College Football Top 25: Each Team’s Most Important Player Down the Stretch

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25 Most Important Players Down the Stretch

Players
Matthew Emmons- US PRESSWIRE

There’s a lot of different definitions when it comes to naming a player that is MOST important to a football team.

On one side you have the unquestioned leader, someone who may not be the flashiest player but they lead by example and let their play do the talking. Then on the other side you have the superstar who gains all of the headlines and notoriety but everyone knows that without him the headlines might not exist.

Football is a team game but sometimes there’s a single player that is so important to a team that they can’t function without him. Defenses fall apart without their captain or main defensive player. Offenses struggle without a play-making quarterback or a general on the offensive line.

No matter the case there is always one player that a team cannot do without and that’s what this list is. Of the players on this list not all of them are well known but one thing is for sure, their teammates and their fans know who they are and what they are capable of. Some of these players have already put up big numbers while the others are making their presence felt in other ways.

Out of the current teams in the AP top 25 each team has a player that will dictate the success each team has the rest of the season. These players are the MOST important to their teams down the home stretch of the college football season.

Disagree? Agree? Let us know in the comments section.

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25. Michigan Wolverines: QB Denard Robinson

Michigan
Mike DiNovo- US PRESSWIRE

Even though he has struggled at times this season, in their two biggest games by the way, “Shoelace” is still Michigan’s most important player down the stretch.

He leads them in almost every offensive category besides receiving although he’s probably quick enough to throw a pass down-field and catch it himself. His Heisman stock has dropped due to his rough games against Alabama and Notre Dame but his value to the Wolverines can’t be understated.

Imagine what Michigan would be without him and you’ll realize his true importance.

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24. Boise State Broncos: S Jeremy Ioane

Boise
Brian Losness- US PRESSWIRE

The ball-hawking safety has been making big plays all year and he leads the Broncos’ top ranked turnover forcing defense.

Boise State’s 3.2 turnovers per game through five games is the best ratio in the country and Ioane, along with the other defensive secondary members, has been a big reason why.

Forcing turnovers is the name of the game for Boise this year and it’s directly led to two of their wins. In their lone loss of the season to Michigan State, Ioane’s interception return was the Broncos’ only TD on the night.

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23. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs: WR Quinton Patton

Tech
Peter Casey- US PRESSWIRE

Not many people have heard of Patton and it’s a shame because he’s one of the top receivers in the country.

Nicknamed “The General”, Patton is on the Biletnikoff award watch list and was named as the preseason favorite to win the WAC offensive player of the year award. He’s caught 34 passes for 532 yards and 5 TDs and is 11th in the country in receiving yards per game with 106.4.

Patton is a handful and should not be taken lightly because he’ll burn defenses that aren’t prepared.

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22. Texas A&M Aggies: QB Johnny Manziel

A&M
Brett Davis- US PRESSWIRE

It’s not often that a freshman is a team’s most important player but Manziel hasn’t been playing like a first year player this season.

He’s made A&M’s transition to the SEC pretty smooth and it’s propelled the Aggies into the top 25. His only loss has been to Florida and that loss looks pretty good at this point with the Gators ranked in the top five.

He can beat teams with his arm or his legs and he’s becoming a tough challenge for defenses to prepare for. The scary thing is that he will only continue to get better as he plays more games.

That’s a good thing for Aggies fans but a bad thing for everyone else including SEC defensive coordinators.

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21. Cincinnati Bearcats: LB Greg Blair

Blair
Lauren Purkey- The News Record

Another linebacker on this list and that must mean that his team’s defense is one of the tops in the country.

For Blair that is the case as he’s the leader of the Bearcats’ 12th best defense. He leads the team in tackles (36) and is second in INTs with two.

They’ve only played four games so far and his numbers will just continue to get better with more opportunities.

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20. Rutgers Scarlet Knights: LB Khaseem Greene

Greene
Ed Mulholland- US PRESSWIRE

Greene has been wreaking havoc all season and his stats across the board are exceptional.

49 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble and multiple QB hurries and pass breakups says a lot about the motor this guy has. He never stops and has been the main threat on Rutgers’ fifth ranked defense.

As they start to run into some tougher competition as the season progresses Greene will have to continue to play at this level for the Knights to be successful.

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19. Mississippi State Bulldogs: CB Darius Slay

Slay
Spruce Derden- US PRESSWIRE

The Bulldogs' pass defense has been top notch this season and they have a stellar cornerback duo of Slay and Jonathan Banks.

I give the edge to Slay because he has one more INT than Banks but either one could be considered their most important player. Overall, their pass defense has only allowed three passing TDs this year but none of the three were receivers covered by these two guys.

Slay makes plays and it’s forcing opposing QB’s to throw elsewhere, which benefits the Bulldogs in the end.

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18. Louisville Cardinals: QB Teddy Bridgewater

Teddy
Robert Mayer- US PRESSWIRE

Louisville is undefeated at 5-0 and they are having one of their best season since 2006 when they went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl.

A lot of the credit should go to Bridgewater and his consistent play this season. Their defense has been suspect at times but every time they look they might get upset Bridgewater plays a great game.

