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August 25, 2008
Daniel leads list of indispensable players
There are no one-man teams.
But there certainly is evidence that one man can make or break a team.
Exhibit A: Texas doesn't win the national championship in 2005 without Vince Young.
Exhibit B: Oregon might have won the 2007 national title had quarterback Dennis Dixon not gotten hurt.
Dixon was the definition of an indispensable player last season. Dixon was perhaps the Heisman leader and had guided the Ducks to an 8-1 record, a No. 2 national ranking and an early lead over Arizona when he crumpled to the ground with a season-ending knee injury. The Ducks' national championship hopes crumpled with him and they lost three in a row.
Here's a list of indispensable players whose health and availability could make – or break – their teams' success in 2008.
The Tigers' offense is dynamic, and Daniel makes it go. Over the past two seasons, he has thrown for 7,833 yards. The other quarterbacks on the roster have completed six passes. Missouri is a strong contender for the Big 12 championship and perhaps a national title. Those aspirations aren't realistic without Daniel.
The Mountaineers have a solid backup quarterback in Jarrett Brown. Doesn't matter. White is the single-most electrifying player in college football, and he's a threat to score from anywhere on the field. And with questions on defense, the Mountaineers need all the big-play ability they can get. White's presence makes speedy tailback Noel Devine even more dangerous. With White, West Virginia is a national championship contender. Without him, the Mountaineers are a good team that would challenge for the Big East crown.
Yeah, Florida has great weapons throughout its offense – Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey, Emmanuel Moody, Louis Murphy. But Tebow is an excellent runner and passer. His 2007 stats (33 TD passes, six interceptions, 895 rushing yards, 29 TDs) show how dominant he is. Florida could have defensive issues and needs all the offensive firepower it can muster. It musters a bunch with Tebow at the helm. Backup Cameron Newton attempted just 10 passes last season.
General consensus has Pittsburgh, which was 5-7 last season, finishing in the top 25 this season. McCoy is the main big reason. Successful teams often rely on good defenses and a sound running game. Pittsburgh has both, as long as McCoy - who rushed for 1,328 yards as a freshman - is in the lineup. Without him, the Panthers will have to put more emphasis on its passing game. Getting quarterback Bill Stull back from injury figures to boost the passing game, but he has completed just 21 passes in his career.
Consider that BYU has its sights on a BCS bowl and just might make it – if the defense holds up. Quarterback Max Hall and running back Harvey Unga ensure the Cougars will be able to score, but only three defensive starters return. Jorgensen is the best defensive player in the Mountain West Conference. Last season, he led the league in tackles for loss and sacks. BYU needs a strong pass rush with a completely rebuilt secondary.
Last season Evans emerged as a pass-rushing force with 12.5 sacks to rank eighth nationally. The Nittany Lions have already lost linebacker Sean Lee for the season and couldn't afford to lose another top-line player. Evans is even more vital because Penn State has marginal depth at end. The defense needs to be strong with the Nittany Lions breaking in new starters at quarterback and tailback.
The Bulls could seriously challenge West Virginia for Big East supremacy. They need Grothe, who was their leading rusher and passer in '07, to remain healthy. This is a team without any other proven offensive playmakers. His backup, Grant Gregory, threw 30 passes last season.
Although the Huskies did upset California last season without Locker, they wouldn't be as fortunate this season. That was a result of a huge game from running back Louis Rankin, who completed his eligibility. Losing Locker would cost Washington its top passer, top returning rusher and top scorer. He was able to keep the Huskies in contention in several games last season. This season, he's expected to improve and could turn closes losses into wins. Washington could make a serious run at bowl eligibility this season – but not without Locker.
Rashard Mendenhall's early departure to the NFL left the Illini without a big-play guy on offense to complement quarterback Juice Williams. Last season, Benn showed flashes of being a big-play threat on runs, receptions and returns. As a true freshman in '07, he had 54 catches for 676 yards. The next-most productive returning receiver had 12 catches for 243 yards. A strong year by Benn would go a long way in helping Illinois build on last season's 9-3 finish. Without Benn, the Illini likely would take a step back. Maybe several.
His importance showed last season. Before Brinkley suffered a season-ending knee injury four games into the season, South Carolina's defense had allowed an average of 11.3 points per game and the Gamecocks were 3-1. After losing Brinkley, the defense allowed 28.1 points and the Gamecocks went 3-5. Brinkley gives South Carolina leadership and an intimidating 6-2, 275-pound presence in the middle of the defense. He gives running backs and receivers on crossing patterns the willies.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.