Most indispensable player: Oklahoma

We're walking through each Big 12 team and identifying its most irreplaceable talent. He's the guy they can least afford to lose, and the guy to whom an injury or departure would have the most effect.

Let's move on with Oklahoma.

More most indispensable players.

Most indispensable player: OL Gabe Ikard

Why Oklahoma can't afford to lose him: This was a tough pick, and I narrowed it down to three players: CB Aaron Colvin, LB Corey Nelson and Ikard. Oklahoma doesn't have any All-Americans on this roster in terms of pure talent, so it's tough to look at one player and say, "Man, if Oklahoma loses him, they're a completely different team." There's just not a guy like that on Oklahoma's roster.

Still, I point to Ikard because he's held down Oklahoma's offensive line together even as it was trimmed to a razor-thin unit. It was a unit basically reduced to five guys that couldn't afford to sit for exhaustion or injury at the end of 2012. He's the most talented player on the Sooners' offensive line and showed some versatility by moving over to center from left guard last year following Ben Habern's injury in preseason camp.

With a new quarterback, strong play up front on the offensive line is a must-have. That's going to make life easier on any quarterback, but the gap between an inexperienced quarterback with a good offensive line and a poor offensive line is enormous. That extra second or two in the pocket can be the difference between 10-15 percent of third-down conversions to keep the ball, move the chains and put points on the board. Ikard's the biggest key and most experienced member of the Sooners' line with 38 career starts entering the season. Oklahoma simply can't afford to lose him. It just might be the difference between an eight-win season and an 11-win season.