There’s a thin line separating important and indispensable players in college football.
“Important” assets experience great success with their respective programs, sometimes leading their teams to new heights with wins/bowl recognition.
“Indispensable” assets share the same qualities. It just might take certain schools a long while to replicate the impact of one’s achievements. It’s the ultimate compliment when defining a college legacy.
The Land Of 10 offers a quick look at the Big Ten’s five most replaceable stars from last season, relative to how the corresponding programs might fill these high-profile vacancies in 2016.
To be fair, this countdown isn’t some exercise to mock or minimize the contributions of certain players. Rather, it’s an appreciation for the Big Ten coaches who, with proper planning, stealthily mitigated the chances of a depth-chart crisis.
To view our previous look at the conference’s most difficult players to replace, click here.
Here are the five least difficult players to replace:
QB CARDALE JONES, OHIO STATE
Cardale Jones cemented his college legacy toward the end of the 2014 season, replacing injured quarterback J.T. Barrett – who broke his leg in the regular-season finale against Michigan – and subsequently leading Ohio State to the national championship.
For his three-start run during that high-stakes period, which included the Big Ten title game vs. Wisconsin, the national semifinals against Alabama and national championship against Oregon, Jones accounted for 1,156 total yards, including 860 yards passing, and eight total touchdowns.
By doing so, Jones and his great NFL qualities of size, good mobility and a rocket passing arm, also created a major quarterback controversy for the Buckeyes’ impending title defense.
But that didn’t really materialize last year. Jones, who was drafted by the Buffalo Bills, upped his completion percentage as Ohio State’s early starter in 2015. But eventually Barrett regained full control of the offense, logging the vast majority of starts for the Buckeyes’ final six outings, including decisive victories over Michigan and Notre Dame.
And now, the junior-to-be Barrett stands as the clear-cut starter for the upcoming season, with Jones and Braxton Miller, the 2012 and 2013 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, joining the NFL ranks.
As such, Ohio State fans can expect Barrett to flirt with his dominant numbers from two years ago when he gained 3,722 total yards and 45 touchdowns.
RB JORDAN HOWARD, INDIANA
In 2015, Howard was one of five Big Ten tailbacks to rush for 1,000-plus yards.
Fortunately for Indiana fans, Devine Redding, who gained 1,012 yards rushing and scored nine TDs, was also part of that exclusive club, and he’ll be back for the coming season.
As such, Redding has a golden chance at replicating the final-season averages of the Hoosiers’ last two star backs — Howard from 2015 (1,319 total yards, 10 TDs) and Tevin Coleman from 2014 (2,177 total yards, 15 TDs).
Redding’s ambitious target for 2016: The Howard/Coleman median of 1,748 total yards and 12 touchdowns.
WR GERONIMO ALLISON, ILLINOIS
Among Big Ten playmakers last season, Allison posted top-7 numbers with receptions (65) and receiving yards (882).
That’s the good news.
The bad part entails how no Illinois pass-catcher accounted for more than three touchdowns in 2015. Plus, in his final five games, Allison (now with the Green Bay Packers) held mediocre-at-best averages of 3.2 catches, 36 yards and zero TDs.
Consequently, the Fighting Illini likely won’t have to search high and low to find Allison’s heir apparent. The prime candidates include Malik Turner (39 catches, 510 yards, 3 TDs), Desmond Cain (53 catches as a freshman) and up-and-coming sophomore Sam Mays. Mike Dudek, who amassed 76 catches, 1,038 yards and six TDs in 2014, will miss a second consecutive campaign, due to knee troubles.
In each healthy case, it helps that Illinois has Wes Lunt running the show for one more season. Lunt, the league leader in passing attempts/passing completions last year, may be the Big Ten’s most polished passer and the conference’s best pro prospect, among quarterbacks.
RB JORDAN CANZERI, IOWA
Canzeri bore the look of a potential Big Ten rushing champion in the first half of last season, accounting for 10 touchdowns and crossing the threshold of 100 total yards five times. He even decimated the Illinois defense for 271 total yards (256 rushing) and two TDs.
But alas, injuries took their toll in the second half, allowing for Canzeri to only bring elite-level production to two games against Purdue and Nebraska). In his stead, Leshun Daniels Jr. (646 rushing yards, 8 TDs) and Akrum Wadley (eight total touchdowns) capably filled in the blanks for an Iowa offense that scored 28 or more points seven consecutive times during October and November.
Well, Daniels and Wadley are back for another go-round with the Hawkeyes, the reigning Big Ten West champions and prime candidates to represent the conference in the College Football Playoff.
Daniels and Wadley should be instant stars for Iowa, which also has depth and experience at quarterback, receiver and the offensive line.
QB CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG, PENN STATE
From a numbers standpoint, Hackenberg – three-year average: 2,819 yards passing, 16 TDs, 10 INTs – stands to be a better pro with the New York Jets than he was as a collegiate game-changer.
In the realms of passing yards, completion rate, passing touchdowns and yards per attempt, Hackenberg, the Class of 2013’s top-ranked passer, peaked as a freshman; and after former head coach Bill O’Brien bolted for the NFL’s Houston Texans, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Hackenberg never transitioned into the ideal fit for Penn State’s versatile offense under the direction of current head coach James Franklin.
Enter Trace McSorley, the presumed heir apparent at quarterback. The sophomore-to-be completed 23 of 27 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns in Penn State’s spring game.
As a two-way threat working inside and outside the pocket, McSorley, a 4-star recruit, could pay immediate dividends for the Nittany Lions, who are loaded with upside playmakers like receivers Chris Godwin (69 catches, 1,101 yards, 5 TDs), DaeSean Hamilton (45 catches, 580 yards, 6 TDs) and superstar-in-waiting tailback Saquon Barkley (1,237 total yards, 20 TDs as a freshman).
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and Fox Sports.