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Monson: The Most Vital Player in Utah college football is ...

Published August 16, 2013 9:07 am

Here are 10 college football players the Utes, Cougars and Aggies can't do without.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The compiling of what follows here — a top-10 list — started with 1) watching Tom Brady suffer a twisted knee during Patriots practice on Wednesday, when an offensive lineman fell into the quarterback, sending him to the ground and all of New England into cardiac arrest, and 2) figuring out exactly what in the name of Webster's we were looking for.

Turns out, it's a grouping of the state's great college football players, but it's one off from just that. It's a list of players whose teams can least afford to lose them. It's a list of the guys coaches wish they could coat in bubble wrap, the players who cause those coaches to break out in hives whenever they get bumped or dinged or — for the love of man, nooooooooo — seriously damaged. It doesn't mean these guys are the best players, although some of them are, but it does mean they are the most … what's the word? Valuable? Essential? Vital? Necessary?

Indispensable.

In reverse order, then, here are the most indispensable college football players in Utah:

• 10. Eathyn Manumaleuna, BYU

He's not the Cougars' most talented defensive lineman — that would be Bronson Kaufusi — but Manumaleuna is key because of his versatility. The BYU defensive front already has suffered some injuries, and Manumaleuna has the experience and ability to go inside or out. He'll be important as the attrition of a long season exacts its cruel toll.

• 9. Eric Rowe, Utah

All spots in the defensive secondary are important, but with the switching, hybrid defenses the Utes are installing, the significance of a multifaceted player such as Rowe is rocketed into the ionosphere. In his first two seasons, he played or started in 23 games. Mixed with his speed, that kind of experience underscores the junior's status. Add to the equation that Utah is thin in back and Rowe's inclusion here is justified.

• 8. Cody Hoffman, BYU

Hoffman would rank higher if it weren't for other Cougar receivers emerging as decent alternatives. He remains by far the best option out wide, having caught a ridiculous 100 balls in 2012 for a ridiculous 1,248 yards, all with a quarterback last year that had difficulty delivering accurate passes.

• 7. Tyler Larsen, Utah State

The Aggies' starting offensive line is intact from a season ago, and Larsen is the maestro of that band. The 6-4, 312-pound senior center could wind up an All-American, and replacing guys like that, should they fall, is heavy lifting. Jamie Markosian could move over to help, if needed, but Larsen is a cornerstone this season and an NFL guy next year.

• 6. C.J. Poutasi, Utah

His name is technically Cedrick Jeremiah and he answers to Cedrick, Jeremiah and C.J., but you can call him … Huge. That'll cover it. Poutasi is the 6-5, 345-pound offensive lineman assigned to protect the blind side of Utah's quarterbacks. He is the best left tackle the Utes have, and he's just a sophomore. Losing him would be a big blow to a front that can't afford it.

• 5. Jordan Johnson, BYU

Oops. This is a killer. Johnson is already gone. He blew an ACL earlier this week and left a gaping hole in the Cougars' secondary at its most vulnerable position: cornerback. This was a double-barreled blast on account of other injuries hampering the backfield: Trenton Trammell tore his ACL, Sam Lee hurt his back, and Mike Hague had knee surgery.

• 4. Trevor Reilly, Utah

Reilly is the godfather of Utah's defense, the man to whom all Utes look for not only leadership, but also inspiration. And why wouldn't they? The senior defensive end/linebacker played a good portion of last season on a torn ACL. Who does that? He's a gifted athlete — and he's a little nutty, which endears him all the more to his teammates. That presence makes him more vital than his individual play ever could.

• 3. Kyle Van Noy, BYU

Nobody knows exactly why Van Noy came back for his senior season. He should be in the NFL right now. Maybe the linebacker wanted to add some strength. Maybe he wanted to continue to mature. Either way, he is the straw that stirs the soft drink in Provo. He can change the outcome of a game — see last year's Poinsettia Bowl — even when the Cougar offense isn't hauling its share of the load. He doesn't talk a lot, doesn't have a vast personality, but he's the heart and soul, and everybody knows what happens to a team that has neither.

• 2. (tie) Taysom Hill, BYU, and Travis Wilson, Utah

This is as much a reflection of the position as it is ability. Kyle Whittingham has stressed the significance to his team of stability at quarterback, something it hasn't had for four seasons. Wilson must provide it. The sophomore is kind of a big, floppy pup that has to grow up now and take control of the Ute offense. There is some talent behind him — namely, freshman Connor Manning — in case he stumbles or gets hurt, but that brings more of the same instability.

Hill gives new hope to a BYU program that has been in woeful short supply for a couple of years now. The quarterback is the alpha and omega of Cougar football, and even when the school had its best defense ever, a pall of gloom hung over it a year ago without a top-drawer QB. Hill seems to be that guy — if he can stay healthy. Everybody knows what happened last fall, so the sophomore has to pick his spots to run the football, and know when to deliver it, or throw it away. BYU's players hope Hill is less plucky and gritty and more … good.

• 1. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State

The Chuckster is the king of Utah college football. If he gets knocked off his throne, the Ags are dead. If he stays injury-free, he could take the program to a new pinnacle. Let's say it the way it is here: Utah State is better this year than it was last time around, when the Aggies went 11-2. They have a terrific defense, an electric offense, but … if Keeton isn't on the field, all of that will be wasted. He's a fantastic player who absolutely cannot get hurt. The other day in practice, after a play ended, the quarterback got up popping up and down on one foot. He walked it off and went on practicing, but for a second there, nobody moved. Chuckie, then, is the undisputed MIP. The Most Indispensable Player in the state.

Gordon Monson hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.