We're moving on in our series on the Big 12 Blog pegging the single player each team in the Big 12 can't afford to lose. He's also the player that will be most responsible for the team's ultimate success.
Next up, the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Most indispensable player: RB Eric Stephens
2011 stats: 108 carries, 565 yards, 8 TDs. 16 receptions, 133 yards.
Why Texas Tech can't afford to lose him: This was a really, really difficult call. I'm not sure Texas Tech has one player you could truly say is indispensable, but based on what we saw in 2011, you could rule out literally everyone on the defense.
Offensively, Tech has a deep stable of receivers, and the passing game remained productive even as the receivers fought injuries. That leaves QB Seth Doege and Stephens.
We already got a preview of what life without Stephens would be like, and it wasn't pretty. Stephens was a productive runner, on track to become the first Red Raider to rush for 1,000 yards since 1998, but his season ended with an ugly hit in a close loss to Texas A&M that dislocated his knee and ended his season. He's still not guaranteed to return in 2012.
But even with that production, offensive coordinator Neal Brown told me this offseason that his value to the team was still underrated. Texas Tech has a lot of backs on its roster who can look good with the ball in their hands. It doesn't have one who can pass block anything close to the way Stephens could. Being able to chip a linebacker and buy a few extra seconds for Doege will pay off in a lot of spots throughout a season. The Red Raiders lost that late in the season. DeAndre Washington played well, but Stephens' experience helped him develop that skill, and that experience can't be duplicated. We saw that much throughout 2011.
Texas Tech's running game wasn't as productive and the record went south quickly. Looking for the man Tech needs the most this fall? Stephens is your guy.