The 2015 college football season featured some of the most dramatic plays we've ever seen, but the excitement of last fall was tempered by the reality of one of the most injury-plagued seasons in recent history too.
Several of the players that had their seasons cut short, like Myles Jack and Scooby Wright, are off to the NFL. Unfortunately, one of the top players, Illinois receiver Mikey Dudek, got injured again and will miss another season. Below, we spotlight the unfortunately long list of impact players staging comebacks from season-ending injuries, players that could provide huge boosts to their teams if 100 percent healthy this fall. There were so many big injuries that there is an all-comeback team, plus a list of numerous others who could have been included.
QB: Seth Russell, Baylor. Russell started the first seven games last season, and even then he didn't play 100 percent of the time, as he attempted 147 passes in first halves and 53 passes in second halves, according to cfbstats.com. Before undergoing season-ending neck surgery, he played against the weak part of Baylor's backloaded schedule, racking up numbers in games that turned into blowouts. He completed 59.4 percent for 2,104 yards with 29 TDs and six INTs, leading the nation in passer rating when he got hurt, and he also added running ability, putting up 402 yards on the ground. While working his way back, he was limited in spring practice by a pectoral injury. Russell should be ready to go in the summer, when he will attempt to regain his job by holding off touted sophomore Jarrett Stidham, who missed the last three games because of an injury as well.
RB: Nick Chubb, Georgia. A healthy Chubb is a clear Heisman Trophy candidate. Despite backing up Todd Gurley for the first five games in 2014 as a freshman, Chubb ran 219 times for 1,547 yards and 14 TDs, averaging 7.06 yards per carry. He picked up where he left off last season, rushing for at least 120 yards in his five full games, averaging over seven yards per carry in each. However, he injured his knee on the first drive of the Tennessee game, and thus he finished the season with 92 carries for 747 yards and seven TDs. There has been doubt about whether Chubb will be 100 percent by the start of the season after tearing his PCL, but new coach Kirby Smart said recently that his rehab is ahead of schedule. Georgia will lean heavily on its running game, but with Sony Michel also back, Smart and his staff will surely be cautious with Chubb.
RB: James Conner, Pittsburgh. In 2014, as a sophomore, Conner emerged as one of the nation's best running backs, a hard runner who racked up 1,765 yards and 26 TDs on 298 carries as the foundation of the Panthers' offense, earning ACC player of the year honors. But he tore his MCL in the first game of the 2015 season, knocking him out for the year. Then, at the end of the regular season around Thanksgiving, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. Conner announced on May 9 that he had finished chemotherapy and is now awaiting results from doctors. He has been working out in a limited capacity, with the hope that he can suit up for the Panthers this fall alongside sophomore RB Qadree Ollison (1,121 yards).
WR: Mike Williams, Clemson. One of the nation's top receivers, Williams was sidelined for all but the first drive of the Tigers' 14-1 season in which QB Deshaun Watson was a Heisman finalist. Williams, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound redshirt junior, was Clemson's best receiver in 2014, catching 57 passes for 1,030 yards and six TDs, but he broke a bone in his neck in Week 1 last fall. Now, he's back atop the depth chart, a potential first-round pick who gives Clemson arguably the nation's best receiving corps with Artavis Scott, Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow and Jordan Leggett.
WR: Robert Foster, Alabama. A five-star recruit in the class of 2013, Foster had hopes of emerging as the Alabama's top target last season, with Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones gone. Instead, he tore his rotator cuff in Alabama's third game and missed the rest of the season, with Calvin Ridley emerging as a star as a freshman instead. Ridley and ArDarius Stewart are back, but Foster has a chance to work his way back into the top of the receiving rotation and emerge as a go-to weapon opposite Ridley.
TE: Pharaoh Brown, Oregon. An emerging star at tight end for Marcus Mariota in 2014, Brown suffered a devastating leg injury in November of that season -- one that nearly ended his career and could have cost him his leg. But Brown has made a remarkable recovery and participated in the Ducks' spring game last month, putting him on track to be a factor in their offense this fall. In 2014, he caught 25 passes for 420 yards and six TDs in 10 games.
OL: Andrew Jelks, Vanderbilt. After starting 21 games in his first two seasons, Jelks missed the entire 2015 season because of a preseason knee injury. A fifth-year senior, he should provided a needed boost for the Commodores offense, whether it's at his previous position of left tackle or somewhere else along the line.
OL: Jeromy Irwin, Colorado. Injuries have derailed the career of Irwin, as he played as a true freshman, then missed 2013 with a foot injury. He started 11 games in 2014, only to tear his ACL in Week 2 of 2015. If fully recovered, Irwin is a good bet to return to the lineup at left tackle.
