8 Players That Will Have Biggest Impact on BCS Title Race

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVNovember 9, 2012

8 Players That Will Have Biggest Impact on BCS Title Race

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    As the race for the 2013 BCS National Championship becomes more and more exclusive, certain players now find themselves in control of their team's—and the championship's—destiny. 

    While the cream has risen to the top in the form of the Alabama Crimson Tide, who seek their third championship in four years, a handful of teams remain serious contenders for the big game and are led by some thrilling characters.

    The national title race is seemingly down to four teams—Alabama, Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame—and each of these teams possess certain players who will make or break their lofty aspirations.

    Each team in contention has its own Heisman Trophy candidate, but they'll also need leadership and big-time play in the form of other players to have any chance at victory in Sun Life Stadium in Miami. 

    Without further ado, let's check out the players who will make the biggest impact—good or bad—on the BCS National Championship race from here on out.

Kenjon Barner: RB, Oregon

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    Oregon Ducks running back Kenjon Barner was buried beneath a long list of Heisman hopefuls just weeks ago, but has burst onto the scene with a number of insane performances and now stands as one of the favorites for the prestigious award.

    Perhaps more important than all of that, though, is the fact that he has his team in real contention for Oregon's first national title. 

    Barner scorched the USC Trojans on Saturday with an eye-popping performance, with 321 rushing yards and five touchdowns for the contest. The Ducks needed every one of them as they squeaked out a 62-51 shoot-out victory over Matt Barkley and company. 

    Upon entering the season, Barner had the tough task of replacing LaMichael James, one of the most decorated Ducks in the program's history. But his performance this season has quickly turned "Kenjon Barner" into a household name in the Pacific northwest. 

    The Ducks will ride on the back of Barner for the rest of the season, and they'll need continued success from their ball-carrier for any hopes of a national championship.

A.J. McCarron: QB, Alabama

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    If it's possible to win a national championship without that signature, prove-your-worth moment, that's where Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron stood heading into the 2012 college football season.

    Not anymore.

    Trailing 17-14 on the road and with their national title hopes surprisingly slipping out of reach, McCarron marched his team down the field in just 1:34 to score the game-winning touchdown. He threw for 72 yards on the final drive, which culminated in a 28-yard toss to freshman running back T.J. Yeldon and was the moment of the season so far.

    McCarron has suffered from being called a "game manager" in the past, but he quelled those arguments when he dug deep and snatched a victory from 93,374 hostile fans at Tiger Stadium. The emotion of the moment was inevitable, as the Heisman Trophy candidate was seen visibly in tears on the sideline afterward. 

    The Crimson Tide signal-caller has an incredible 19-to-0 touchdown to interception ratio, and finishing his 2012 campaign without a pick will do wonders for Alabama's hopes for a repeat.

    While McCarron may not have the gaudy numbers and statistical argument to win the Heisman, there's no player who will have a bigger impact on the national championship race from here on out.

Manti Te'o: LB, Notre Dame

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    Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o is the most dominant defensive player in college football since Ndamukong Suh.

    The Fighting Irish weren't exactly expected to be national title contenders halfway through November, but here they stand at 9-0 and already assured a BCS game.

    No player is more responsible for their resurgence than Te'o. He has been a beast this season, finishing with double-digit tackles in all but three of Notre Dame's games. His fingerprints have been all over opposing offenses.

    Te'o's team doesn't exactly blow away opponents and have fought through as many close games as anyone, so his five timely interceptions have made the difference in multiple games that could've easily been swayed against the Irish's favor.

    Notre Dame will go as far as Te'o takes them, whether that be a surprising national championship or a late-season disappointment. 

Collin Klein: QB, Kansas State

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    Nobody has had a bigger impact on college football this season than Collin Klein.

    The Kansas State quarterback's name quickly emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate after a strong start, and he weathered the midseason storm that knocked most of his peers out of contention, allowing him to become the sure-fire favorite to win the award.

    While this Wildcats team was expected to hold their own in the Big 12, it's surprising to say the least that they currently sit second in the BCS standings in November. 

    Klein's production as a dual-threat QB has propelled the Wildcats offense to currently sit at fourth in the nation in total points, and a solid defense always gives this K-State team a chance to win with Klein calling the shots.

