NCF Nation: preseason impact

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

There's been no escaping the preseason injuries this year in the SEC.

Florida's already had five ACL tears, and the one that hurts the most was to tight end Cornelius Ingram. The Gators had big plans for their two-tight end package featuring Ingram and Aaron Hernandez.

Ole Miss lost perhaps the best pass rusher in the league for half the season when Greg Hardy underwent surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot, while Auburn lost starting cornerback Aairon Savage to a torn ACL.

But no loss has stung as much as Georgia finding out earlier this week that it would be without starting left offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant for the entire season. Sturdivant, the Bulldogs' best and most athletic offensive lineman, tore his ACL in a scrimmage.

The Bulldogs are good enough and deep enough to get through this setback, but losing a left tackle in the preseason is akin to losing your shortstop in baseball during spring training. Everybody else has to adjust.

As good as Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford is, you wonder what losing his left tackle will do to his psyche. A left tackle might as well be a bodyguard for a pocket passer like Stafford.

Georgia offensive line coach Stacy Searels, one of the best in the business, still has a couple of weeks to sort everything out. Redshirt freshman Josh Davis is getting most of the first-team work at left tackle, but Searels is smart enough to cross-train his guys. So sophomore guard Clint Boling is working some at left tackle, as are Kiante Tripp and Vince Vance. Tripp was working as the No. 1 right tackle before Sturdivant went down.

The Bulldogs also have younger players they like. Freshman Ben Jones may get a shot at both center and guard, while freshman Cordy Glenn will be one to watch at tackle.

A year ago, Searels got three freshmen ready to play in the offensive line, but this may be a more daunting challenge. Teams will test Georgia early on the left side and come after Stafford with everything they've got.

Of course, they were saying the same thing a year ago when the Bulldogs elected to start a true freshman at left tackle. Some guy named Sturdivant.

All he did was start 13 games and win Freshman All-SEC honors. The Bulldogs will miss him and may struggle early without him, but they're still good enough everywhere else to be in the middle of the SEC championship race.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

 
 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
 All-Big 12 defensive end Auston English is just one of several Sooners on the mend.

Coaches try to get through training camp without many distractions, hoping to prepare their teams with a relatively stable roster heading into the upcoming season.

But it's not always easy. Ask Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, whose team has been dinged a couple of times in recent weeks to create a few questions about the Sooners' defense.

The misfortune started before training camp when returning All-Big 12 defensive end Auston English was idled after his appendix was removed. Although he's expected to return before the season begins, his conditioning will suffer because of the injury. It's anybody's guess how long it will take him to return to peak shape as the Sooners' top pass-rushing threat.

The Sooners suffered another hit when weakside linebacker Austin Box suffered a knee injury in practice and underwent arthroscopic surgery that will keep him out of action for at least the first game and perhaps longer.

His departure has opened a position for 25-year-old Mike Balogun, a converted construction worker who spent his junior and senior seasons in high school working to help his family make ends meet. After blossoming at junior college, he's now running as the Sooners' first-string linebacker with Box out of the lineup.

Balogun's story is a good one. But it doesn't necessarily promise better production for a Sooner linebacking corps that already was disappointing Sooner defensive coordinator Brent Venables before Box's injury.

How much you might ask? When asked what he thought about his linebackers' development, Venables had a graphic answer: "I'm not ready to puke yet."

If Venables was sick about that, you can imagine how he feels about the decline of defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger, who once was thought to be one of the most talented Oklahoma players.

Granger was caught shoplifting at last year's Fiesta Bowl, suspended and then sent home on a bus before the game. Scouts have raved about his talent, but griped about his conditioning and lack of consistency.

Granger got in the Sooner coaches' doghouse at the start of training camp when he reported overweight. He's been stuck on the second team ever since.

The loss or decline of any of these players wouldn't be catastrophic. But collectively, they might start triggering some questions about an Oklahoma defense that already lost key playmakers such as Reggie Smith and Curtis Lofton from last year.

