- 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.
Washington State: S Deone Bucannon
2012 production: Had a team high 106 tackles with three tackles for a loss, one sack and he hauled in four interceptions while also forcing a fumble.
Why Bucannon is so important: As noted in Washington State's "One Good Thing" video, the Cougars are silly with wide receivers. And since that is their primary method of offense, finding just one among a corps of many is difficult simply because of the nature of the offense Washington State likes to run.
So trying to single out the most important player from the wide receivers would be tough.
Defensively, Logan Mayes takes over the buck linebacker position for the departed Travis Long -- and the extremely high expectations that come with it. I also think defensive tackle Ioane Gauta, who has cut about 20 pounds this off season, quietly had a very good season last year. There were some improvements on defense -- especially in the way of sacks and tackles for a loss -- so either of them could certainly qualify.
But Bucannon fills this space because, like most safeties, he'll be called upon to be the leader of the defense. He was the only Washington State player (not counting special teams) to earn all-league accolades above honorable mention, landing on the second-team defense. He was Washington State's first player since 2006 to have more than 100 tackles in a season and his 106 stops were fifth in the conference.
But maybe more importantly, he's grown up. After a late hit on an Eastern Washington receiver last year, he was tagged as a dirty player. Fair or not, he told me in March he's learned from his mistakes.
It's tough because you're trying to come with the aggressiveness you need as a defensive player, but you have to be conscious that you are playing within the rules. Things are moving fast and you don't have much time to decide where to hit someone. But it's something I learned.
That's an important step because the Cougars played a lot of youngsters last year (and probably will again this year) and they'll be looking to Bucannon for guidance and how to act on and off the field. As they move into Year 2 of Mike Breske's defense, veterans take on even greater importance.
On several occasions last year, head coach Mike Leach said what the Cougars did in practice during the week needed to translate onto the field on Saturdays. Bucannon was one of those players who listened. He's a hitter -- and his play can inspire a team that is looking for a little inspiration.