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Indispensable player: Colorado

7/7/2011

See your team in your mind's eye -- 24 starters, including specialists.

If you could put an absolute halo of safety -- perhaps a girdle of indestructibility? -- around just one, who would it be?

We're rating each team's most indispensable player. And when the choice is too obvious -- say, Stanford -- we'll try to offer a second choice.

Up next: Colorado

RB Rodney Stewart

You could make an argument that Stewart is as important to the Buffaloes as quarterback Andrew Luck is to Stanford. That might be just a bit extreme, but Stewart was the Buffaloes' offense last fall. He rushed for 1,318 yards, which would have ranked third in the Pac-10 in 2010, and scored a team-high 10 touchdowns. The Buffs' No. 2 rusher, Brian Lockridge, gained 146 yards. How extreme is that difference? It would have been the lowest number for a No. 2 rusher in the conference last fall. Heck, Oregon State's No. 2 rusher behind workhorse Jacquizz Rodgers gained 220 yards, and he was a receiver: Markus Wheaton. Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel was sacked 51 times, but he still managed to rush for 204 yards. Stewart finished with 290 carries. That would have ranked second in the conference -- Oregon's LaMichael James had 294 -- 30 ahead of Washington workhorse Chris Polk and 34 more than Rodgers. He also caught 29 passes for 290 yards, making him the Buffs' No. 4 receiver. Have we mentioned that Stewart is 5-foot-6, 175 pounds? Further, the depth behind Stewart is uncertain. Lockridge, also a senior, is still dealing with an ankle injury and might not be ready by the start of the season. There are high expectations for redshirt freshman Tony Jones after a solid spring, and sophomore Josh Ford also is a possibility. Still, Stewart is the unquestioned engine of the offense. New coach Jon Embree wants to be a run-first, physical team -- he brought back the fullback position -- and if the Buffs are going to be a bowl team in Year 1 of the Pac-12, they will ride Stewart there.