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, for example, that Oregon's Marcus Mariota is the Ducks' most important player.
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.
Arizona State: DT Will Sutton
2012 production: The consensus All-American and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year had 63 tackles, 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for a loss. He led the league in sacks and tackles for loss per game and was awarded the league's Morris Trophy for top defensive lineman.
Why Sutton is important: All the series we do on this blog are subjective and intended to move the conversation. But this series in particular might be the most subjective of all simply because there are so many different directions you can go with it. I intended to write about Carl Bradford and how he’ll have to build on an already monster 2012 as Sutton garners more attention. Then I thought about writing on Marion Grice and the rushing/receiving element he brings to the offense. But I also considered writing about D.J. Foster and how his production is sure to increase as more defenses target Grice.
And then I harnessed Occam's razor: among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.
It has to be Sutton. For the production he gets on the field, it has to be Sutton. For the production he gets in the backfield, it has to be Sutton. For the explosive first-step that gives defenses fits, for his ability to blow up game plans and for the way his teammates feed off of him, it has to be Sutton.
Consider ASU’s four-game slide in the middle of last year. It started with the Oregon game. Sutton played all of two plays -- two -- and got two tackles, one for a loss and forced a fumble before suffering a bone bruise in his knee.
There are those who will continue to insist that if Sutton doesn't get hurt, Oregon might not win that game. I’m not one of them. But it would have been a heck of a lot more interesting to watch that game play out, because talking with ASU folks after the fact, the entire defensive game plan revolved around how Oregon was going to read Sutton. Like everyone else watching, I saw the absolute deflation that occurred defensively when Sutton went down. There aren’t many players -- outside of the guys who throw the football -- who carry that much emotional influence. Everything changed.
He missed the UCLA game (which the Sun Devils lost at home on a last-minute field goal), and he was nowhere near 100 percent against Oregon State and USC. Both losses.
Sutton’s presence makes the rest of the defense better. Bradford certainly benefited and will continue to flourish as teams dedicate more blockers to Sutton.
Sutton’s numbers in 2012 were as good as any we’ve seen for a long time from a defensive lineman -- let alone a defensive tackle -- in this conference. And defensive coordinator Paul Randolph even said he thought Sutton left "eight" sacks on the field. If he can replicate his 2012 numbers -- or even come close -- that means the rest of the Sun Devils defense will probably be benefiting.
Few players inspire the way Sutton did in 2012 and can in 2013. And for that reason -- among many others -- it has to be Sutton.