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August 19, 2006

Impact performers welcomed back into the fold

Time heals all wounds - and apparently violations of team rules and academic issues.

Rarely does a school go an entire season without having to deal with a season-ending injury, a key suspension or academic problems with one of its players.

Luckily for the players below, they get to return to the field this season healthy and in good standing with coaches and professors.

National championship hopes could hinge on the knees, ankles, backs and study habits of several players.

Sure enough, team doctors and trainers will earn their keep this season.

Ohio State will need linebacker Marcus Freeman to make a full recovery to offset the loss of its three starting linebackers.

Southern California placed three potential starters on this list -- running back Chauncey Washington, offensive guard Jeff Byers and linebacker Dallas Sartz.

Notre Dame can always add another offensive weapon and will get one back this year with receiver Rhema McKnight.

The recoveries of top two on the list -- LSU's Alley Broussard and Cal's Nate Longshore -- could make or break their team's conference and national title hopes.

Here are the top 10 impact players returning from injuries, suspensions or academic problems that kept them out for at least half of the 2005 season:

Rivals.com 2006 Preseason Top Impact Players Who Missed Last Season
1. LSU running back Alley Broussard: Torn ACL, missed 2005 season
Broussard led the Tigers in rushing in 2004 with 867 yards and added 10 touchdowns. He entered the 2005 season ahead of eventual first-round draft pick Joseph Addai on the depth chart before a torn ACL in a scrimmage last summer ended his 2005 season. He has had a few setbacks in his recovery, including an infection in the knee that limited him during spring practice. If healthy in the fall, he could return to his starting role.
2. California quarterback Nate Longshore: Broken ankle, missed 11 games
Longshore won the starting job for only one quarter after breaking his ankle early in the opener against Sacramento State. The sophomore will have to compete for his job a second time this fall after his replacements, Joe Ayoob and Steve Levy, were inconsistent. This time he will have to learn elements of the spread offense brought to Cal from Northwestern by new offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar.
3. Oklahoma defensive end Larry Birdine: Torn biceps muscle, missed 2005 season
Birdine was a potential all-conference player before a freak biceps injury during fall practice ended his season. In the season prior to his injury, Birdine had 40 tackles and seven sacks playing as a backup. Starting defensive ends C.J. Ah You and Calvin Thibodeaux return, but Birdine will work his way into the rotation if healthy. Now a senior, this is Birdine's last chance to make an impact.
4. Florida wide receiver Andre Caldwell: Broken leg, missed nine games
Caldwell's broken leg sustained against Tennessee in the third game of the season limited Florida's offense. His presence was missed in Urban Meyer's spread option through the remainder of the season despite the presence of Chad Jackson, Dallas Baker and Jemalle Cornelius. In the preseason, Caldwell was clocked at 4.29 seconds in the 40-yard dash, faster than before his injury and fastest on the team.
5. Oregon State tight end Joe Newton: Torn leg muscle, missed 2005 season
As a sophomore, Newton was an all-conference honorable mention selection after catching 56 passes for 687 yards and seven touchdowns in 2004. A torn left leg muscle sustained in August kept him out for the 2005 season. Fully healthy in 2006, Newton will give Beavers quarterback Matt Moore a big (6-foot-7) target following the departure of Biletnikoff winner Mike Hass.
6. Notre Dame wide receiver Rhema McKnight: Knee, missed 11 games
The Irish's leading receiver in 2003 and '04 missed out on most of Notre Dame's offensive fireworks last year after injuring his knee in the game against Michigan. After taking a medical redshirt year in 2005 after playing in only two games, McKnight hopes to reap the benefits of playing with Heisman frontrunner Brady Quinn in Charlie Weis' offense. He is slated to start and replace Maurice Stovall alongside All-American Jeff Samardzija.
7. Southern Cal running back Chauncey Washington:
Academically ineligible, missed 2004-05 seasons

