Biggest shoes to fill: Oregon

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: ILBs Kiko Alonso & Michael Clay

Look, we're doing it again: Citing two guys having "Big Shoes." We could include OLB Dion Jordan and make it a troika of All-Pac-12 players. The point is this: Oregon has very few worrisome areas, but if you were to cite one chief area of concern, there's no doubt it's linebacker, where three of four starters must be replaced. While Jordan is the most elite in terms of NFL prospects, Alonso and Clay, manning the two inside spots, were one of the nation's most dynamic combos in 2012. And the departure of Clay, a member of the Pac-12 blog's All-Interview team, means we have to find a new go-to postgame interview guy on the Ducks' defense. So there are big shoes here in more ways than one. Clay led the Ducks with 101 tackles -- 20 more than the closest player behind him -- while posting 10 tackles for a loss, three sacks with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Alonso, despite battling a broken wrist much of the season, finished second to Clay with 81 tackles, including 14 for a loss. He added four interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Alonso was the playmaker. Clay was the leader. Both wore big shoes.

Stepping In: Sophomores Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick

These two will get first shot, and Malone is close to a sure thing. He was a primary reserve last year, replacing Clay and Alonso when they were hurt, and he finished with 41 tackles. Hardrick saw less action in 2012 than he did as a true freshman the season before, so there's a feeling he might have been hurt more than he regressed (this take courtesy of Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard more so than a vague hint from coordinator Nick Aliotti). Sophomore Tyson Coleman can play inside or outside, but he seems more likely to backup Boseko Lokombo because he's got pass-rushing skills. There's also sophomore Rahim Cassell and redshirt freshman Brett Bafaro, and you'd think JC transfer Joe Walker wasn't brought in to sit on the bench. There are options here, but it's hard to imagine the Ducks won't take a step back on the position in 2013.