College Football's Most Indispensable Players in 2017June 27, 2017
College Football's Most Indispensable Players in 2017
Winning college football games takes a complete team effort, but one piece can have an enormous impact on shaping a program's level of success.
In other words, if this one player misses extended time due to injury—or any reason, really—his team's season would likely be ruined.
While his contributions are most important, suspect depth may also be a factor. Honorable mentions are listed here, but preference was given to players on teams most expected to compete for at least a conference championship. When available, OddsShark win totals were used as a guide to reduce subjectivity.
The most indispensable players typically are quarterbacks or running backs, but the 2017 campaign will feature one undeniably dominant talent on the defensive side of the ball.
Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State: A two-year starter, Brett Rypien will be asked to hold Boise State together in a season of transition. The Broncos lost three top contributors in Jeremy McNichols, Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson. Rypien has tossed 44 touchdowns to just 16 interceptions over 24 games, while his backup—Jake Constantine—has never attempted a pass.
Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern: Justin Jackson is a workhorse. Northwestern's offense has run through the powerful back for three years, considering he's never logged fewer than 20 carries per game in a season. The Wildcats are a contender in the Big Ten West Division as long as Jackson is healthy.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: We've already seen UCLA without Josh Rosen and it's not good. The Bruins finished 1-5 in games last season while he recovered from shoulder surgery. Since OddsShark lists UCLA's over/under for wins in 2017 as 6.0, Rosen falls short of the main section. But if the Bruins soar past that number, the junior quarterback will be the primary reason.
Jake Browning, QB, Washington: The 2017 campaign will be an important case study on Jake Browning's ability to lead a team. He was terrific while guiding Washington to the College Football Playoff last year, but an elite receiver and menacing defense played key roles. However, it's unwise to suggest any other QB on the roster could easily replicate what Browning has done.
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: After surging to the Mountain West Championship Game in 2016, Wyoming needs to replace more than 75 percent of its production at receiver. Josh Allen has garnered hype as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, but matching the praise with a revamped offense will be a challenge.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
What he brings: Baker Mayfield is a two-time finalist for the Heisman Trophy, something no other active college quarterback can claim. He's accounted for at least 4,000 yards of total offense and 40-plus touchdowns in both seasons with Oklahoma.
The value of that experience and the comfort it provides cannot be understated as the team shifts from Bob Stoops to Lincoln Riley at head coach.
Why he's needed: Though the program's future is promising thanks to Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray, could he take the Sooners in 2017 where Mayfield has already guided them? Perhaps, but Oklahoma certainly would prefer not to find out.
Mayfield gives the Sooners a proven option in what should be a hotly contested Big 12.
Quinton Flowers, QB, USF
What he brings: Similar to Mayfield at Oklahoma, Quinton Flowers offers stability on a roster adapting to a new coach in Charlie Strong. The circumstances are admittedly different, but the dual-threat weapon will steady South Florida.
Had he scampered for nine more yards in 2015, Flowers would have consecutive seasons with 2,000 passing yards and 20 touchdowns plus 1,000 rushing yards and 10 scores.
Why he's needed: Despite the coaching change, USF is a popular choice to snatch the Group of Five's berth in a New Year's Six bowl game. That wouldn't be the case without Flowers, the 2016 AAC Offensive Player of the Year, behind center.
The roster may have the QB of the future, but the Bulls don't want to test that theory.
Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
What he brings: Ed Oliver was a first-team AP All-America performer as a freshman. If that doesn't sell someone on his value, well, who knows what will.
Oliver racked up 66 tackles with 22.5 stops for loss, five sacks, nine pass breakups and three forced fumbles in 2016. It's not a happy coincidence Houston's already-feared defense improved after his arrival.
Why he's needed: Having a playmaker like Oliver up front is an enormous luxury. The 6'2", 290-pounder demands two blockers on every snap, so the Cougars always have a pre-snap advantage. But they also must replace three defenders who combined for 32 tackles for loss in 2016.
Oliver's presence can ease a difficult transition.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
What he brings: Mason Rudolph is an NFL-bound quarterback on an explosive offense. Over the last two seasons, he's thrown for 49 touchdowns compared to just 13 interceptions and added seven scores on the ground.
Oklahoma State has won 10 games in back-to-back years with Rudolph leading the efficient attack.
Why he's needed: Although one other OSU player has tossed a touchdown in his career, there's a slight problem: Dillon Stoner is a wide receiver.
The Pokes are maybe a seven- or eight-win club without Rudolph, but he makes them a championship contender. After all, the senior is one of just two Oklahoma State quarterbacks to beat Oklahoma in the last decade.
Logan Woodside, QB, Toledo
What he brings: After regaining the starting role last season, Logan Woodside led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 45 touchdown passes and also posted a 69.1 completion percentage. He has 24 games of starting experience spread over a four-year span.
Woodside is the critical piece of Toledo's chase for a MAC championship and appearance in a New Year's Six bowl this season.
Why he's needed: The Rockets have enjoyed quality QB play in recent years, but Woodside set school records with his performance in 2016. This type of quarterback doesn't come around often.
Additionally, Toledo needs Woodside to brace a unit that lost Kareem Hunt, Corey Jones and Michael Roberts.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
What he brings: Saquon Barkley and Ito Smith (Southern Miss) are the nation's only returning running backs who totaled at least 2,500 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in 2015 and 2016 combined.
Barkley, who should be a first-round draft pick in 2018, is a playmaker of the highest caliber.
Why he's needed: Yes, the Nittany Lions have encouraging backups led by a former 5-star prospect in Miles Sanders.
However, opponents wouldn't respect the other runners as they do Barkley, whose gravity in the backfield helps create opportunities for downfield passes. Penn State's championship dreams revolve around him.
Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State
What he brings: Deondre Francois is as tough a quarterback as you'll find in college football this season. Beyond that, he's a smart player who has grasped a challenging system.
As a redshirt freshman, he threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns with only seven interceptions, adding five rushing scores.
Why he's needed: Florida State has several questions on offense—particularly on the line—but Francois has showed he's more than a game manager. The same cannot be said for either J.J. Cosentino or Bailey Hockman, who are battling for the backup job.
Although defense will be FSU's strength in 2017, the 'Noles wouldn't be a legitimate national threat without Francois under center.
Sam Darnold, QB, USC
What he brings: Last season, Sam Darnold ascended from backup quarterback to lauded superstar over a three-month period. He played the biggest role in flipping the narrative from "Is Clay Helton the right man for USC?" to "The Trojans are back."
Darnold finished 9-1 as a starter and threw for 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Why he's needed: Darnold has already presented the evidence. USC mustered 16 total points in two outings against ranked teams before he started.
During a nine-game winning streak after Darnold took over, the Trojans scored at least 36 points in seven contests—and the two games without 36-plus were victories against ranked opponents.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
What he brings: The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson is the most electrifying player in college football.
He amassed 5,114 yards of total offense and 51 total touchdowns as a sophomore. And impressively enough, Jackson isn't even a finished product. He's still improving as a passer.
Why he's needed: Louisville needs the dual-threat quarterback to showcase that hoped-for development as the offense reloads following the departures of four key seniors at skill positions. Plus, the offensive line struggled in a big way last season, yet Jackson put together a Heisman-winning campaign anyway.
Finding an adequate replacement for him would be just about impossible.
All recruiting information via Scout. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.