Washington, a junior, has not played since 2003 due to academic issues. Now that he's eligible, the redshirt junior will be among several running backs the Trojans will rely on to replace Reggie Bush and LenDale White. Washington's last game action came in his freshman year in 2003 when he ran for 65 yards on 19 carries.
8. Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman: Knee/infection, missed 2005 season
Tough as it is to believe, the Buckeyes' linebacker corps of A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel could have been even better with Freeman, who was a projected starter before a knee injury in the opener ended his season. Now healthy, he is a likely starter at strongside linebacker. The No. 31 recruit in the country in 2004, Freeman played all 13 games as a true freshman.
9. Nebraska tight end Matt Herian: Broken leg, missed 2005 season
Before his leg injury in October 2004, Herian was in line to become the top tight end in the Big 12, earning second-team honors as a freshman when he had 22 catches for 484 yards. He returned to the team in the fall after sitting out of the spring wiht a hamstring injury. He'll give quarterback Zac Taylor another potent target in Bill Callahan's West Coast offense with receivers Terrence Nunn and Nate Swift.
10. UCLA defensive tackle Kevin Brown: Ankle, missed 2005 season
Brown became a starter as a sophomore in 2004 and contributed five sacks and 8.5 tackles for a loss. An ankle injury kept him out of the 2005 season, and his presence was sorely missed. Without him, the Bruins' were dismal against the run, ranking 116th in the nation. UCLA will need him to return to his freshman form if it hopes to keep up with the rest of the Pac-10.
Best of the rest
11. Southern California offensive guard Jeff Byers (Hip, missed 2005)
12. Tennessee linebacker Rico McCoy (Foot, missed 2005 season)
13. Florida defensive end Ray McDonald (Torn ACLs, missed seven games)
14. Miami cornerback Glenn Sharpe (Torn ACL, missed 2005 season)
15. Miami safety Anthony Reddick (Torn right ACL, missed 11 games)
16. UCLA wide receiver Junior Taylor (Torn ACL, missed 10 games)
17. Nebraska linebacker Steve Octavien (Broken leg, missed 11 games)
18. Stanford wide receiver Evan Moore (Dislocated hip, missed 10 games)
19. Georgia Tech defensive tackle Darryl Richard (Knee, missed 2005 season)
20. Southern California linebacker Dallas Sartz (Dislocated shoulder, missed 11 games)
21. South Carolina running back Cory Boyd (Suspension, missed 2005 season)
22. Texas A&M wide receiver Earvin Taylor (Broken leg, missed eight games)
23. Texas Tech linebacker Brock Stratton (Knee, missed eight games)
24. Washington State cornerback Tyron Brackenridge (Academics, missed 2005 season)
25. Colorado cornerback Terrence Wheatley (Wrist, missed 2005 season)
The Rivals Five
Injuries and suspensions to keep an eye on at the start of 2006:
1. Arkansas running back Darren McFadden: McFadden's chances to start the season were thrown into question after a late-night altercation in Little Rock left him with a dislocated toe. The good news is that sophomore Felix Jones is a quality replacement. The bad news is playing the opener against Southern California.
2. Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco: Stocco, who set several single-season school records in 2005, could miss time early this season following knee surgery during the preseason.
3. Miami running back Tyrone Moss and wide receiver Ryan Moore: The Hurricanes' offense will take a hit with Moss and Moore among four Hurricanes suspended for the season opener against Florida State. Moss was also suspended for game No. 2 against Florida A&M.
4. Georgia offensive tackle Daniel Inman and cornerback Thomas Flowers: Inman, a starter at left tackle, and Flowers, a projected starting cornerback and punt returner, will miss the first two games of the season due to suspensions. It's not the opener against Western Kentucky that's worrisome. It's game No. 2 against South Carolina in Columbia.
5. Virginia wide receiver Deyon Williams: The Cavaliers' leading receiver last season could be out until ACC play after sustaining a stress fracture in his right foot early in fall camp.

More Preseason Player Rankings:
Quarterbacks | Running backs | Offensive linemen | Kickers/Punters | Return Specialists
Wide receivers | Tight ends | Linebackers | Defensive linemen | Cornerbacks | Safeties
Backup Quarterbacks

Click here for more Countdown to Kickoff '06 coverage

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