Most important player: UCLA

All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Players series.

First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Marcus Mariota is Oregon's most important player.

And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too. USC’s Leonard Williams might be the best defensive lineman in the nation, but is he the Trojans' most important player, considering the talent and depth on their D-line?

Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on them living up to expectations. Or their absence.

UCLA: LB Eric Kendricks

2013 production: Recorded 106 tackles, including four tackles for a loss and two sacks. He also had one interception, blocked a kick, forced a fumble and broke up a pair of passes.

Why Kendricks is important: Kendricks has been one of the most productive tacklers in the league the last two seasons, leading the conference in tackles in 2012 and coming in third in 2013. It’s just those same years, the Bruins happened to have a pretty good outside linebacker named Anthony Barr who sacked the spotlight away from Kendricks.

As fate would have it, the Bruins have another rising outside linebacker -- who also does a little bit of work on offense and is getting a lot of the attention in the linebacker corps. But those who know Bruins football know what Kendricks is capable of. He’s a veteran leader who quietly comes to work every day, turns in double-digit tackles, then comes back and does it again next week.

His numbers aren’t flashy in the sense that he doesn’t pile up the premium stats. And in a league dominated by talented outside linebackers who tally huge sack and tackle-for-loss numbers, Kendricks’ production in the middle often gets lost. But it’s Kendricks who allows those OLBs to flourish. Teams can’t double-team the outside because they have to account for Kendricks in the middle. If there is a play to be made, he'll make it. Likewise, they can’t double-team Kendricks because that leaves the outside open. It’s your classic pick-your-poison scenario when he’s on the field.

UCLA enters the 2014 season with a considerable amount of hype. While a lot of teams experienced huge talent drains on defense, the Bruins are fairly well stacked. And as they look for their third South crown in four years, Kendricks will continue to play a crucial role in that success.

Other Most Important Players: