- 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 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.
Colorado: WR Paul Richardson
2012 production: Did not play
Why Richardson is so important: He's a difference-maker on a team that doesn't have a lot of them. There's a reason that Colorado ranked last in the Pac-12 in total offense and scoring offense -- they didn't have anyone who could stretch the field and defenses would simply load up the box.
As a result, the Buffs managed just 110.2 rushing yards per game (11th in the league behind Washington State) and were forced to throw more than they wanted to -- and because they were usually down by large amounts. They weren't great at throwing, either, ranking last in pass efficiency with 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions while completing just 55 percent of their throws.
Richardson can make a difference. After missing all of 2012 with a knee injury -- a period he called "excruciating" for having to watch his team stumble to a 1-11 record that led to the firing of Jon Embree -- he's surgically repaired and feeling "incredible."
As the Buffs install a pistol offense under new coach Mike MacIntyre, a process that was noticeably slow this spring because the personnel depth isn't in place yet and a quarterback has yet to be named, they will need at least one guy to spark the offense. Sure, it could be running back Christian Powell, who surged last season with two 100-yard performances and four touchdowns in his final four games.
The 6-foot, 240-pound thumper has promise and many are excited to see what he'll do in the new offense. But Richardson -- perhaps a bit rusty from his year off -- is still the most explosive player on the team. In two years with the Buffs, he has five touchdowns of 50 yards or more. He's the kind of player who can take a 5-yard slant and turn it into a 75-yard touchdown. That big-play, game-changing, momentum-swinging element just wasn't there. With Richardson back, it is.
He provides the kind of dynamic athleticism the Buffs were lacking last season. Youth and inexperience at the wide receiver position, combined with a revolving door at quarterback made for some tough offensive goings in Boulder last year. Richardson brings a level of experience and, perhaps, a calming presence. Players will instantly look to him for leadership.
Chances are Colorado won't make any remarkable turnarounds in 2013. Many expect them to be better, but better might only equal three or four wins. Still, with a player like Richardson, they get back an offensive element that was missing in 2012.
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