Friday, April 20, 2012
Most important player: Utah
By ESPN.com staff
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.
Utah: DT Star Lotulelei
2011 production: Lotulelei had 44 total tackles, with nine coming for a loss. He had 1.5 sacks, a pass break-up, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Why Lotulelei is so important: I don't know... is having an unmovable, athletic, 325-pound mass of humanity who could be a first-round NFL draft pick in 2013 in the middle of your defensive line a good thing? Correct answer: "Yes!" Utah fans probably leaped into the air and clicked their heels twice while screaming that answer. I know Utes coach Kyle Whittingham did when Lotulelei opted to return for his senior year instead of entering the draft (leaped in his mind, not so much an actual jump inside the football office). What Lotulelei means is that the Utes know what two offensive linemen -- or at least two offensive players -- are doing on most plays against them: trying to block the Utah star. Lotulelei, the 2011 Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best defensive lineman (as voted on by conference offensive linemen), is simply the best interior defensive lineman in the conference, probably by a wide margin. Further, if he is removed from the Utes' defense, the depth at defensive tackle isn't great. His backup -- at least this spring -- is 295-pound redshirt freshman Seni Fauonuku. The other backup defensive tackle is Joape Pela, a converted offensive lineman. The Utes signed 16 linemen in their latest recruiting class, but most were projected for offense or defensive end. With Lotulelei, the Utes defensive interior is fearsome. Without him, it would be much less so.