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?
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, UtahNext Page >
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