    The Wildcats have made it through the toughest part of their schedule, and now all that's left to do is finish the job. If they do, it's unlikely that Oregon or Notre Dame will boast a resume capable of jumping K-State in the BCS rankings

T.J. Yeldon: RB, Alabama

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    Let's welcome the first surprise catalyst to this list of impact players.

    Entering the 2012 season, Alabama freshman running back T.J. Yeldon was expected to be no more than a role-player in the Crimson Tide's multifaceted rushing attack.

    Oh, how quickly things change.

    Due to his emergence and a nagging injury to Eddie Lacy, Yeldon now sees his name atop the Tide's rushing category with 104 carries for 725 yards and seven touchdowns. His seven yards per carry have been a major difference in Alabama's offense this season.

    Yeldon proved his worth late in their 21-17 victory over LSU, when he took a screen pass around the line of scrimmage and effortlessly gashed through a strong Tiger defense to notch a 28-yard score. His longest reception of the season proved to be the biggest play of his career. 

    He's still far from the feature back in this two-back rotation, but he undoubtedly delivers more impact plays than the more between-the-tackles Lacy.

    Alabama's biggest test has passed, but they still have no cakewalk for the national title. No. 15 Texas A&M will visit Tuscaloosa Saturday, which won't be an easy victory, and the fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs likely await them in the SEC Championship in December. 

    While the Tide could afford a loss last season, it won't be the case in 2012 as we expect numerous teams to finish the season undefeated. Yeldon will need to be at his usual best to help the Tide take care of business from here on out. 

Marcus Mariota: QB, Oregon

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    Oregon freshman phenom Marcus Mariota is already having himself a historic season, and he'll need to continue his dominance to take the Ducks to Miami.

    The young quarterback may not have outplayed USC's Matt Barkley in Saturday's contest, but he did his part with 304 passing yards, 96 rushing yards and four scores on 20-for-23 passing in their 62-51 victory.

    That's right, he finished with more touchdowns than incompletions.

    Mariota has completed more than 70 percent of his passes this season and has made a formidable duo with running back Kenjon Barner. Now that the Ducks enter their crucial stretch of the season, it's vital that Mariota continues his insane freshman campaign.

    The Ducks will likely face a rematch with USC in the Pac-12 Championship game, and they should be shaking in their boots after giving up 51 points to Lane Kiffin's passing attack. Mariota must feel the pressure after his defense's lackluster performance.

    The freshman will have to dig deep beyond his years and pull out another incredible performance for the Ducks to finish the season undefeated.

Everett Golson: QB, Notre Dame

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    Though he's not even the best player on his team to don the No. 5 jersey, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is an incredibly important facet of this Fighting Irish team.

    A quick glance down the season stats (per ESPN), and you see that Golson hasn't quite had a golden season with the Irish. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is 6-to-4, and backup Tommy Rees has a higher quarterback rating.

    Golson has been hampered with injury problems, but seems to be getting more and more healthy just in time for the final stretch of the season. He undoubtedly has the playmaking potential to lead the Irish to the promised land, but needs to shore up his mental toughness and decision-making in order to give his Notre Dame squad the best chance to win.

    Despite his struggles, Golson should be the man from here on out. It'll take another struggle and another game in jeopardy for him to be benched, which the Irish simply can't afford at this point in the season.

    Notre Dame may have to do more than just win their final three games to get a national championship berth—they could use some style points. With an upcoming bout against the star-studded No. 19 USC Trojans, they have a great opportunity to gain some. 

    Golson will be the biggest catalyst toward the Irish notching some impressive style points and ending the season undefeated. 

John Hubert: RB, Kansas State

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    Perhaps the most lost soul in the Collin Klein hype is that of his star running back, John Hubert.

    While his quarterback has become a household name, Hubert has been barely talked about. The junior from Waco, Texas has notched 760 rushing yards on the season to go along with 12 scores.

    Klein's impressive rushing skill has certainly taken yards away from Hubert—he hasn't reached the century mark in the last four games—but an apparent injury to Klein should give Hubert more opportunities to pound the rock as Bill Snyder's staff aims to keep Klein healthy for the latter stages of the season.

    With a matchup against TCU that has upset written all over it, Hubert will need to do his part to make sure the Wildcats minimize the impact of a potentially injured Klein. 

    If Hubert can keep scampering into the end zone and take some of the workload off Klein, it will make a heap of difference to this team's effectiveness down the stretch.