Early NFL Entries Hurt Gators, Others

When the final, official list of the college players leaving school early for the NFL was released, a couple of things were immediately clear. One, the chance of an SEC Championship game rematch between Florida and Arkansas certainly went down. Two, the chances of a Florida/Ohio State BCS National Championship Game rematch was also highly unlikely.

Florida was probably hurt more than any other team in the nation. The Gators lost four defensive starters off their national championship squad, leaving just two starters to return for 2007. Jarvis Moss could have given the Gators the top defensive end tandem in America. Instead Derrick Harvey will have to fend for himself. Reggie Nelson could have given the ’07 Gators the nation’s best safety tandem. Instead Tony Joiner will return and try to become a big play guy. Brandon Siler could have given the Gators a returning leader at middle linebacker allowing four young guys to compete for two jobs in that unit. Instead, Brandon Spikes, Jon Demps, Dustin Doe and AJ Jones need to fill three spots in the lineup. Ryan Smith could have allowed the young corners to battle for the starting job vacated by Reggie Lewis. Instead, Wondy Pierre-Louis, Markihe Anderson and Jacques Rickerson will have to claim two starting jobs between them.

Arkansas loses arguably the best all-around defensive lineman in the SEC in Jamaal Anderson and its best corner, Chris Houston. That’s in addition to losing offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, quarterback Mitch Mustain and receiver Damian Williams.

Ohio State did not do much offensively in the BCS Game, but through the year their top playmakers were Ted Ginn Junior, Anthony Gonzales and Antonio Pittman. All could have returned for another run at the title, but none of the three will.

So the teams that played for the SEC and BCS National Championships will be extremely hard-pressed to return to that level in 2007. I’m not saying none of them can, or will. But it’s not going to be easy with all the additional departures.

Let’s take a look at some other early departures and non-departures of note.

South Carolina —– I got in an argument with the columnist from Columbia the week of the Florida/Carolina game because he insisted Sidney Rice would return. I win! It was clear a year ago that Rice wouldn’t be around long and after a slow start he finished strongly, ending the year with 72 catches for 1,090 yards and ten touchdowns. The surprise is probably the departure of defensive lineman Stanley Doughty who wasn’t starting. Still, the head ball coach is going to have a better team next year.

Kentucky —– They could have lost receiver Keenan Burton (77, 1036, 12). They could have lost quarterback Andre Woodson (63 %, 3,515, 31/7). Instead both will return to make Kentucky, like South Carolina a very dangerous team next fall.

Tennessee —– The boys from Rocky Top already knew they were losing their senior receivers Jayson Swain and Bret Smith, so the loss of Robert Meachem is that much more devastating. Meachem (71, 1,298, 11) had a superb season, and his departure means the Vols will be without 22 of their 24 touchdown receptions from ’06. At least David Cutcliffe didn’t get hired to be a head coach elsewhere… Eric Ainge will really need him.

Georgia —– Running back Danny Ware’s decision to leave is probably a good thing in an overcrowded backfield, but they will surely miss studly defensive end Charles Johnson and his 9.5 quarterback sacks.

LSU —– The NFL was very disappointed that top notch defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey stayed in school. The NFL always wants more tackles, and Dorsey is special. However, LSU did lose quarterback JaMarcus Russell and offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher.

Florida State —– The Seminoles had an unusual situation with just one player good enough and old enough to even consider leaving early. Lawrence Timmons did so and will likely be a late first/early second round pick. Timmons and Siler strengthen a poor linebacker draft board.