Preseason prognosticating requires us to make our predictions under the ceteris paribus assumption. So, there's nothing like a little--or really big--wrench in the works to throw things out of kilter. You know what I mean: injuries, suspensions, scandals, etc.
For almost any contender, the loss of just one cog in the machine can dash national championship hope, even if it's just for one quarter of one game. Since we can't foresee a star quarterback being thrown off the team or a playmaking linebacker blowing out his ACL, how about a little risk management? Below are the most indispensable players in college football for 2009.
Just ask the Sooners how jarring the loss of one key player can be. When MLB Ryan Reynolds went down with a season-ending knee injury early in the second half of the 2008 Red River Shootout, the Texas offense took control of the game. OU spent the rest of the season trying to plug that hole, with varying degrees of success.
It seems obvious that a Heisman-winning quarterback would be a major loss for a title contender. Losing Bradford poses a particularly scary scenario for OU coach Bob Stoops, though. OU's backup signal callers consist of redshirt freshman Landry Jones and early enrollee Drew Allen. Both may turn out to be players, but neither is ready to take the Sooners to the promised land. Without Bradford, OU is the third-best team in the Big 12 South.
Arkansas transfer Williams brought a flair for the big play to USC's offense in 2008, emerging as the Trojans' top receiver early in the season. He averaged 15 yards per catch and scored 9 touchdowns on the season, including a stellar Rose Bowl against Penn State's highly regarded defense: 10 catches, 162 yards and a TD.
Aside from Williams, USC's receiving corp is long on talent but much shorter on proven producers. Junior wideout Ronald Johnson came on strong last season, but he doesn't appear to be the kind of go-to guy Williams is. Not to mention, a trusted security blanket like the rangy Williams should help bring along a green quarterback.
On a roster with loads of talent, Williams is as close to irreplaceable as you'll find in Troy.
A pass rusher may seem like an odd choice for Texas' most irreplaceable piece, seeing as QB Colt McCoy executes the Longhorn offense so well. McCoy has super stud ... backing him up, though.
Kindle, meanwhile, is expected to replace the departed Brian Orakpo as UT's terror off the edge. In a pass-heavy conference like the Big 12, the ability to pressure the quarterback is paramount to a defense's success. Without Kindle, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp would be counting on a gaggle of unproven youngsters to bring the heat.
Thought I'd say Tim Tebow for Florida, right? He's an outstanding football player. But what would happen if Tebow went down with an injury before the season? Well, there's talented backup John Brantley waiting in the wings. There would be a drop-off.
But would it be the same as if Spikes went down. He's like a quarterback for the Gator D, and he's a tackling machine. Could Florida's second-stringers fill in for Spikes with the same aplomb as Tebow's understudy? I'm skeptical.