We're moving on in our series on the Big 12 Blog pegging the single player each team in the Big 12 can't afford to lose. He's also the player that will be most responsible for the team's ultimate success.
Most indispensable player: RB Joseph Randle
2011 stats: 208 carries, 1,216 yards, 24 TD. Averaged 5.85 yards per carry. Caught 43 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns.
Why Oklahoma State can't afford to lose him: Jeremy Smith and Randle balance each other out quite well, but color me skeptical that Smith could duplicate Randle's kind of production if he were injured or not on the team. Talented youngster Herschel Sims is itching for carries, too, but he's more in the mold of a low-centered, physical grinder like Maurice Jones-Drew. Randle's the biggest home run hitter the team has, and assures that defenses can't key in on an offense that isn't shy about admitting it's pass-first.
Randle's role is especially important this year with Wes Lunt, a true freshman at quarterback. Look for OSU to lean a little bit more on the run, especially early in the season. Lunt is capable, but he doesn't have the experience, accuracy or arm strength of Brandon Weeden just yet. Randle's been on the field for two seasons and carried a huge load last year, ranking second in the Big 12 in rushing touchdowns. He'll be a stabilizing force on an offense that may need one with so much inexperience at quarterback and receiver.
Additionally, Randle's aptitude in the passing game will be a valuable outlet for Lunt. Early in games, getting him some easy throws to get in rhythm and feeling comfortable in the pocket will be huge. Look for more bubble screens, and Randle to be the recipient.
This is still a pass-first offense, but without Randle the offense wouldn't be nearly as effective, no matter what came first.