Pittsburgh running back James Conner, one of the top rushers in college football, will undergo season-ending surgery following a knee injury suffered in a 45-37 win over Youngstown State on Saturday.
Panthers first-year coach Pat Narduzzi said the injury is to the medial collateral ligament (MCL) of his right knee.
"You just feel awful for him," Narduzzi said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "There's not a guy that worked harder than him during camp."
Conner, a junior, had already rushed for 77 yards and two touchdowns on only eight carries when he was injured in the first half. Last season, he was among the most productive rushers in the NCAA with 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns.
A power rusher at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, Conner was expected to be a centerpiece once again for the Pittsburgh offense this season. Conner is eligible to apply for entry into the 2016 NFL Draft if he passes on his final year of NCAA eligibility. In the alternative, he could return to Pittsburgh next season in hopes of showing NFL scouts a full recovery, and look toward 2017 draft eligibility.
The first week of the college football season brought with it a lengthy list of season-ending injuries.
The Los Angeles Times reported that UCLA defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes would miss the season with a knee injury after making eight tackles in a season-opening win over Virginia. BYU quarterback Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending injury for the second consecutive year, and Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams was lost for the year on Saturday as well. The Tigers' leading receiver last year, Williams has a small fracture in his neck when he ran into a goal post on a pass route in the end zone. CU coach Dabo Swinney said the injury is season-ending but not career-ending, according to the Greenville News.