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January 16, 2007

Leaving early: Winners and losers

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Two of the fastest underclassmen in college football were among the slowest in deciding their futures.

Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson and Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. waited until Monday's deadline before finally announcing their plans to enter the NFL Draft.

Peterson and Ginn - rated by Rivals.com as the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects in the 2004 recruiting class - head the list of underclassmen turning pro at least a year early.

The list of high-profile players entering the draft also features Louisiana State quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who catapulted himself into consideration for the top overall pick after picking apart Notre Dame's secondary in a 41-14 Sugar Bowl victory.

The decisions by Peterson and Ginn will make it tougher for their schools to return to BCS games next season, but LSU still has plenty of reason for optimism even without Russell on the roster.

Here's a look at what programs gained and lost the most this week when the nation's top underclassmen announced whether they were staying in school or turning pro. These lists also reflect that the jury is still out on how the list of early entries will affect a handful of schools.

MICHIGAN: The nation's top run defense lost its best run stuffer when Rivals.com second-team All-America defensive tackle Alan Branch decided to turn pro, but the news could have been a whole lot worse for Michigan. Rivals.com first-team All-America offensive tackle Jake Long, first-team All-America tailback Mike Hart and third-team All-America quarterback Chad Henne all decided to return to school. The return of those three players should make Michigan a legitimate national title contender again next season.
LOUISVILLE: Louisville lost its coach but kept its quarterback. The return of Brian Brohm ought to make new coach Steve Kragthorpe's job much easier as he attempts to maintain what Bobby Petrino built. Brohm once again will be throwing to Mario Urrutia, who also stayed in school and should emerge as one of the nation's top deep threats. The Cardinals lost star tailback Michael Bush to the NFL Draft, but they already have played nearly an entire season without him.
TEXAS: Vince Young remains the only Texas underclassman to leave school early during the Mack Brown era. Rivals.com second-team All-America defensive tackle Frank Okam's decision to return to school should give the Longhorns the nation's top run stuffer next season. Limas Sweed also opted to come back after catching 12 touchdown passes this season.
KENTUCKY: The Wildcats had barely finished celebrating their Music City Bowl triumph over Clemson when they found more reasons to celebrate. The Wildcats' three top offensive weapons - quarterback Andre' Woodson, running back Rafael Little and wide receiver Keenan Burton - all decided to return to school. That trio could give Kentucky one of the SEC's most explosive offenses next year. Now the Wildcats just need to assemble a respectable defense.
VIRGINIA TECH: Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi both plan on returning to school, which should give the Hokies the nation's top linebacking corps next season. Hall and Adibi combined for 210 tackles - 17 for loss - three interceptions and five forced fumbles in 2006.
FLORIDA: The underclassmen on the Florida men's basketball team all decided to return to school after winning a national title, but the top juniors on the football team didn't follow suit. Rivals.com first-team All-America safety Reggie Nelson, third-team All-America cornerback Ryan Smith, linebacker Brandon Siler and defensive end Jarvis Moss all decided to turn pro. Those defections leave defensive end Derrick Harvey and strong safety Tony Joiner as the Gators' only BCS championship game starters returning on defense. Florida did get some good news on offense when wide receiver Andre Caldwell chose to come back for one more year.
OHIO STATE: The hangover from that 41-14 championship game loss to Florida continued as one Buckeye after another announced his intentions to turn pro. Ginn, Rivals.com third-team All-America running back Antonio Pittman and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez all decided to enter their names in the draft. Ohio State will have to replace plenty of skill-position players on offense, but the Buckeyes at least welcome back offensive tackle Kirk Barton.
GEORGIA TECH: Complain all you want that the Yellow Jackets didn't utilize Calvin Johnson enough. He still managed to set school records for receiving yards (2,927) and touchdown receptions (28). The return of linebacker Philip Wheeler should make Georgia Tech's defense as strong as ever, but the loss of Johnson leaves the Yellow Jackets having to fill a gaping hole in their offense.
OKLAHOMA: Peterson was one of the best college players in the nation for 2-1/2 years before breaking his collarbone midway through the 2006 season. Although he was widely expected to turn pro after his junior year, the star tailback teased Sooners fans by stewing over the decision as long as he could before finally announcing Monday. As good as Peterson is, the Sooners proved this season they could win without him. Oklahoma captured the Big 12 title and continued to run the ball effectively even after Peterson got hurt.
SOUTH CAROLINA: How much did Sidney Rice mean to South Carolina's offense? The redshirt sophomore played just two seasons for the Gamecocks and still set a school record with 23 touchdown catches. The former Rivals.com national freshman of the year also had 11 100-yard games during his brief college career. Rice's departure will force the Gamecocks to rely more on Kenny McKinley, who caught two touchdown passes in the Liberty Bowl victory over Houston.
LOUISIANA STATE: Consider it a good news-bad news scenario for the Tigers. The loss of quarterback JaMarcus Russell certainly hurts, but LSU's defense got a big boost when Rivals.com first-team All-America defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey decided to return for his senior season. LSU also is the rare school that has enough depth at quarterback to overcome the departure of Russell. Matt Flynn showed his outstanding potential by leading the Tigers to a 41-3 triumph over Miami in the 2005 Peach Bowl. Ryan Perrilloux is a former five-star prospect who also could challenge for the starting job if he gets his off-field issues sorted out prior to next season.
HAWAII: The Warriors appeared to suffer a devastating blow when Colt Brennan entered his name in the draft after setting an NCAA single-season record with 58 touchdown passes. But don't write off the Warriors just yet. Brennan indicated through a team spokesman that he hadn't decided whether to turn pro. The junior quarterback still can withdraw his name from the draft by Thursday. Hawaii should open next season in the Top 25 if Brennan returns.
TENNESSEE: Rivals.com first-team All-America wide receiver Robert Meachem is entering the NFL Draft, but the guy who threw passes to him this fall is coming back to school. The return of quarterback Erik Ainge should make Tennessee a legitimate BCS contender next fall.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: USC's offense faces a tough task in replacing Rivals.com second-team All-America receiver Dwayne Jarrett. So why are the Trojans the No. 1 team in the first Rivals.com 2007 preseason poll? First, the Trojans have so many former four-star and five-star prospects in their receiving corps that they just might be able to replace Jarrett. USC also should benefit from the returns of Rivals.com second-team All-America offensive tackle Sam Baker, linebacker Keith Rivers and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis.
ARIZONA: The Wildcats lose running back Chris Henry, who rushed for a team-high 581 yards and seven touchdowns last season. But they welcome back Rivals.com second-team All-America cornerback Antoine Cason, who will enter the 2008 season as one of the top contenders for the Thorpe Award - which goes to the nation's top defensive back.

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