Most important player: Washington Huskies

All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Player series.

First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Oregon's Marcus Mariota is the Ducks' most important player.

And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too.

Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on their living up to expectations. Or their absence.

Washington: S Sean Parker

2012 production: Tallied 77 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions with six passes defended. He also forced three fumbles.

Why Parker is so important: As stated above, quarterbacks are excluded from this series. But we never said anything about excluding the quarterback of the defense. And that's exactly what Sean Parker is for the Huskies -- a quarterback at safety who headlines a surging secondary.

There are a lot of different directions to go with the Huskies. Running back Bishop Sankey is an obvious choice. He's a 1,400-yard rusher who has quickly climbed from by-committee option to A-list playmaker. Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are strong options as well.

Defensively, there are some good linebacker options in Shaq Thompson, John Timu or Travis Feeney. All could fill this space.

But Parker, who was selected by his teammates as a captain last year, is the guy who makes everything click.

"Tremendous player. Great leader. Really exemplifies what we want back there," said head coach Steve Sarkisian.

As documented, the Huskies' defense made huge strides in 2012 -- particularly in the secondary -- in their first year under defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. And if they hope to be a Top-25 team -- as many have them slated -- that defense will have to keep improving. Parker will have to keep improving.

He stepped up in some of Washington's biggest games last year. He forced a fumble, had five tackles and a tackle for a loss in the win over Stanford. Against Oregon State he broke up three passes and had an interception that stopped an early drive deep in Washington territory.

This year's schedule isn't quite as daunting. But they still play in the Pac-12 North and they have to travel to Arizona State and UCLA -- not to mention the home opener against Boise State in a rematch of last year's bowl game. But there is plenty of leadership on the Huskies this year and Parker, an all-league honorable mention pick last season, is considered the leader of the leaders.

He's started in all 13 games each of the last two seasons and has been through the peaks and valleys of the program. The Huskies have a chance to ascend to peaks they haven't reached in a decade. If they do, chances are Parker plays a huge role in getting them there.