Meet the SEC West Division's Most Indispensable Football Players

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJune 14, 2013

Meet the SEC West Division's Most Indispensable Football Players

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    On Thursday, we examined the SEC East's most indispensable players.

    Today, we head out West to take a look at the players who each team in college football's toughest division absolutely have to have in order to be successful.

    What happens if Alabama's AJ McCarron goes down? Is Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel the Aggies' best player and their most indispensable?

    We did it last season at the SEC Blog, and the SEC West's most indispensable players makes its triumphant return in 2013. 

Alabama Crimson Tide: QB AJ McCarron

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    Alabama is known for having top-quality depth across the board. The only exception may be at quarterback, where it's AJ McCarron and then a bunch of question marks.

    The rising senior has had quite the career for the Crimson Tide, winning back-to-back Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championships and leading Alabama to its current status as the first dynasty of the BCS era.

    How good is McCarron?

    If you count his redshirt season in 2009, he has more BCS National Championship rings than losses as a starting quarterback.

    Alec Morris, Blake Sims and Cooper Bateman haven't had the chance to instill a ton of confidence in head coach Nick Saban and the coaching staff, and didn't exactly set the world on fire in the spring game.

    Morris will likely land the backup role, but if McCarron is out, the Crimson Tide's dynasty might go with him. 

Arkansas Razorbacks: QB Brandon Allen

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    Brandon Allen stepped in for Tyler Wilson last season when Wilson missed time with a concussion. He clearly wasn't prepared for the challenge.

    But a full offseason battling for the top spot on the depth chart worked wonders, as Allen emerged from spring ahead of Brandon Mitchell.

    Mitchell bailed to N.C. State to finish off his career, leaving all of first-year coach Bret Bielema's eggs in Allen's basket.

    Freshmen Damon Mitchell and Austin Allen will contend for the backup spot this summer. Sure, A.J. Derby, Taylor Reed and some other quarterbacks are on the roster. But it's Allen's show in Fayetteville, for better or worse.

    The Hogs are going to run the football with Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, but if Allen isn't taking the snaps, they'll be one-dimensional on purpose. That's a recipe for disaster. 

Auburn Tigers: "Star" Justin Garrett

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    Justin Garrett hasn't made much of an impact for the Tigers in the fall during his two years on the Plains, but the 6'1", 214-pounder made quite the impression this spring for first-year head coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.

    He emerged as the sure-fire leader to start at the hybrid linebacker/safety "star" position this spring, and it's a spot that suits him well.

    "I feel like this is the perfect system for my body type and the way I play," he said this spring, according to AuburnTigers.com. "I'm blitzing and covering. The offense never knows what I'm going to do."

    Robenson Therezie—who has bounced around between the defensive and offensive backfields during his career—will back Garrett up. Therezie is a solid athlete and will likely step in during obvious passing situations, but Garrett showed this spring that he's versatile and pays close attention to the fundamentals.

    "He is, without a doubt, the best we’ve got," Johnson said. "He hasn’t played much ball, not in games around here. It’s not always game experience when it comes to something as simple as physically tackling."  

    Auburn's offense will grab headlines, but the defense needs a tune up as well. In 2013, it will revolve around Garrett.

LSU Tigers: DT Anthony Johnson

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    Don't buy into the "rebuilding year" talk when it comes to LSU, the Tigers are contenders for the BCS National Championship.

    A big reason why is defensive tackle Anthony "Freak" Johnson—literally. 

    The 6'3", 304-pounder came to Baton Rouge with a ton of hype, and is now being counted on to be a force in the middle of that line against the run and take up double teams to free up the Tigers' defensive ends.

    Don't let Johnson's size fool you. He's incredibly athletic and could be an All-SEC performer this year. If he plays up to his potential, he will help out the back end of LSU's defense tremendously. 

    LSU's offense will be better, so it won't be all defense in Baton Rouge this season. But the success or failure of the Tigers' D rests in its ability to remain stout up front. Johnson is a big part of that equation. 

Mississippi State Bulldogs: RB LaDarius Perkins

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    Some view Mississippi State running back LaDarius Perkins as a changeup back, while others contend that he's a true workhorse. I place myself in the latter.

    Perkins rushed for 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago, and will be counted on to be an even bigger part of the offense in 2013.

    Why?

    Mississippi State's top three receivers are gone, and while the newcomers are talented, quarterback Tyler Russell will be best served relying on a known commodity as the receivers get settled early on.

    While he earned the reputation of a changeup back when he joined Vick Ballard in the backfield a couple of years ago, at 5'10", 195, Perkins is bigger than people give him credit for. The last thing that Mississippi State needs is to break in a new running back along with new wide receivers.  

Ole Miss Rebels: LB Denzel Nkemdiche

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    While incoming freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche draws all of the headlines, it's the incumbent Nkemdiche—sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche—who's the most important piece of Ole Miss' 2013 puzzle.

    The elder Nkemdiche was an SEC All-Freshman selection last season, and was named to the second team of the Associated Press' All-SEC team. He finished the season with a team-high 82 tackles and 13 tackles for loss, and added three sacks to his resume.

    Not a bad debut, especially for a defense that got better as the season went on.

    The 5'11", 203-pounder is a force at that "stinger" outside linebacker position, and needs to avoid that "sophomore slump" if the Rebels are going to take that next step. 

Texas A&M Aggies: OT Jake Matthews

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    What?!?! It's not "Johnny Football"?

    No, it's not—and it shouldn't be.

    Take nothing away from Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The guy is awesome and a joy to watch, but if he goes down, Texas A&M has enough playmakers on offense to still be diverse. Plus, head coach Kevin Sumlin showed in Year 1 in College Station that he's willing and able to adapt his offense based on the quarterback.

    If left tackle Jake Matthews goes down, that's a different story.

    Matthews could easily have made the jump to the NFL last season but chose to stick around and slide over to the left side, which was vacated by Luke Joeckel.

    He was a third-team All-American last season, according to the Associated Press, starting opposite Joeckel, and is being counted on to protect Manziel's blind side this season.

    If he goes down, every aspect of A&M's offense will be hurt. The same can be said for Manziel, but it's much harder to change top-tier offensive linemen on the fly than it is to adjust a loaded offense to a new quarterback.