest's top returning lineman, but the two-year starter will have to sit out the season for academic reasons. Tackles Joe Birdsong and Jeff Griffin each made at least five starts last season, but DeGeare's absence leaves sophomore guard Barrett McMillin as the Deacons' lone returning starter at the line's three interior spots. The likely starter at the other guard spot is sophomore Russell Nenon, who played 12 games as a reserve last season.
13. Notre Dame CB Darrin Walls (left team for personal reasons)
THE BUZZ: The lone bright spot in Notre Dame's dreadful 2007 season was a secondary that helped the Irish rank 22nd in the nation in pass efficiency defense. The secondary had emerged as the team's biggest strength until Walls left the team for what was described as personal reasons. Walls is expected back in 2008. Until then, the Irish will have to hope junior Raeshon McNeil or sophomore Gary Gray can adequately replace Walls, the team's top cover corner. The Irish didn't rush the passer well and couldn't stop the run last season. Their run defense and pass rush probably won't be any better this season without Trevor Laws. That puts more pressure on a secondary that now finds itself without a key component.
14. Clemson DT Rashaad Jackson (quadriceps injury)
THE BUZZ: Jackson recorded seven tackles for loss and 14 quarterback pressures last year, but he will be out until at least midseason after surgery last week to repair a torn quadriceps tendon. While no team likes to see one of its top defensive tackles go down, Clemson could afford this injury more than most programs. The Tigers already have All-ACC candidate Dorell Scott at tackle. They also return Ricky Sapp and have Kevin Alexander and highly touted true freshman DaQuan Bowers at end. The favorite to replace Jackson is junior Jamie Cumbie, a converted end who had 29 tackles and two sacks as a reserve last season.
15. TCU WR Donald Massey (academically ineligible)
THE BUZZ: Massey caught 29 passes for 364 yards last season to rank second on the team in both categories, but his grade problems will prevent him from playing at all this season. TCU's top returning receiver now is senior Walter Bryant, who caught 27 passes for 337 yards last year. Sophomore Jimmy Young also returns after collecting 23 receptions for 325 yards last season. The Horned Frogs also will need contributions from sophomores Bart Johnson and Jeremy Kerley, who combined for 15 receptions last season.
17. Pittsburgh DE Doug Fulmer (knee injury)
THE BUZZ: This was supposed to be the season Fulmer finally got a chance to prove himself, but he tore a ligament in his left knee this month and will miss the season. This represented the latest chapter in a frustratingly familiar story. Fulmer played the first four games of the 2006 campaign before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. He missed the 2007 season after surgery on his right knee. Pitt now is counting on a big season from sophomore Jabaal Sheard, who played nine games in a reserve role as a true freshman last season. The Panthers are set at the other end spot with the return of Greg Romeus, who recorded four sacks and earned Freshman All-America honors from Rivals.com last season.
18. Florida Atlantic TE Jason Harmon (knee injury)
THE BUZZ: Harmon caught 63 passes for 825 yards and five touchdowns to earn first-team All-Sun Belt honors for the New Orleans Bowl champions last season, but he will miss this season with a torn ACL. Harmon's injury leaves the Owls without their second-leading receiver from a year ago. The Owls will replace Harmon with junior Rob Housler, who caught five passes for 64 yards last season.
19. Duke RB Re'Quan Boyette (leg injury)
THE BUZZ: New Duke coach David Cutcliffe has emphasized the need to rejuvenate the Blue Devils' dormant rushing attack, but Boyette's absence could make that difficult. Boyette led Duke in rushing each of the past two seasons, but he had leg surgery this summer and has been ruled out indefinitely. The loss of Boyette could put more pressure on senior Clifford Harris and sophomore Tony Jackson. Harris rushed for 70 yards on 16 carries last season, while Jackson moved from strong safety to running back during spring practice. Duke averaged just 2.0 yards per carry and 64 rushing yards per game last season. Syracuse and Texas Tech were the only teams to rank below Duke in rushing offense.
20. Purdue RB Jaycen Taylor (knee injury)
THE BUZZ: Kory Sheets and Taylor combined to rush for more than 1,400 yards each of the past two seasons and figured to give Purdue a nice one-two punch again this season. Fate intervened Sunday when Taylor tore the ACL in his right knee, knocking him out for the season. Taylor rushed for 677 yards in 2006 and added 560 yards in '07. His injury could put more of a burden on Sheets, who has rushed for 2,210 yards and 32 touchdowns over the past three seasons.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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