- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires, and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.
And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.
Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.
Biggest shoes: Outside linebacker Travis Long
Long was a four-year starter -- starting every game, in fact, 47 in row -- for a defense that was never even close to mediocre. Yet he was highly productive and highly respected throughout the Pac-12. The question that many Cougars fans right now have is: "Well, we stunk with him being our best player for four years ... what about next fall?" Yes, that's worrisome. Long piled up 20.5 career sacks, which ranks No. 6 on the team's all-time list. His 42 tackles for a loss is the fourth most in school history. Last fall, he led the Cougs and ranked sixth in the conference with 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss. He was third on the team with 61 tackles, including 42 solo efforts. Long earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 for three seasons, and was second-team all-conference in 2011.
Stepping in: Junior Logan Mayes
Excuse me, Mr. Sour Puss, but the Cougars only posted their best win -- and best defensive performance -- of the year in the Apple Cup victory over Washington with Long on the sideline injured. The Cougars held the Huskies to just 269 yards and recorded three sacks and five quarterback hurries. So while Long was undoubtedly a great Coug, this isn't the zombie apocalypse. Further, there's an obvious replacement at the "buck" linebacker position Long played after being an end the previous three years: the 6-foot-3, 241-pound Mayes. In limited time last year, Mayes recorded 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries. He had five tackles and two QB hurries against the Huskies. Further, there's a quiet confidence in Pullman that the front seven will be far stouter in 2013 across the board -- linemen Xavier Cooper and noseguard Ioane Gauta are particularly promising, and the entire corps of linebackers is back. The Cougars probably can't entirely replace Long with a single body, but that might be a good thing. Long was a one-star constellation for four years. It might be better for Washington State simply to aspire to good team defense.