Is it enough to let a team like Missouri, Texas Tech or Texas come closer to challenging the Sooners' hopes for a record-breaking three-peat of Big 12 titles?

We don't know yet. But it isn't a good sign for Bob Stoops during the dog days of August.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

When Clemson left guard Jamarcus Grant began watching film of Alabama on his own time this summer, he said one overriding thought crept into his head: "Not be a failure."

On an offensive line that has to replace four starters, Grant is the biggest question mark because he has the least experience, but those within the program have said he's had one of the most productive camps.

"I think I'm ready now," said Grant, a redshirt junior who played less than 100 snaps last year. "I'm mature. I've been here three years. I guess three years ago I really didn't feel like things depended on me. Now I feel like I'm being depended on."

There's no question he is.

How Clemson's offensive line fares this season will have much to do with how far the Tigers can go. It's not like Tommy Bowden is filling the holes with players who don't have any experience. Center Thomas Austin is the leader of the group and started 12 of 13 games last season. Right guard Barry Humphries started seven games, including five at center and two at right guard. Left tackle Chris Hairston started in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Auburn at right tackle. Right Tackle Cory Lambert has just one start.

"I'm the only one up there with the least amount of experience," Grant said, "but just playing with those guys, we've been playing together for four years now, so I feel like I'm right there with them."

He's going to have to be. Coach Tommy Bowden has said the offensive line is his No. 1 concern heading into the season opener. This summer, though, has helped answer some questions on the line -- Grant being one of them.

"We're a unit," Grant said. "The players stand behind each other, they push each other. The coaches are letting us know that if you mess up, it's OK. We're going to go watch tape. We're going to get it right. We're going to come back, and we're going to practice, we're going to practice, we're going to practice."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten preseason has seemed downright boring compared to the rest of the country.

There's no Mark Sanchez or Ben Olson crisis in this league, and though Ohio State has endured a few recent off-the-field incidents, the Buckeyes have nothing on Georgia. None of the four major quarterback competitions -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana -- are settled, and the one in Ann Arbor could drag on for some time. Wisconsin dismissed running back Lance Smith, but the Badgers remain well-stocked at the position.

If the first two weeks of preseason practice have revealed anything, it's that a position that seemed weak in the league could be much better than forecasted.

The Big Ten lost seven of its top 10 receivers from last season, a group that included three-time league receptions leader Dorien Bryant, big-play dynamo Devin Thomas, Indiana career receiving leader James Hardy and Michigan stars Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. Aside from Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern, every Big Ten team entered camp with some degree of uneasiness about the wide receivers.

Michigan State and Indiana lost superstars. Michigan lost almost everybody. So did Purdue. Illinois and Minnesota needed second options. Iowa welcomed back several prominent pass-catchers from injuries. Wisconsin was very young at the position.

The anxiety level has dropped quite a bit.

Illinois, which will stress the pass more this fall, has produced several good candidates to complement Arrelious Benn, including juniors Jeff Cumberland and Chris Duvalt, sophomores Chris James and Alex Reavy and freshmen Jack Ramsey, A.J. Jenkins and Cordale Scott. Highly touted Fred Smith will make an impact this fall at Michigan State, but he's been overshadowed a bit by classmate Keshawn Martin. Michigan's young wideouts impressed first-year coach Rich Rodriguez from the get-go, and the Wolverines will lean on players like Darryl Stonum, Martavious Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Toney Clemons and Junior Hemingway come Aug. 30.

I was extremely impressed after watching Wisconsin sophomore David Gilreath, a big-play threat with tremendous speed. Though I didn't see Purdue practice after media day, junior-college transfer Arsenio Curry certainly looks like he can contribute alongside Greg Orton. Playmaker Andy Brodell is back in the fold at Iowa, and sophomore Colin Sandeman looks to be pushing incumbent Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for the starting job. Ray Fisher and Andrew Means headline a group of Indiana wideouts that also include some promising freshmen.

