First, I think it is important to note that this amount of turnover is not unprecedented in modern college football. It is high for the Swinney era, however, and a reminder that despite all the family branding that works in recruiting, it doesn't completely translate to a team of 90 plus players all of the time. Everyone wants to look at the bright side of these losses, which is fine but make no mistake about it--the season just got a lot more difficult.
Isaiah Battle was going to be the starter at LT. You don't lose the most important piece on your offensive line and arguably the entire offense (the one who protects the blindside of your QB) and not have some problems. Also let's be clear, Battle didn't just plan on entering the supplemental draft because of a kid on the way--that was used as justification for entering the draft. He got pulled over for speeding and then busted for marijuana possession. What we didn't know was what Swinney and company were going to ultimately do. There was the possibility that he could serve a lengthy suspension and stay with the team, but this was his third major strike with the team and there were some strong nudges sent in the direction of the Supplemental Draft. We all remember the infamous punch to an NC State player, but what we said on this site during the season is that he and Coach Caldwell were getting into frequent shouting matches on the sidelines. Battle was on seriously thin ice. I went so far as to say that he would not be back with the team this coming year in the comments (I thought I was wrong, but that gives you an indication of how far he had already pushed coaches).
I was surprised that he didn't enter the NFL Draft this offseason because during the season he made it known he would not be back. The coaches just couldn't bench him because we had no one behind him. No one. Apparently his attitude improved over the course of the season and offseason but he was still considered lazy and a problem between the ears.
Battle was talented. Bruce Feldman recently tweeted that an NFL talent scout had Battle as competing for the first round next year (I think he was a candidate for a third round spot with his baggage). He was going to be a three-year starter. You just don't replace that with a true freshman and not see some decline.
Mitch Hyatt will start in Battle's place. Hyatt is the highest rated offensive lineman we have signed in a decade, followed by our only depth at both left and right tackle, fellow true freshman Jake Fruhmorgan. Hyatt had a good Spring and I think he will be a star at Clemson but this is some kind of baptism (luckily we have two weeks to figure it all out--that Louisville game keeps getting more and more difficult). Hyatt has the tools and has gained needed weight but both he and Fruh need some more upper body work.
The real problem is we now have zero depth and zero depth protecting your star quarterback. Fruh was being used creatively in the Spring at multiple positions along the offensive line--LG and even Center. But now I can't see him not cross-training at LT and RT. Lets say Gore is getting abused like he was at the beginning of last season (I still don't think he has mentally put it together). What is going to happen if Hyatt or Fruh twist an ankle--very likely during the course of an entire season when playing as true freshman. Better yet--what happens when someone gets tired? We will be putting in Maverick Morris and other guys we have never trusted during games. We could start two tackles who have never played a down of college football.
And what if someone goes down to an ACL tear?
Who is to blame for this poor roster management? It falls squarely on the coaching staff. I've beaten this horse to death but you pay the price when you only take two offensive linemen in a recruiting cycle. Plan for attrition. In 2014, we took two guards in Hearn and Falcinelli. In 2013, we took a guard and Morris. If Morris can't cut it at Tackle that is two cycles with 4 offensive guards. That just isn't smart recruiting or roster management.
Overall, we can survive with Hyatt but we are one injury away from disaster. We will also rely on Gore and Fruh to pan out at RT.
Oh and as extra salt in the wound, Parker Bourdreaux as of this moment is announcing for Notre Dame next week (I like what I am hearing about LB Tre Lamar though). Battle leaving also doesn't free up another scholarship since he was going to be a senior (that scholarship will move a grayshirt or walk-on to scholarship--basically a wasted scholarship that could have been allocated in 2015).
K Ammon Lakip is another story. While Hyatt had a very productive Spring, the back-up kickers were horrendous. Alex Spence just isn't ready for primetime. We will struggle kicking all year unless someone emerges from a kicking tryout. Pearman gonna Pearman.
Other players are also on thin ice. Jay Jay McCullough is fresh off of a Twitter tirade when he needed to stay under the radar. Germone Hopper and Jordan Leggett are also on thin ice. Most of these problems stem from class attendance and grades from what I understand. All three of these guys, especially GHop and Jay Jay, were in the doghouse last year so the margin for error is razor thin (GHop was all but gone last Summer, for example). All three of those losses would be easily absorbed. TE would lose some depth but nothing catastrophic. Battle, Lakip and Ebo are the three positions (Tackle, Kicker, and DE) where we couldn't afford injuries or dismissals, but here we are.
Unfortunately I think these losses are so substantive that I will probably adjust my overall prediction. I think the likelihood of Watson getting injured undoubtedly goes up and the inability to hit a late field goal will catch up to us eventually. Add that to a depleted defense and new coordinators and reaching ten wins looks harder and harder. Make no mistake--those five 5 heart scholarships could have been better used with another Tackle or two, an extra Kicker, and Defensive lineman.