Losing the combination of quarterback JaMarcus Russell, offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher and offensive line coach Stacy Searels will hurt LSU temporarily, but there's enough talent, depth and coaching returning to ensure the Tigers will be the top contender for the SEC West title this fall.
Not every SEC program can say the same following the departure of some of the conference's underclassmen to the 2007 NFL Draft.
Just as the SEC was once again rising to top of the college football world in 2006 after a relatively down cycle, some of the players who elevated the conference will be playing in the NFL this fall. That's something every top program has come to expect in recent seasons, but it's not something every team can survive without taking a big hit or two.
It's all too easy to question the decisions of individual players, but it's just as easy to be wrong about the needs, desires and goals of those players. Some have economic and family concerns to address. Some are simply ready to move on to their chosen profession.
Moving past those individual decisions and LSU's well-documented comings and goings in recent weeks, let's take a look at the rest of the SEC's losses to see how various programs stack up now that the dealing for entering the draft has left its mark on the conference.
It's tough enough losing seniors such as quarterback Chris Leak, receivers Dallas Baker and Jemalle Cornelius, Wynn, fullback Billy Latsko, center Steve Rissler, defensive linemen Ray McDonald, Steven Harris and Joe Cohen, linebackers Earl Everett and Brian Crum, cornerback Reggie Lewis, punter Eric Wilbur and kicker Chris Hetland.
The Gators caught a break when defensive end Derrick Harvey and wide receiver Andre Caldwell decided to return for their senior seasons, but the 2007 NFL Draft will take a heavy toll on a defense that exacted a heavy price from Ohio State's Heisman Trophy quarterback Troy Smith in the BCS National Championship.
The decisions of those juniors and the loss of 21 seniors now leave the Gators with just eight seniors-to-be and just seven juniors-to-be for the 2007 season. Critics claimed coach Urban Meyer won with former coach Ron Zook's staff, but the gaps between the departing players and Meyer's freshmen is significant.
Meyer has already made it clear
that many of the current recruits preparing to sign with
That would prevent the Gators from contending for another SEC title, but don't be surprised if they endure a "down" season or two (relative to the 2006 season) before they're on top and contending for a national championship again.
The shock hit when offensive
coordinator Gus Malzahn took off for
Malzahn was supposed to open up the
Mustain started eight games and the
Hogs won all eight before he was demoted in favor of sophomore Casey Dick.
Williams and Cleveland played an active role in the offense until late in the
season when Nutt took control of the offensive game plan to favor of the running
game. Malzahn introduced the diverse Wildcat package that used tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in multiple roles, but Nutt's ego forced the Razorbacks
to abandon the plan before a poor offensive performance against
Along the way, the parents of Mustain, Williams and Cleveland met with Broyles to express their belief that they had been deceived by Nutt during the recruiting process.
Nutt eventually informed Malzahn he would be demoted and would no longer call the plays and started looking for a new offensive coordinator midway through the 2006 season. By the time Nutt hired former Arkansas quarterbacks coach David Lee away from the Dallas Cowboys to run the offense, Mustain had already left to become co-coordinator and assistant head coach at Tulsa and Mustain had received his release from Arkansas.
With Williams leaving the program
in December and transferring to USC and the departure of both Malzahn and
Perhaps the Razorbacks will find a
way to adequately replace Anderson, Houston, Williams, Mustain and Malzahn, but
it will be difficult for Nutt to overcome the public hits he's taken over the
past three weeks. Many
The most curious decision is the
departure of tailback Danny Ware. His
Ware finished his junior season as
While Ware isn't considered a first-day draft pick by any means, he figured if he wasn't going to start and see more playing time as a senior he might as well move on to the NFL.
"I just looked at the situation of how many running backs we had and just came to the realization it wasn't going to be any different than this year," Ware said.
While his departure doesn't deprive
the Bulldogs of a star player, it does leave
On the plus side, two defensive starters - cornerback Paul Oliver and linebacker Brandon Miller - decided to return for their senior seasons. Oliver's return is especially important because it gives the Bulldogs a solid cover guy one side of the field. At 6-4, 250 pounds, Miller is expected to make the move to defensive end and replace Johnson.
The draft will be deep in talented
junior receivers, but the Gamecocks are not that deep or talented at receiver
without Rice. Kenny McKinley becomes
On the plus side, middle linebacker
Jasper Brinkley decided to return for his senior year after leading the team in
tackles in his first season at
His loss will be felt at
The good news for the offense is the return of senior-to-be quarterback Erik Ainge and the return of all three tailbacks. Then again, the Vols often struggled to run the ball effectively last season – even with Meachem, Swain and Smith. It will be interesting to see what the Vols do with their offense in 2007.
With defensive coordinator Will
Muschamp committed to adding more 3-4 diversity to
"I've coached some good
linebackers. He's as good as I've been around,"
Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author and featured columnist in Tiger Rag. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.