All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our "most important players" series.
There are a few rules you need to know:
1. Quarterbacks are ineligible.
2. "Most important" doesn't equal "best." (Note: Sometimes the most important player is the best player.) I think we can all agree that a season ago, players such as Mike Bercovici and Jerry Neuheisel proved how very important they were to their respective teams.
3. Even if they were the most important, they're quarterbacks and therefore ineligible (see rule No. 1). Keep up, guys.
Oregon: RB Royce Freeman
2014 production: Freeman, last year's Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, led the conference with 19 total touchdowns. He produced 1,365 yards on 252 carries with 18 scores on the ground and one in the air.
Why Freeman is important: On the surface, this seems like a "duh" selection. And it is, because, duh.
With 15 "official" starters returning from a team that advanced to the national championship game last season, picking one that stands out seems arbitrary. But there is nothing arbitrary about Freeman's selection. What do you think of when you think of Oregon? Fine, after all of the uniform combinations. You think of offense. And specifically, the ground game. Over the past five seasons, only Georgia Tech, Navy and Army have produced more yards on the ground than the Ducks.
It remains the magic bullet of football. You have to be able to run. And few teams have done it as well as Oregon. A great running back opens up the play-action (sort of a big deal in Oregon's attack), he frees up the quarterback to run (also a must in Oregon's attack) and, frankly, there is nothing more demoralizing to a defense than to continually give up 5 and 6 yards on the ground per play.
The Ducks have plenty of playmakers on offense. But if Freeman is clicking, it takes a huge amount of pressure off of the quarterback-to-be and it allows for more creativity in the passing game. Think of all the crazy ways the coaching staff can use Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner if Freeman is at the top of his game.
At 5-11, 230 pounds, he's a bulldozer who can wear down defenses. But he's quick enough to make defenders miss. And if the Ducks hope to return to the playoffs, chances are it will be on the strength of Freeman's legs.