Attrition is a hurdle for every college football team. Whether because of foolish steps off the field or full-speed steps on it, players are lost for games and even seasons.
Keeping stars available is one of the biggest variables for a season's success. Having a team's full complement can be the difference between a bad season and a good one or even between a great season and a special one.
The University of Tennessee lost a starting safety when Darren Myles Jr. was dismissed from the program for his role in last week's bar brawl. Fellow Vols defenders Greg King and Marlon Walls were suspended indefinitely after the incident.
The Georgia Bulldogs dismissed three players -- including backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger -- earlier this offseason and announced suspensions for reserve running back Dontavius Jackson and starting receiver Tavarres King for last weekend's alcohol-related arrests.
Outside the SEC, North Carolina linebacker Quan Sturdivant all but certainly will miss some playing time after being arrested and charged with marijuana possession Saturday.
Losing any starter can be painful, but losing a player like Sturdivant, who is projected to be one of the nation's top middle linebackers, can be crippling.
As we do in this space on Tuesdays, let's look around the SEC and explore which one player is the most indispensable to each program. This is not necessarily a team's best player or even its most valuable, but the one who could be the most difficult to replace. Here we go:
Alabama: Mark Barron, safety. Yes, Mark Ingram, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is a possibility, but Ingram's backup is Trent Richardson, who may be every bit as good. (Scary thought for non-Alabama fans, huh?) The Tide's biggest weakness is in the secondary after losing three starters from last year's national championship team. Barron is the lone returner in the secondary, and in Nick Saban's defense that requires the safeties to be catalysts, losing Barron would be painful.
Arkansas: Ryan Mallett, quarterback. This is the most obvious pick from around the league. Yes, Mallett missed spring practice and backup Tyler Wilson earned some praise in his absence. But the Razorbacks' high hopes -- and coach Bobby Petrino's high-octane offense -- center on Mallett.
Auburn: Josh Bynes, linebacker. That Bynes played almost every meaningful snap for the Tigers last year was a tribute to his skills and a knock on the Tigers' depth at linebacker. Auburn may have a high-scoring offense, but without Bynes no lead would be too big.
Florida: John Brantley, quarterback. Brantley was the back end of this equation for the Gators last year while backing up Tim Tebow. Now Brantley is the man. And with a slim depth chart behind him that includes freshman Trey Burton, Brantley must stay on the field for the Gators to stay among the nation's elite.
Georgia: A.J. Green, receiver. Simply put, Green is one of the rare players who makes everyone around him better. He certainly will demand double-teams for most of the season. But that's hardly a new thing for Green, who managed 53 catches for 808 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games last year.
Kentucky: Randall Cobb, receiver. Arguably the league's most versatile player, Cobb likely would require three players to replace his production running the ball, catching passes and returning kicks.
LSU: Patrick Peterson, cornerback. Like Georgia's Green, Peterson is the best player on the field for his team. Like Green, his presence requires constant identification. And like the rest of this list, there is no replacing him.
Mississippi: Jerrell Powe, defensive tackle. Granted, the big names from last year's offense must be replaced, but with the questions about scoring for the Rebels, the pressure on the defense increases. And the defense will rely heavily on Powe, an athletic monster who can create havoc in the interior.
Mississippi State: Pernell McPhee, defensive end. Not unlike their rivals, the Bulldogs have offensive unknowns and a defensive stud up front. McPhee can change a game at any time requires constant attention when he's on the field.
South Carolina: Marcus Lattimore, running back. There are more recognized names -- receiver Ashlon Jeffery and safety Chris Culliver, to name a couple -- but Lattimore carries a huge amount of hope for a fan base desperate for success now. Plus, for a team that ranked last in the league in rushing offense in 2009, the freshman's considerable skills will be a welcomed addition, and his absence would leave a noticeable and painful void.
Tennessee: Montori Hughes, defensive tackle. The full reach of coach Derek Dooley's punishment may or may not be known from the brawl as the program continues to investigate the incident. The good news for Vols fans was that Hughes, a monster talent at the team's thinnest position, was not named among those Dooley punished Friday. The bad news is that Hughes was involved and has retained a lawyer. Plus, depending on the length of Walls' suspension, any missed time for Hughes would be even harder to overcome.
Vanderbilt: Chris Marve, linebacker. Marve is the Commodores' best player, and on a team looking for anything to build on, he's far and away the best place to start.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...