College football is cyclical. Every player has a shelf life of four years (five if they take a redshirt or suffer a season-ending injury), and no team is immune to losing its brightest stars when they use up their years of eligibility.

Thus, the next man up mantra has become pivotal in the college game. A program’s foundation is only as strong as its second and third units, the guys who will one day be called upon to lead their team to greatness.

These 10 players sat the bench last season, but now all 10 will be leaned on heavily as their teams chase an SEC title and a playoff berth in 2015. Take a look at our list of the 10 most pivotal backups-turned-starters this fall:

1. Alabama QB Jacob Coker: Coker was widely assumed to win the starting job prior to last season, but wasn’t able to master the playbook fast enough to warrant playing time after transferring from Florida State. He’s now had a year to learn Lane Kiffin’s offense and study Blake Sims’ play in leading the Tide to an SEC title, and he should be able to finally show what he’s made of this fall for the defending conference champs, who are once again on the short list of national title contenders.

2. Alabama S Geno Smith: The Crimson Tide also lost both its starting safeties from last season in Landon Collins and Nick Perry, meaning Kirby Smart’s defense will have to rely heavily on replacements like Smith to keep the secondary humming in 2015. Smith was good enough to start for most other teams in the country last season, and with new secondary coach and former NFL coordinator Mel Tucker leading the unit he’s sure to improve significantly before the start of the season.

3. Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson: Johnson is less of a dynamic athlete than Nick Marshall was at the quarterback position, but he’s a much better passer than Marshall was in terms of arm strength, touch, pocket presence and other key intangibles. Gus Malzahn may have to alter his offense somewhat to fit Johnson’s style as a more traditional quarterback, but he’ll have plenty of athletic weapons to play with when the season kicks off.

4. Auburn RB Roc Thomas: Two different Auburn tailbacks have led the SEC in rushing the last two seasons (Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne), and Thomas, a former five-star signee, appears to be next in line. He may not lead the conference in rushing, but he’s an explosive athlete who fits the mold of Malzahn’s spread rushing attack better than anyone else returning from last season’s squad.

5. Mississippi State RBs Ashton Shumpert and Brandon Holloway: Every featured back in Dan Mullen’s six years at Mississippi State has rushed for 1,000 yards in a season at least once before exiting the college ranks, and Shumpert and Holloway are the prime suspects to continue that trend in 2015. Both saw near-equal time as backups to Josh Robinson last season, and a timeshare this season might limit both players’ numbers, but certainly not their impact out of the backfield.

6. Mississippi State CB Will Redmond: Redmond began showing flashes of brilliance as the nickel corner in an underwhelming Mississippi State secondary last season, and now he’ll assume a starting job in place of the departed Jamerson Love. The rising senior has the athleticism to keep up with the SEC’s most explosive wideouts, and with Manny Diaz leading the defense this fall Redmond will have a chance to prove his worth to the NFL the same way current NFL stars Darius Slay and Jonthan Banks did in their lone year under Diaz’s tutelage.

7. Missouri WR Nate Brown: The Tigers bid farewell to their top three wideouts this offseason as well as their top receiving threat out of the backfield in Marcus Murphy, leaving plenty of opportunity for Brown to shine in his sophomore season. Other than tight end Sean Culkin, Brown’s five catches for 45 yards last season lead all returning Tigers, and the former four-star prospect possesses the combination of size and speed necessary to be productive in the SEC.

8. South Carolina RB Brandon Wilds: Wilds saw more playing time in 2014 than perhaps anyone else on this list, but he remained the clear No. 2 back behind Mike Davis throughout the season. Now the backfield is his to control, and his bruising running style will be crucial to the Gamecocks success as they aim to find a new starting quarterback to rejuvenate the passing game.

9. Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs: It wasn’t until former starter Justin Worley suffered a season-ending injury that Dobbs had his redshirt removed and earned a chance to start under center, so it’s fair (at least in this writer’s eyes) to consider him a backup in 2014. Now the offense, and really the entire team, is his to lead, especially after he posted a 4-1 record as a starter last year including a bowl win over Iowa. His strong arm, dazzling running abilities and perceived clutch gene should help him assert himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, which should mean great things for the Vols.

10. Texas A&M LB Otaro Alaka: To be fair, Alaka did start A&M’s final four games of last season after proving to the coaching staff he was capable of holding his own in SEC play. He shined in those four starts, recording 19 of his 33 tackles on the year in addition to recording all 3.5 of his tackles for loss. His two forced fumbles in his first career start, an Aggies upset win over Auburn, marked his breakout game, and fans can expect to see him making plays every Saturday in John Chavis’ new-look defense.