OL: Alex Bars, Notre Dame. A utility player on the Fighting Irish line last season, Bars ended up as one of a long line of injuries for the team last season. He started two games in place of the injured Quenton Nelson, only to fracture his ankle. Now, the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Bars, a four-star recruit in 2014, stands a good chance of winning the right tackle job with three starters gone from the Notre Dame O-line.
OL: Dan Voltz, Wisconsin. An All-Big Ten pick in 2014, Voltz was expected to be the top returning player on a rebuilding Badgers line last season. He started seven games but had a season-ending knee injury in late October. With 27 career starts under his belt, he'll return to the starting lineup. It's just a question of where. Voltz has said he's willing to play guard if the Badgers want to keep Michael Deiter, his replacement, at center.
OL: Gavin Andrews, Oregon State. Andrews started 10 games as a junior but injured his foot in the spring of 2015 and missed the season. He should return to start at right guard to help an offense that struggled in Gary Andersen's first season with youth at QB.
DL: James McFarland, TCU. Injuries decimated the Horned Frogs defense last season, and perhaps the biggest loss was the absence of McFarland for the entire season. As a junior in 2014, the defensive end had seven sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception, but he broke his foot just before the 2015 season and did not play. He will team with Josh Carraway to form a potent pass-rush duo.
DL: Harold Brantley, Missouri. The Tigers have churned out great defensive lines the last few years, and they played at a high level last season despite the absence of Brantley, who injured his leg and ribs in a car accident last summer and was also catching up academically during the spring. If Brantley returns this fall, he gives Missouri another star who had 54 tackles and five sacks in 2014. He joins Charles Harris, Walter Brady, Josh Augusta, Terry Beckner (who missed the last two games with an injury) and others on a fantastic line.
DL: Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA. A five-star recruit, Vanderdoes made 19 starts in his first two seasons, but he tore his ACL in the Week 1 game against Virginia. Vanderdoes decided to return for a fourth season, providing a big boost to the Bruins defense with fellow star tackle Kenny Clark off to the NFL.
DL: Jarron Jones, Notre Dame. A rising star for the Notre Dame defense, notching 7 ½ tackles for loss in 2014, Jones started the trend of terrible injury luck for the Fighting Irish in 2015, tearing his MCL in August. With Sheldon Day gone, Jones is expected to return as the star of the Irish D-line at nose tackle.
DL: Darius Hamilton, Rutgers. The 2015 season was a nightmare for Rutgers, with off-the-field issues and Kyle Flood's firing. The Scarlet Knights also played most of the season without their best defensive player. Hamilton, the 6-foot-3, 283-pound defensive tackle, had a team-high 11 ½ tackles for loss in both 2013 and '14, but he missed nearly all of the 2015 season with a knee injury, appearing only briefly in one game.
LB: Ed Davis, Michigan State. Despite its playoff bid, Michigan State's defense took a step back last season, and the return of Davis is big, especially given the losses of Shilique Calhoun, Joel Heath and Lawrence Jackson on the line. Davis had 58 tackles and seven sacks in 2014 but underwent knee surgery last August. He is expected to receive a sixth season and get back on the field.
LB: Nyeem Wartman-White, Penn State. Wartman-White finished second on the Nittany Lions with 75 tackles in 2014, but he was knocked out for the season with a leg injury in Week 1 in 2015, upon moving to middle linebacker. Now, he'll slide back into the lineup at either middle linebacker or on the weak side, teaming with Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda to form a stellar linebacking corps.
CB: Ranthony Texada, TCU. Texada started all 13 games for TCU's Peach Bowl team as a redshirt freshman in 2014, only to get knocked out for the 2015 season with a knee injury in September. He's back atop the depth chart, poised to play a key role for a defense that should be healthier and improved to keep the Horned Frogs in the Big 12 race.
CB: Fabian Moreau, UCLA. The Bruins are clearly confident in their cornerback play with Ishmael Adams moving to receiver. A foot injury cost Moreau his 2015 season in September, and he'll return to a prominent role in the UCLA secondary after finishing with 53 tackles and eight pass breakups in 2014 to earn second-team all-conference honors.
S: Tony Conner, Ole Miss. Conner was one of four five-star recruits to sign with Ole Miss in 2013. Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell were just drafted in the first round, while Conner remains in school after an injury-plagued 2015 season in which he appeared in just five games because of a meniscus tear. In 2014, Conner had 69 tackles and nine tackles for loss, and he may re-emerge as the star of the Rebels defense this fall.
S: Dante Barnett, Kansas State. Barnett had over 70 tackles in both 2013 and '14 and intercepted seven passes total over those two seasons, but he injured his shoulder in Week 1 last year and didn't play the rest of the way. His return is big for a defense that took a step backward last season.
