Most important player: USC

April, 19, 2012
4/19/12
11:00
AM ET
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 that Arizona's Matt Scott, USC's Matt Barkley and Washington's Keith Price are their teams' most important players. Their losses would be catastrophic.

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.

USC: DT George Uko

2011 production: The Trojans No. 3 DT in 2011, Uko started two games and played in all 12. He had 18 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Why Uko is so important: Look I get it: QB Matt Barkley is the Trojans most important player beyond a shadow of a doubt. The leading Heisman Trophy candidate, he might be the most valuable player in the nation. If Barkley got hurt, his likely replacement would have no game experience. So, yes, Uko is not the Trojans' most important player. But can't we have some latitude to escape obvious land?

So why is Uko is so critical to the Trojans fortunes? First, he has tons of potential to be a breakout player, perhaps even All-Pac-12. The 6-foot-3, 285-pound sophomore saw significant action last year and was productive when he did. But it's not just about Uko. It's about the lack of depth at defensive tackle for the Trojans. No. 1 nose tackle J.R. Tavai, just 6-foot-2, 270 pounds, is the next most experienced interior defensive lineman. He had four tackles last year. Running back Curtis McNeal -- another candidate for Most Important After Barkley -- had three. The next three guys -- Christian Heyward, Antwaun Woods and converted center Cody Temple -- are redshirt freshman. Zero game experience. You might wonder if the Trojans could bring an end inside -- perhaps 275-pound redshirt freshman Greg Townsend -- but all the choices would be undersized. The depth at end isn't exactly great either. Small DTs who don't command double-teams are particularly an issue when you are small at linebacker, as the Trojans are. If the Trojans lost Barkley, their season script would need an immediate rewrite. If the Trojans lost Uko? Let's just say not many teams win conference and national titles with gaping holes in the center of their D-lines.

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