Most important player: USC Trojans

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.

USC: LB Devon Kennard

2012 production: Did not play

Why Kennard is so important: While approaching the USC portion of this series, I started asking myself what was different in 2012 from 2011? Why the drop off? You could easily make a case for Marqise Lee. But his outstanding season last year didn't do much to help out in the win/loss department. I considered his stat-heavy season. With 118 catches, surely the Trojans were more unbalanced in 2012 -- so the most important player should be running back Silas Redd.

Then I compared the numbers. In 2011, USC rushed the ball 392 times for 1,951 yards, 12 touchdowns, 5.0 yards per carry and an average of 162.6 yards per game. They were 55-45 pass to run.

In 2012, USC carried the ball 392 times for 1,958 yards, 12 touchdowns, 5.0 yards per carry and an average of 150.6 yards per game. They were 54-46 pass to run. The only major discrepancy is they played one more game in 2012, but the numbers are staggeringly similar. So the running game wasn't the problem.

So we look to the defense. Well, they gave up 23.6 points per game in 2011 and 24.3 in 2012. They allowed 17 rushing touchdowns in 2011, and 17 in 2012; 17 passing touchdowns in 2011, 20 in 2012. Pretty comparable.

You can compare the 2012 and 2011 stats and you'll see that almost all of the numbers are similar -- give or take. Except one: Rushing yards allowed.

In 2011 they allowed 111.4 yards per game on the ground. In 2012, that number ballooned to 167 yards per game. Lane Kiffin talked about wanting to switch to a 3-4 even before hiring Clancy Pendergast as his defensive coordinator to do a better job against the run.

That brings us -- finally -- to Kennard. After earning a starting gig as a defensive end in 2012, he tore his pectoral muscle and was forced to take a redshirt year. He, by the way, was also missing from the equation between 2011 and 2012.

So why Kennard over, say, Morgan Breslin or Leonard Williams or Dion Bailey (who by the way should flourish back at his natural safety spot)? Because Kennard could blow up in 2013 in this new scheme. There is going to be so much focus on Breslin -- we know what we're getting with him -- that Kennard is going to get plenty of one-on-one opportunities to make plays in the backfield and/or stuff the run.

Conversely, if he proves to be as good as many think he's going to be on the outside, he'll force teams to scheme extra blockers his way, which should open things up for Breslin. It's a pick-your-Trojan scenario that could end badly for opposing offenses.

He's experienced as a defensive end and he's also played middle linebacker, so being on the edge and playing with a stop-the-run-first mentality will come naturally to him.

USC is a team that has several potential All-Americans on both sides of the ball. But in this case, it's the return of Kennard that could prove most beneficial to the Trojans and their new-look defense. He could be the game-changer.