- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our "most important players" series.
There are a few rules you need to know:
1. Quarterbacks are ineligible.
2. "Most important" doesn't equal "best." (Note: Sometimes the most important player is the best player.) I think we can all agree that a season ago, players such as Mike Bercovici and Jerry Neuheisel proved how very important they were to their respective teams.
3. Even if they were the most important, they're quarterbacks and therefore ineligible (see rule No. 1). Keep up, guys.
Utah: P Tom Hackett
2014 production: The Ray Guy winner for the nation’s top punter, Hackett led the country with punts inside the 10-yard line (19) and punts inside the 20 (36). He was third nationally and led the Pac-12 in punt average (46.7).
Why Hackett is important: I don’t think I’m going to get too much push-back from Utah fans with this selection. Yes, Devontae Booker is an obvious choice for offense. And Hunter Dimick is a pretty good choice for defense.
But I think Utah fans are savvy enough to dig deeper than the obvious choice. They know their football (see rule No. 2 above). The rest of the readership might still be hating on me and Ted for picking Reggie Dunn in our 2012 Top 25 player list. But we respect the special teams program Utah has built. And we call it like we see it.
And, without a doubt, Hackett is the most important player on Utah’s roster in my mind. Exactly how many touchdowns did Hackett prevent last year by dumping 45 percent of his kicks inside the opponent’s 20? And how many did he contribute to when the other team had to punt deep in their own territory, giving the Utes outstanding field position?
This, of course, can’t exactly be measured because there are so many variables that go into how a drive progresses. But here’s guessing the bacon-booting Aussie significantly reduced the probability of the opposition scoring. And in turn significantly boosted his team’s chance for points.
We remember the last-minute drama of the UCLA game. But forget that he put four of his eight punts inside the 20 and three inside the 10. We remember the Travis Wilson heroics against USC. But we don’t remember the three times Hackett pinned the Trojans inside of their 20. We remember a dramatic overtime win at Stanford, but not the four punts Hackett placed inside the Cardinal 10.
You get the point. The guy is a game-changer without necessarily realizing how much he impacts the game. If you didn't get a chance to appreciate what he did last season, start now.