Biggest shoes to fill: UCLA

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
9:00
AM ET
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: RB Johnathan Franklin

Franklin rushed for a school-record 1,734 yards (6.1 average), averaging 123.9 yards per game, with 13 touchdowns. He also caught 33 balls for 323 yards and two touchdowns. He was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award and became the Bruins all-time leading rusher, capping his career with a Pac-12 South Division title. Twice in 2012 he topped 200 yards rushing and six times he rushed for at least 160 yards. Against Stanford in the Pac-12 title game -- with the Cardinal boasting the best run defense in the conference -- he piled up 194-yard on 19 carries (10.2 average) with two touchdowns. He finished his career fifth on the Pac-12's all-time rushing list with 4,403 yards. It will be surprising if he lasts past the third round of the NFL draft.

Stepping in: A committee?

There isn't a running back on the Bruins roster who will make anyone forget Franklin. That could change, but it's presently a position decidedly in flux. Quarterback Brett Hundley was the Bruins No. 2 rusher last year, and undersized No. 3 rusher Damien Thigpen is coming back from a knee injury. Steven Manfro and Jordan James are nice supporting guys, but not the sorts who get 20-plus carries a game. More than a few folks are high on redshirt freshman Paul Perkins, but everyone felt the same way about former National Gatorade Player of the Year, Malcolm Jones, who has returned to the team as a walkon after three unremarkable seasons. The competition will get an injection of intriguing talent if incoming freshman Craig Lee gets academically eligible. All this, by the way, doesn't mean the offense and the running game can't match or exceed last year's strong production. For one, Hundley should be far saltier with a year under his belt. No. 2 -- and perhaps more important for the running backs -- the young offensive line, which struggled at times last year, should be much improved. It might actually turn out to be a good thing that carries are being shared more in 2013. That means guys will be fresher when the screws tighten late in what could be a special season in Westwood.

Ted Miller | email

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