AP: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska. Multiple injuries robbed Pierson-El of what was hoped to be a breakout season in 2015. The previous season, as a freshman, Pierson-El returned three punts for TDs and caught 23 passes for 321 yards and four TDs, but he had multiple surgeries last season and played in just five games. He's still working to get back to 100 percent but hopes to play this fall.
QB: Malik Zaire, Notre Dame. Zaire unseated Everett Golson, only to break his ankle in Week 2 last season. Now, the talented dual-threat QB is trying to re-take the job from DeShone Kizer.
QB: Taysom Hill, BYU. Most known for rushing for 259 yards against Texas in 2013, Hill has played in just six games the last two seasons. Last year, he broke his foot in Week 1, and he opted to stay in Provo to try to win his job back from Tanner Mangum.
RB: Corey Clement, Wisconsin. Clement ran for 949 yards as Melvin Gordon's backup in 2014. Expected to be a breakout star in 2015, instead he played in only four games because of sports hernia surgery. The door is open for him to reclaim the starting job to boost a Badgers run game that experienced a nosedive last fall.
RB: Tarean Folston, Notre Dame. Folston led the Irish with 889 rushing yards in 2014 but tore his ACL in Week 1 in 2015. He'll share the backfield with Josh Adams this fall.
RB: Leon Allen, Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are mostly known for their prolific passing attack, but Allen ran for 1,542 yards in 2014, including 345 yards in one game vs. Army. He played in just two games before a season-ending knee injury last fall.
RB: Jon Hilliman, Boston College. The Eagles offense was a disaster last season, with a new offensive line and injuries at quarterback and running back. Hilliman ran for 860 yards and 13 TDs as a freshman, then played in just four games last season before breaking his foot.
WR: Cameron Smith, Arizona State. Smith caught 41 passes for 596 yards as a sophomore in 2014 and was expected to step up in an even bigger role to replace Jaelen Strong last year. But he injured his knee during the spring of 2015 and missed the season.
WR: Noah Brown and Corey Smith, Ohio State. The Buckeyes' receiving corps wasn't as strong as hoped last year, partly because of injuries. Brown was expected to be breakout player but broke his leg in August, and Smith broke his leg in October. Both are favorites for starting jobs as Ohio State rebuilds around QB J.T. Barrett.
WR: Deante' Gray, TCU. The Horned Frogs will rebuild their passing game with QB Trevone Boykin and WR Josh Doctson gone. Gray caught 36 passes for 582 yards and eight TDs in 2014 but missed last year because of offseason knee surgery.
TE: Durham Smythe, Notre Dame. Smythe's first season as starter lasted only three games, as he underwent knee and shoulder surgery in September. He returned to catch one pass in the Fiesta Bowl and is in line to start this fall.
DL: Harrison Phillips, Stanford. After appearing in six games as a freshman, Phillips was the starting nose tackle to start last season, but he tore his ACL in Week 1. His return is a boost for a Cardinal defense that has a new-look front seven.
DL: Bryan Mone, Michigan. Expected to start at tackle last season, Mone broke his leg in camp and missed the season. A redshirt sophomore, he should be in a rotation this season with Maurice Hurst and Ryan Glasgow, who missed the final four games with a pectoral injury, in addition to No. 1 recruit Rashan Gary.
CB: Vayante Copeland, Michigan State. Copeland won a starting job last season, only to injure his neck in Week 2, costing him the rest of the season. A redshirt sophomore, he has played sparingly but could re-earn a starting job this year.
CB: Bryon Fields, Duke. Fields was a big part of the Duke secondary in 2014 with 70 tackles as a sophomore, but he tore his ACL in last August last year, knocking him out for the season before it began. While star safety Jeremy Cash is gone, Fields returns to help stabilize a group that includes a standout playmaker in DeVon Edwards, who has shifted to cornerback from safety.
CB: Joshua Holsey, Auburn. A starter when healthy, Holsey tore his ACL in both 2013 and 2015, playing in just two games last season. He has 88 tackles in his career.
S: Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame. Tranquill started three games as a freshman before tearing his ACL in November 2014. Then, upon returning the next fall, he tore his ACL during a celebration in Week 3 against Georgia Tech. Tranquill participated in spring practice and is competing for a starting job.
S: Jalen Watts-Jackson, Michigan State. Watts-Jackson scored one of the greatest touchdowns in college football history to beat Michigan last season, then broke his hip after crossing the goal line. While not expected to be a starter on defense, Watts-Jackson was back in drills during spring ball.
AP: John Ross, Washington. Ross caught 17 passes for 371 yards (21.8 per catch) and returned two kicks for TDs as a sophomore in 2014, but he missed last season because of a spring knee injury. While he has played some cornerback, he should be a key target for Jake Browning on offense.