Biggest shoes to fill among the Independents and Others

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

As spring football quickly approaches -– some have already started -– there are several key names and positions who will be replaced on various teams around the Independents and Others. Below is a list of some of the key players lost after last season.

Brian Johnson, QB, Utah: There are a few players on the 2008 undefeated Utah squad who will need to be replaced this spring, but Johnson heads the list because of the intangibles he brought to the field. He was the team's overall leader. Several times last season, he put the Utes on his back and led them to victory. He was the heart and soul of that undefeated team and that is a hard person to replace. Forget the talent, it's going to be difficult to replicate the leadership Johnson displayed.

Nate Davis, QB, Ball State: There's no question that Davis was the engine that made Ball State move last season. As a junior, he led the Cardinals to an undefeated regular season and the highest ranking in school history. Now, with a new coach, the Cardinals will have to find a replacement to lead the Cardinals back to the MAC championship game. That person appears to be redshirt freshman Kelly Page.

Austin Collie, WR, BYU: Collie has been BYU's all-everything go-to guy each of the past two seasons, and now quarterback Max Hall will have to find other options for offense. Tight end Dennis Pitta is still on the team and receiver McKay Jacobson returns from his mission. During Jacobson's freshman year with the Cougars, he had 28 catches for 547 yards and three receiving touchdowns.

Brennan Marion, WR, Tulsa
: The coaching staff at Tulsa is used to breaking in a new quarterback, it's done it twice, but Marion has always been the constant for the Golden Hurricane, and moving on without his skill and leadership is not going to be easy. Damaris Johnson likely will fill the role of star receiver, but because of his youth, he won't carry the same kind of clout with his teammates as Marion did.

Jason Phillips, LB, TCU: Phillips was considered the heart and soul of the Horned Frogs' defense each of the past couple seasons. He led the team in total tackles and was second on the nation's best total defense in tackles for loss. He was an integral part of the Horned Frogs' run defense and will be a tough piece to replace.

Drew Willy, QB, Buffalo: Willy was one of the most underrated quarterbacks among the non-automatic qualifying schools this year. As a four-year starter, he helped transform Buffalo from one of the nation's worst teams to the Mid-American Conference champion. Although Willy didn't lead his team to a bowl win, he set it on the right path for success. Stepping into his shoes is an unenviable task.

Joe Burnett, CB, UCF
: In Burnett, the Knights not only lose a quality member of the secondary, they also lose the team's top kick and punt returner. Burnett ranked among the nation's top 10 in both kick and punt returns, and was second on the team in interceptions. Guys like Burnett come along once every blue moon and they're incredibly tough to replace when they're gone.

Jarett Dillard, WR, Rice: Really, the Owls are going to have a tough time replacing Dillard, quarterback Chase Clement and tight end James Casey. Those three players provided almost all of the Owls' offense last season, and Dillard and Clement are statistically the best wide receiver-quarterback duo in NCAA history. From the moment Dillard and Clement stepped on campus they said they had instant chemistry. That's not going to be easy to replace.

Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State: Ian Johnson won't be difficult to replace because of his rushing ability –- though he did lead the team in rushing and was second in total offense. The thing that set Johnson apart was his leadership and his selflessness. Even when his carries were scaled back each of the past two seasons, Johnson was still a team player and that's what has allowed Boise State to continue to be one of the nation's best teams. Jeremy Avery will replace Johnson as the team's leading rusher, but in terms of leadership and heart, there might not be a replacement.

Tyrell Fenroy, RB, ULL: It's going to be tough to replace the best running back in Ragin' Cajuns' history and one of the greatest running backs statistically in the NCAA. Fenroy and quarterback Michael Desormeaux were a large chunk of an offense that nearly led the Ragin' Cajuns to a share of the Sun Belt Conference title. ULL has other running backs in its stable, but no one as strong and as efficient as Fenroy.

Eric Kettani, FB, Navy: Kettani might have been one of the biggest keys to Navy's success as the nation's best rushing team and one of the toughest to replace. The Midshipmen lose their entire backfield to graduation, but Kettani was the only one invited to participate in the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine (which the Navy didn't allow him to do). Kettani was second on Navy in rushing and total offense. During the Senior Bowl, he had one carry for 1 yard and a score, and he also made a tackle. He also was a fun guy to be around, a leader and the type of player every coach wishes he had on his team.