CLEMSON - Nobody will forget Jadeveon Clowney or Sammy Watkins, Tajh Boyd or Connor Shaw anytime soon in this state. Their places in South Carolina and Clemson football history are secure - but it's just that: history.
With those players - along with others like USC's Bruce Ellington and Clemson's Martavis Bryant - on their respective schools' rosters, the Gamecocks won 33 games and the Tigers won 32 games the last three years.
Now, they're gone. In college football, nobody gets more than four years to thrive, and therefore, it's time for The Replacements to step up.
"Everybody loses players every year in college football," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said, "so it's important that you develop your guys. I hope we're one of those programs that when good players move on, new guys step up. If you do that consistently enough, you're going to be one of those nationally relevant teams."
Whose job is it to keep the Gamecocks and Tigers nationally relevant? Know these names when the season starts on Thursday for USC, Saturday for Clemson:
Out: Connor Shaw (free agent, Browns)
Claim to fame: Ranked 10th nationally in pass efficiency as a senior. South Carolina's winningest quarterback, 27-5 as a starter.
In: Dylan Thompson, Sr., 6-3, 218
Stats: 120-for-218 (55 percent) for 1,827 yards, 14 TDs, 5 INTs in 25 games over three years
What to expect: A familiar face, given that Thompson has played key roles in some big spots, including last year's road win at Central Florida, and wins at Clemson and against Michigan in the Outback Bowl in the 2012 season. Although a banged-up Shaw replaced him - and pulled off a miracle - at Missouri last season, Thompson is a relatively seasoned and more prototypical (read: less mobile) Steve Spurrier quarterback.
Out: Jadeveon Clowney (first round, Texans)
Claim to fame: 40 tackles (11.5 for loss) as a junior. All-America as a sophomore after setting single-season school records for sacks (13) and tackles for loss (23.5). No. 1 overall selection in 2014 NFL Draft.
In: Gerald Dixon, So., 6-2, 274
Stats: 17 total tackles (1.5 for loss) and one fumble recovery in 13 games played last season
What to expect: This will be more of a group effort, with no single member of the D-line likely to draw the consistent double-teams that Clowney faced a year ago. And expect South Carolina to occasionally drop into a 3-4 formation to take advantage of a linebacker corps that's the deepest, most experienced unit on defense.
Out: Bruce Ellington (4th round, 49ers)
Claim to fame: Led the Gamecocks in receiving a year ago with 49 catches for 775 and eight TDs. Second on the team behind RB Mike Davis in all-purpose offense.
In: Pharoh Cooper, So., 5-11, 201
Stats: 3 receptions, 54 yards, 1 TD in 11 games played last season
What to expect: All kinds of options for Thompson, given how deep this receiver group is, with Cooper likely fitting into the starting role occupied by Ellington a season ago. Bruuuuuuuuce may be gone, but the Gamecocks' next nine pass-catchers from last year are all back, and USC is relying on the speedy Cooper to be more than a kick returner.
Out: Jimmy Legree (free agent, Cardinals), Victor Hampton (free agent, Bengals)
Claim to fame: Ranked second and fourth on the team last season in total tackles, with 55 and 51, respectively. Recorded three interceptions apiece.
In: Brison Williams, Sr., 5-11, 208; Al Harris, Jr., Fr., 5-11, 162
Stats: Williams, 45 total tackles and 1 INT in 12 games played last season
What to expect: Williams started 11 games last season, but saw most of his action at safety. Still, he offers a veteran presence that could be steadying for Harris, who missed most of his senior season of high school due to a torn hamstring. Expect sophomore Rico McWilliams to also see action at that second corner spot as the Gamecocks mix and match in the secondary.
Out: Tajh Boyd (2014 NFL Draft: 6th round, Jets)
Claim to fame: ACC record-holder for TD passes, career passing efficiency
In: Cole Stoudt, Sr., 6-4, 225
Stats: 86-for-119 (72.3 percent) for 742 yards, 8 TDs, 1 INT in 22 games over three years
What to expect: ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer challenged Stoudt pretty succinctly Thursday: "I don't think the key is to try to throw 500 yards and five touchdowns every game; just play within the system." Stoudt will be more even-keel, and probably more accurate, than the effusive and explosive Boyd. It doesn't assure Stoudt will be better, but don't suppose he'll be a massive drop-off.
Out: Sammy Watkins (1st round, Bills), Martavis Bryant (4th round, Steelers)
Claim to fame: Watkins was the school's first multi-year All-American in 12 years; Bryant school career record-holder for yards per reception (22.2)
In: Charone Peake, Jr., 6-2, 205; Mike Williams, soph., 6-3, 210
Stats: Peake 37 rec, 327 yards, 3 TDs in 29 games; Williams 20 rec, 316 yards, 3 TDs his freshman year
What to expect: Watkins holds every Clemson receptions and yards record, sweeping game, season and career marks. Every single one. That's not replaced by any one guy. Which is why Williams (a Bryant clone, and maybe better) and Peake need help from senior Adam Humphries, sophomore Germone Hopper and a foursome of talented freshmen.
Out: Brandon Thomas (3rd round, 49ers)
Claim to fame: Two-time first-team all-ACC left tackle, top-10 all-time in Clemson snaps played
In: Joe Gore, Jr., 6-5, 290
Stats: Recruited as defensive end, moved to offensive line in late 2011, has played 124 snaps in 12 games over two years
What to expect: With Thomas to the NFL, Gifford Timothy and Patrick DeStefano retiring due to injury and Shaq Anthony transferring, Isaiah Battle is the only current Tiger with any career starts at offensive tackle, with four. Gore's been one of the more promising prospects on the roster, and now Clemson has no choice but to roll out Battle and Gore at LT and RT, respectively, while praying for their health.
Out: Bashaud Breeland (4th round, Redskins)
Claim to fame: 13 pass breakups last year, tied for program's highest single-season total in a decade
In: Mackensie Alexander, Fr., 5-11, 185
Stats: 5-star recruit missed 2013 with groin injury, enters 2014 as redshirt freshman
What to expect: Breeland and Darius Robinson were fairly steady; it helps when the defensive line doesn't give quarterbacks time to let routes develop. Alexander and possible contributor Cordrea Tankersley are super athletic, but they'll need to grow up quickly to not get gashed.
Out: Chandler Catanzaro (free agent, Cardinals)
Claim to fame: School's all-time leading scorer (404 points)
In: Ammon Lakip, Jr., 5-10, 200
Stats: 8-8 extra points last season, made a 41-yard field goal and missed a 31-yarder at Virginia
What to expect: As accurate as they come, Catanzaro was near automatic as a veteran, connecting on 39 of his last 41 field-goal tries from Nov. 12, 2011, through Jan. 3, 2014. A former soccer player, Lakip's got the leg, and the moxie; now he has to show it.
File/Mark Crammer/AP Clemson quarterback Cole Stoud steps in for Tajh Boyd as the Tigers' quarterback this season.×
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