After concluding our series on the top 10 moments of USC's 2011 football season, we begin this week with a brand-new series on the Trojans' top 10 performers this year. With one player per day Monday-Friday, the list will last until Friday, Dec. 23.
Coming in at No. 10 Monday was safety T.J. McDonald. Here's No. 9: defensive tackle Christian Tupou.
Let's get this out of the way, first off. As we mentioned in Monday's series-starting post, this isn't a straight-up list of USC's 10 best players.
It's a list of the most valuable players, meaning it adds in what the team would look like and how it would do without the given player in the lineup. That's why McDonald came in lower than some might expect -- the Trojans' defense didn't have any issues when Drew McAllister subbed in for him in the first half of the Colorado game.
Now, about Tupou, it's hard to overstate the impact he had on USC's season. Of the four spheres of football -- passing and rushing offense and passing and rushing defense -- the Trojans' second-best was their run defense, after the passing game of course.
The player absolutely most responsible for that success -- and improvement from the previous season -- is Tupou. The senior nose tackle was instrumental on the defensive line, providing about the steadiest-possible influence in stopping the run and clogging up blockers to enable pass rush.
His statistics weren't flashy. Actually, they were downright terrible -- the guy had eight solo tackles and 16 total tackles in 12 starts this season and didn't record a single sack, tackle for loss or pass defensed.
But, in watching tape from the Trojans' season, it's truly remarkable how many times Tupou took up two blockers on a play and allowed defensive ends Wes Horton, Nick Perry and Devon Kennard to face a single blocker on their path to the quarterback. Fellow tackle DaJohn Harris also benefited significantly from his presence.
And, as far as leadership goes, Tupou was a defensive captain for the team, voted on by his teammates, and truly one of the best lead-by-example types ever. Ask other players on the team about his rehab practices in coming back from a knee-ligament tear in the 2010 Spring Game, and they all express amazement. He spent twice as long getting treatment as anybody else on the team for several months and never complained about it a bit.
He's gone now, having graduated last May and just finished up his senior season. He'll likely get a shot to join his brother Fenuki in the NFL next season, but, if it doesn't work out long term, he's exactly the type of player who could return to school as a coach in a few years and impart upon college kids a work ethic like his for quite some time.
Check back Wednesday for player No. 8, who plays offense.