They haven’t been tested too much but he hasn’t made many mistakes and that’s why they find themselves undefeated.

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17. Stanford Cardinal: RB Stepfan Taylor

Taylor
Kyle Terada- US PRESSWIRE

What’s the best thing for an inexperienced quarterback? Well that would be a running game so by committee that would make Taylor Stanford’s most important player down the stretch.

A solid running game is any QB’s best friend but especially for the Cardinal and Josh Nunes. He’s obviously had his ups and downs but Taylor has been a constant crutch for him to lean on this season.

In their two biggest games this year, USC and Arizona, Taylor has played his best games and it’s not a surprise that Stanford won both of those.

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16. Clemson Tigers: WR DeAndre Hopkins

Nuke
Joshua S. Kelly- US PRESSWIRE

Hopkins, otherwise known as “Nuke” has been Clemson’s biggest weapon this season. Nuke has overtaken Sammy Watkins as Tajh Boyd’s favorite target and he’s had an exceptional season so far.

49 receptions, 777 yards and 8 TDs through six games are pretty stout numbers and Hopkins has benefited from Clemson’s up-tempo offense.

An argument can be made that Boyd is their most important player down the stretch because if he went down they would be in trouble. However, Hopkins is their most important player up to this point and he’ll have a big impact on how they perform the rest of the way out.

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15. Texas Longhorns: LB Jordan Hicks

Texas
Jody Gomez- US PRESSWIRE

Talking with Kris Hughes, Rant Sports’ college football manager and a Texas writer, Hicks seems to be the most important player.

He’s their cog up the middle, a team captain and is a sure tackler, something that Texas has struggled with the past few weeks. Ever since Hicks went down with an injury the middle of the Longhorns’ defense has been exposed and has left them vulnerable.

A case could be made that Jackson Jeffcoat or Alex Okafor but with Hicks missing the defense hasn’t been as effective and it has led to their recent shootouts.

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14. Georgia Bulldogs: LB Jarvis Jones

Jones
Daniel Shirley- US PRESSWIRE

The main Georgia writer for Rant, Chris Lionetti, believes that Jones is their most important player and I’d have to agree.

As Jones goes, so does the rest of the Bulldogs defense. He’s been dealing with an ankle injury and it has affected the defense’s performance.

Against South Carolina he sprained his ankle and it left the defense in shambles. Without him in the lineup their defense doesn’t stand much of a chance so they’ll need him healthy the rest of the way to stay relevant.

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13. Oklahoma Sooners: CB Aaron Colvin

Colvin
Matthew Emmons- US PRESSWIRE

After moving from safety to corner Colvin has emerged as a big-time play maker. Quarterbacks try to avoid throwing in the direction of Demontre Hurst at the other corner so Colvin has been seeing a lot of passes thrown his way and he’s making them pay.

His numbers won’t stand out, 22 tackles and one INT, but he’s becoming a lock down corner and it’s helping OU’s secondary become one of the best units in the Big 12.

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12. Florida State Seminoles: QB EJ Manuel

EJ
Kim Klement- US PRESSWIRE

A case could be made for RB Chris Thompson and his return to the Seminoles this season but it mostly comes down to Manuel’s play each week.

In their wins Manuel has been pretty dang good but as fans saw in their loss to NC State last week, he didn’t have a very good game and the Seminoles got upset. For most teams, when it comes to their on-field success, it boils down to quarterback play.

Florida State can often rely on their defense but even when their defense plays well, like they did against NC State, it isn’t enough if the offense doesn’t score any points. In the end it falls on Manuel’s shoulders.

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11. USC Trojans: C Khaled-Holmes

Holmes
Rich Barnes- US PRESSWIRE

Everyone in the country saw what happened to the Trojans’ offense in the Stanford game after Holmes went down with a leg injury. They couldn’t move the ball at all and QB Matt Barkley was constantly getting hit and sacked.

After he left the game injured, USC was shut out in the final 34 minutes and their national title hopes took a big hit. His importance to USC can’t be stated anymore clearly.

Without him their offense isn’t very effective. He’s been playing the past few weeks but nobody really knows if he’s fully healthy. However, having him on the field beats the alternative.

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10. Oregon State Beavers: QB Sean Mannion

Sean
Jaime Valdez- US PRESSWIRE

We will know for sure just how important Mannion is to the success that the Beavers are having this season on Saturday because he won’t be on the field.

This past week news broke that he has a torn meniscus in his knee and he’ll miss the next few weeks after having it surgically repaired.

Up to this point he has played exceptionally well and turned OSU into the surprise team in the country. In each game he had slowly gotten better and propelled the Beavers passing attack to the eighth best unit in the country.

Hopefully the Beavers won’t fall flat without Mannion but if they do we will all know what him being on the field means to his team.

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9. LSU Tigers: LB Kevin Minter

LSU
Kim Klement- US PRESSWIRE

Defense has always been the main staple of LSU football so you’ll find their most important player on the defensive side of the ball.

Kevin Minter has been the main cog up the middle and a player that opposing offenses have to game plan around. He is tied for second in the SEC with 54 tackles to go along with two sacks and 8.5 TFL, which leads the team.

The junior will likely be a first-team All-SEC player and he well deserves the honor with the season he’s had so far.

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8. Ohio State Buckeyes: QB Braxton Miller

OSU
Andrew Weber- US PRESSWIRE

Seen as a bit of a weak link last year, Braxton Miller has proved all doubters wrong this season and has thrived under new head coach Urban Meyer.

If anybody knows how to use a running quarterback effectively it’s Meyer and Miller is seeing the benefits of his system. Even in a season where the Buckeyes can’t play any type of postseason games Miller has his squad in the top 10.

Through six games he’s thrown for over 1,000 yards while rushing for over 750 yards and has a combined 17 TDs. In a down year for the Big Ten, Miller has been one of the only bright spots.

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7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: LB Manti Te'o

Te'o
Matt Cashore- US PRESSWIRE

Leading the resurgence of Notre Dame this season has been the play of their senior linebacker Te’o. He is the heart of their second ranked defense and he’s even being considered as a dark horse Heisman trophy threat.

Not many players could do what he’s done this season and it’s not just his actions on the field that make him their most important player. After the tragic passing of his girlfriend and his grandmother in the same week his teammates rallied around him and he continued to play and had one of the bets games of his career.

Not many people, let alone football players, have the strength to do that. He’s one of the feel good stories of the year and one of the main reasons why the Irish are where they are right now.

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6. Kansas State Wildcats: QB Collin Klein

Klein
Matthew Emmons- US PRESSWIRE

Klein is not the flashiest player but he’s getting the job done this season and because of him Kansas State is in the top 10.

In their offensive system Klein has been effective when he needs to be through the air but it’s his threat on the ground where his real presence is felt.

So far through six games Klein has rushed for 405 yards and 7 TDs. For being on a top 10 team his blue collar approach to the position is refreshing to see.

When Klein runs he doesn’t just slide down or run out of bounds, he’ll lower his shoulder and fight for extra yards. That type of play inspires the players around him and that’s why he is the most important player for K-State this season.

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5. West Virginia Mountaineers: QB Geno Smith

Geno
James Lang- US PRESSWIRE

This is an easy one. Anytime you throw for over 600 yards and 8 TDs in a single game you know you’re doing something right.

The early Heisman favorite has been making opposing defenses look like peewee squads and his stats prove it. Through six games Smith has put up numbers that most quarterbacks will have for an entire season: 166-204, 81% completion rate, 1996 yds and 24 TDs.

Need I say more about his importance?

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4. Florida Gators: RB Mike Gillislee

Gators
Kim Klement- US PRESSWIRE

After spending his first three seasons on the sidelines watching the likes of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps in the backfield, Gillislee is finally getting his chance in the spotlight.

The senior has been patiently waiting for his moment and now he’s making the most of it. So far this year he’s rushed for 548 yards and 7 TDs and matched his season high in rushing attempts through the first three games of the 2012 campaign.

His presence was never felt more than in last week’s upset win over No. 4 LSU when he rushed 34 times for 146 yards and the only two TDs of the game.

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3. South Carolina Gamecocks: DE Jadeveon Clowney

USC
Jeff Blake- US PRESSWIRE

The Gamecocks have had talented teams in the past but this year’s squad is probably the best they’ve ever had and it starts with their defense.

They are the fourth best unit in the country allowing only 10.5 points per game and they are led by their stud DE Clowney. He’s been terrorizing opposing offensive lines all season and been creating havoc in the backfield.

On the season he has 25 tackles, 6.5 sacks (2nd in SEC) and 11.5 tackles for loss (2nd in SEC). Last year he was named the freshmen defensive player of the year and he has only gotten better this season.

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2. Oregon Ducks: RB Kenjon Barner

Ducks
Scott Olmos- US PRESSWIRE

It’s hard to pick just one player as the most important member of the team, especially for an offensive juggernaut like the Ducks.

Their running game is top notch and all of the hype surrounds De’Anthony Thomas and his electrifying speed. But really the other guy in the backfield should get most of the publicity.

Barner has rushed for 727 yards and nine touchdowns and ranks 12th in the nation at 121.2 yards per game. He even has more all-purpose yards than Thomas (838-820) without being featured on special teams or much in the passing game.

Thomas and QB Marcus Mariota get most of the press but it’s Barner who is doing a lot of the work.

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1. Alabama Crimson Tide: LB CJ Mosley

Tide
Courtesy- DJtop100.blogspot.com

When you have the number one defense in the country it’s easy to say that the most important player on the team is a defensive player.

That’s the case for the Tide as Mosley is the leader and his stats reflect that: 39 total tackles, 22 solo, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF. He’s a perennial All-American and should be one of the favorites to win the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker at the end of the season.

Think that another player from these teams deserves to be on this list? Let us know in the comments section and let your voice be heard.

David LaRose is one of the featured College Football writers for Rant Sports covering the Pac 12 and the University of Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter or check out his Facebook page.

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