All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Player series.
First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying that Arizona's Matt Scott, USC's Matt Barkley and Washington's Keith Price are their teams' most important players. Their losses would be catastrophic.
And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good too.
Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on their living up to expectations. Or their absence.
Washington: DT Danny Shelton
2011 production: Shelton played in all 13 games as a true freshman, starting the final two. He finished with 11 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Why Shelton is important: Price is the Huskies' most important player, but I thought I had this one figured out for the non-Price division. Then Bob Condotta, with what I'd guess was one of those gleeful cackles he is known for, did this to make things difficult on me -- polling Huskies fans on whom they thought was the team's most important player after Price. Before seeing this poll, my plan had been to go with veteran center Drew Schaefer. Huskies fans, however, favored Shelton. I frumped over this. I didn't want to be swayed by a Tyranny of the Masses or Conventional Wisdom. So while sitting in a coffee shop in order to feel all Seattle-y, I engaged in a meditative debate inside my head with Washington fans. It was going well, but then a bunch of Oregon fans showed up. Amid the ensuing trash talk, everyone ignored my entreaties to remain focused on the earnest debate at hand, even when I barked that it was rude of them blowing me off inside my own head. (None of you know the psychic pressures involved in this job.)
Schaefer would have been a good choice, but alas, I'm going with Shelton -- just like Huskies fans -- based on what the 6-foot-1, 323-pound sophomore could become this year. If Shelton plays to the ability he strongly hinted at toward the end of last season, he will become an all-conference sort of defensive tackle. Further, if he does that, he could become an ideal, space-eating noseguard in the 3-4 scheme new coordinator Justin Wilcox wants to adopt. If Shelton becomes that guy, just about everything changes for a defense that was awful in 2011. As that guy, Shelton would, more often than not, command two blockers. That would not only make life easier for the linebackers against the run but also could free up promising pass-rusher Josh Shirley on the edge. Basically, it would make the Huskies' defense feel as if it has 12 guys, not unlike how Utah often feels with DT Star Lotulelei. The Huskies do have other big interior D-linemen, but 339-pound Semisi Tokolahi and 325-pound Lawrence Lagafuaina have struggled with consistency and injury issues. Shelton needs to be that guy. My only pause on this is that the Huskies' defense was lousy last year even with 333-pound Alameda Ta'amu, a likely early-round NFL draft pick this week, and Shelton on hand. Still, Shelton playing to his potential makes me see concentric circles of improvement radiating from his wide frame throughout the Huskies defense. Or maybe that's echoing sound waves from all that Huskies-Ducks griping?