West Virginia hurt most by early departures

Originally Published: January 20, 2005
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Now that the list of underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft is all but official, it's time to look at who fared well and who was hurt by the early departures.

Five schools that did well

1. Auburn Tigers
Two All-SEC juniors, offensive tackle Marcus McNeill and linebacker Travis Williams, elected to return for their senior seasons, following in the footsteps of tailbacks Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown and cornerback Carlos Rogers a year ago.

2. Texas Longhorns
Coach Mack Brown has convinced star after star to remain for his senior season, and this year has been no different. Five juniors who made first- or second-team All-Big 12 decided to return for their senior seasons, including offensive left tackle Jonathan Scott, defensive lineman Rodrique Wright and linebacker Aaron Harris.

3. USC Trojans
The return of Matt Leinart speaks for itself. The Trojans have their offensive leader and a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback. The news wasn't all good, though. Linebacker Lofa Tatupu's decision to forego his senior year means that the defense will lose all four of its top players. Linemen Shaun Cody, nose tackle Mike Patterson and linebacker Matt Grootegoed are seniors.

4. Memphis Tigers
Junior DeAngelo Williams, who finished the season third in I-A in rushing with 1,948 yards and first in rushing touchdowns with 22, decided to return, even though all five Tigers on the 2004 offensive line were seniors. Williams gets another year to get stronger, and will join New Mexico's DonTrell Moore atop an otherwise thin class of senior backs next fall.

5. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Junior tailback Marion Barber III came out early, but he's only half of the Gophers' two-time, 1,000-yard tandem. Sophomore Laurence Maroney will be back for all the carries. Just as important, he will be running behind two All-Big Ten linemen who are returning, junior center Greg Eslinger and junior guard Mark Setterstrom.

Five schools hurt the most

1. West Virginia Mountaineers
Junior wideout Chris Henry could have helped the next Mountaineer quarterback -- freshman Dwayne Thompson? -- ease into his job. Instead, West Virginia will start next season without its leading passer (senior Rasheed Marshall), rusher (senior Kay-Jay Harris), receiver (Henry) and kick returner. Adam "Pac-Man" Jones, a junior cornerback and returner, is coming out as well.

2. Nebraska Cornhuskers
The heart of the secondary -- junior safety Josh Bullocks and junior corner Fabian Washington -- is leaving early for the NFL. The Huskers finished last in the Big 12, giving up 267.6 passing yards per game, but still allowed only 18 passing touchdowns. Does anyone still play bend-don't-break in the NFL?

3. Temple Owls
The Owls' future, already in doubt now that they are out of the Big East, looks bleaker after the departure of All-Big East linebacker Rian Wallace, second-team All-Big East quarterback Walter Washington, and defensive tackle A.J. Lindsay.

4. (tie) Florida Gators and Utah Utes
It's impossible to know how well junior tailback Ciatrick Fason and sophomore linebacker Channing Crowder would have fit into the schemes brought in by coach Urban Meyer. Ditto for the Ute offense that quarterback Alex Smith and wide receiver Steve Savoy would have run for Meyer's replacement, former defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham. But any coach could use players as talented as these. Crowder made All-SEC in both seasons of his Gator career.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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