There has been so much buzz about the spread offense sweeping through the Big Ten. It looks like the league will have the moving parts to make those schemes work this fall.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

 
 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
 Ben Olson's foot injury could be the biggest impact news item in the Pac-10 so far.

With real, live games now two weeks away (hooray!), I'm trying to identify the biggest impact news item thus far.

Tempted to say it's this: the "jock itch epidemic" at USC -- just because I want to link to the story for, like, the fifth time.

Most folks would say it's USC quarterback Mark Sanchez's injury, but I discount that for two reasons: One, I suspect he will start on Sept. 13 against Ohio State; two, in any event, I think the Trojans can win without him.

While Washington isn't a front-line Pac-10 team this year, quarterback Jake Locker is a front-line player, and when he suffered a hamstring injury, it was big news because the Huskies can't win without him -- and that would immediately damage Tyrone Willingham's chances to put together the sort of season that would save his job. But Locker also looks to be quickly improving and should lead the offense at Oregon on Aug. 30.

That's why I'm going with UCLA quarterback Ben Olson's foot injury.

This is a for-real, needed-surgery, out-for-at-least-eight-weeks injury.

At the start of Rick Neuheisel's first spring session with the Bruins, he was overseeing a competition between two quarterbacks with significant starting experience in a UCLA uniform -- Olson and Pat Cowan.

Now he has neither, though Kevin Craft, the likely starter, saw some action at San Diego State.

Last we checked, QB is an important position, particularly in this conference.

Sure, with Olson's long injury history, it's not surprising he's gone down. But let's face it: More than a few of us probably wondered if offensive coordinator Norm Chow would be the guy to transform Olson's obvious talent into consistent performances.

Neuheisel already was handed a flawed team. The offensive line is pure mix-and-match.

The defense will have to carry this team because the offense is probably going to struggle to score 20 points per game.

And that was before Olson went down.

Toss in one of the toughest schedules in the nation, and it could be a long season.

Of course, it's always possible that Craft -- or maybe even someone else -- will toss around some fairy dust and the Bruins will shock everyone.

Not likely, but possible.

 
 Icon SMI
 Running back Dominique Lindsay suffered a knee injury during practice.

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Every year there are a few teams in the non-BCS possible that are labeled as teams to watch as the season unfolds. This year, teams such as BYU, Fresno State, BYU, East Carolina, TCU and Tulsa ascended that list either for past performances or future potential.

But East Carolina took a major hit to those chances when starting running back Dominique Lindsay suffered a knee injury during practice Tuesday evening and had surgery Thursday to repair it. Early estimations have Lindsay out for at least six-to-eight weeks, but that's the optimistic prognosis.

This is a huge blow to the Pirates, who graduated last season's leading rusher, Chris Johnson. Johnson was the school's all-time leader in all-purpose yardage and No. 3 in rushing. Lindsay was the next best rusher who had played significant snaps.

"I'm absolutely sick for a guy like Dominique who is a senior and has really busted his tail," East Carolina coach Skip Holtz said. "He put his heart, soul and energy into the winter workouts, the spring and the summer. I know that he's really devastated... We're just going to have to wait and see where this thing goes after the surgery."

The injury bug has hit few non-BCS offenses as badly as East Carolina. Six offensive players missed practice Wednesday because of injury, and three of those were running backs. ECU hasn't played with its full complement of offensive players since the first day of camp.

Already, ECU has to be worried about playing its loaded nonconference schedule of Virginia Tech, West Virginia, NC State and Virginia with its running back situation in flux. If the Pirates could have gone 3-1 through its nonconference season and made a nice showing in their loss, they might have had a case for a BCS bowl.

But now, that thought appears more like a dream, unless East Carolina finds a diamond in the rough during the rest of fall camp.

If Lindsay is lost for the season, East Carolina's hope of crashing the BCS party might be lost, too.

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