The reality of being injured is painful — beyond the realm of the physical — for any young athlete who has to live with the fact that he can’t step between the painted white lines on gameday. However, it must be especially wrenching for the athletes who are first on a depth chart, not third; counted on by their teams to be central anchors and producers; and legitimately aspiring to make the NFL.
Not all athletes are created equal. They are not granted the same skill sets or the same high ceilings to their capacities. There are Roger Federers, and then there are “worker-bee” tennis players such as Roberto Bautista-Agut. There are Michael Jordans, and then there are “grunt-guy” basketball players such as Kosta Koufos. In football, there are Peyton Mannings, and then there are Tim Tebows.
These differences are magnified at the collegiate level, where — as analysts such as Gary Danielson have pointed out for years — the differences in talent at various spots on the field are far more pronounced than in the pros. Individual matchups — and their attendant deficiencies — can be exposed to a much greater extent in college.
To put a finer point on all of this, it’s not so much that differences in the pro game don’t exist or can’t be exploited. The true point of separation is that with so many teams in college (compared to 32 in the NFL), you will see a lot more instances in which roster depth just can’t be called upon. A few programs can and will cultivate quality depth at one or a few positions, but not most.
Just about any football team will generally suffer when a credentialed starter is knocked out, and a backup has to step in. The central nuance involved is that the NFL backup will generally possess enough skills to make the drop-off between No. 1 and No. 2 on the depth chart a lot smaller than at the collegiate level. In the realm of the FBS, the gap between first and second on the depth chart might not be huge at the top programs, but it will be almost everywhere else. Moreover, even at top-flight schools, you’ll see some situations in which a quarterback or running back simply has to be able to stay on the field — if not for a full season, at least until October, by which point the backups can settle in and feel they can contribute when (or if) called upon.
With all this as prelude, a number of college football teams, just one week into the season, have encountered the pain of injury — not just to a backup or a marginal player who is not expected to be at the heart of the push for a national title (or a conference crown, or a bowl bid), but to a central figure, one of those high-end players relied upon to author a successful season.
The number of high-profile injuries is depressing and conspicuous.
Arizona, in the grand scheme of things, is comparatively lucky. The word “comparatively” is merited because Scooby Wright should be able to return in a month for the Wildcats, possibly for an early-October tilt against Stanford. Make all the jokes about Stanford’s offense that you’d like, but the Cardinal should be much, much better by then, and the game will be in Palo Alto. If Arizona can retrieve some Scooby snacks by then, the Cats can take a bite out of the Trees.
Other teams won’t have stars who will be able to come back that early. As a matter of fact, only the next team on this list can hope that a key cog will be able to return at any point in the season.
Clemson receiver Mike Williams doesn’t know his timetable for a possible return. No specific date or duration has been given after an injury suffered Saturday against Wofford. One thing to note about Williams’s neck injury is that he crashed into the base of the structure supporting the goal posts. The key detail is that the structure was extra thick, in a square shape, not the plain post with a thinner layer of circular padding. The thicker structure is part of a new goal post which can be mechanically lowered so as to avoid being torn down by fans. Life’s little (cruel) breaks.
After Williams, though, the rest of these players are definitely out for the season:
Tarean Folston of Notre Dame leaves a huge vacancy at running back for the Fighting Irish, putting more pressure on quarterback Malik Zaire.
Taysom Hill (what an unfortunate young man) will miss the rest of this season after being sidelined midway through last season. BYU will have to call upon Hail Mary hero Tanner Mangum for the rest of the season, and while Mangum can obviously play, he’s not as advanced in running the offense as Hill was.
Terrel Hunt of Syracuse is also out for the year, after a leg injury wrecked his 2014 season. The Orange are in deep trouble without their most athletic quarterback.
UCLA defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes was a highly-sought recruit, to the point of exhaustion on the part of competing schools (and the journalists who covered the story). His absence for the rest of the season removes a high-impact player from the Bruins’ equation. This is a major blow in a division as deep and competitive as the Pac-12 South.
None of these week-one injuries even touch on injuries which occured before the season began — to Thomas Tyner of Oregon (running back), Ed Davis of Michigan State (linebacker), Jarron Jones of Notre Dame (defensive lineman), and other players at the forefront of their respective rosters.
Writers and pundits spend seven and a half months in the offseason (or at least the balance of the summer) previewing intact versions of teams. When major injuries hit after just one weekend, the balance of power and probability has immediately changed.
We’ll find out if these and other injury-plagued teams are able to turn the familiar battle cry, “Next man up!”, into a lived-out reality.