The most nerve-wracking aspect of fall camp is the fear of losing a key player to injury. UCLA's already lost projected starting QB Ben Olson for an expected two months with a broken foot, while USC's starting QB Mark Sanchez is out for a few weeks with a knee injury. Meanwhile, Washington's Jake Locker is nursing a hamstring injury. It's no stretch to think that the severity of Locker's hammy injury has a huge impact on whether his coach, Ty Willingham, can endure a very hot seat in Seattle. This week's top 10 list subject is the most indispensable players in the country. (Criteria: this doesn't necessarily mean the 10 best, but the 10 guys whose status would be the most relevant in terms of leadership, performance or what the depth chart looks like behind them.)
- Chase Daniel, Missouri, QB: The Tigers are a legit national title contender and the 6-0 senior is the biggest reason why. There are other QBs with stronger arms and who can run faster. Dozens more are taller. None are better though at dissecting a defense in college and few are as accurate. Better still, Daniel's cocksure presence permeates this program now. His back-up senior Chase Patton more than looks the part, but the 6-5, 220-pounder, a guy who Daniel overtook for the job years ago, has only completed six passes in his career.
- Tim Tebow, Florida, QB: The Heisman winner has a strong case to be No. 1 on this list, especially since it's not like UF returns a proven tailback. But he ranks behind Daniel because the feeling here is that the Gators have better options should they have to go to the 'what-now?' scenario. Big Cameron Newton can bang through tacklers in Tebow-fashion and John Brantley might be an even more polished passer. Both would probably start at a bunch of other SEC schools this season.
- LeSean McCoy, Pitt, TB: With all due respect to little LaRod Stephens-Howling, McCoy turned a dismal offense into a force late last season and the shifty 210-pound sophomore looks good enough to make Pitt into a Big East title threat. McCoy's showed his worth in the Panthers' huge upset at WVU when he ran for 148 yards against a defense keyed on containing him. McCoy also is a very underrated receiver, and as Dave Wannstedt likes to remind people, he's a believer in hitching his wagon to a team's star as was the case when he was with the Miami Dolphins and Ricky Williams led the NFL in touches and when he worked with the Cowboys and Emmitt Smith led the league in touches as well. Look for Wannstedt to try and let McCoy led this program back into the top 25. Without him, though, it could be another sad season.
- Jake Locker, Washington, QB: Whether it's a strained left hamstring or a "slight tear" as Locker's father Scott put it, Huskies fans have to be holding their breath. Right now, Locker is Washington football. He's been the best thing to hit this program in years and how quickly he can blossom determines whether Willingham can keep his job beyond this fall. A few weeks ago Willingham joked that he'd prefer that his big QB didn't have to run the ball at all. Of course, Locker's speed and elusiveness are one of his biggest assets. His back-up is Ronnie Fouch, a redshirt freshman, who doesn't possess the same dimensions that Locker brings (few do) and also would have a crash course into Pac-10 football with an opener at Oregon before games against BYU and Oklahoma.
- Macho Harris, Va. Tech, CB: Harris certainly isn't shy. Over the weekend at Tech's media day, he touted himself as a Heisman candidate. At best he's a longshot, but there aren't many defenders who have much more of a presence on a game. Last season, Harris picked off five passes, running on back for a touchdown and he also returned a kickoff 100 yards for another TD. He's going to get more work as a punt returner this fall for Tech and also get some reps as a receiver. But when you factor in that Tech no longer has standout corner Brandon Flowers on the other side of the field, prompting Harris to shift to the boundary corner and that he's one of only four returning starters on a pretty green defense, you have a guy that Frank Beamer simply can't afford to lose this fall.
- Pat White, West Virginia, QB: The speedy Alabama product takes over a different scheme now that Rich Rodriguez has moved on to Michigan, but expect plenty of fireworks in Morgantown as long as White's around. He's already run for over 3,500 career yards and passed for over 4,000 more. The problem is White was knocked out of two games last season and not so coincidentally WVU lost both of them last season. His back-up Jarrett Brown is a pretty impressive athlete in his own right and now has quite a bit of game experience as well. Still, there is only one Pat White.
- Alex Mack, Cal, C: Whoever Jeff Tedford names as his starting QB will lean heavily on Mack, the best O-lineman in the Pac-10 and maybe the country too. The Golden Bears only surrendered 11 sacks in 2007 and without Mack, a great technician that has, according to his coaches, freakish flexibility and athleticism, that number probably doubles.
- Beanie Wells, Ohio State, RB: Of all of the gushing quotes you will read over the preseason, this might be the most meaningful: "Chris Wells is the closest thing to Jim Brown I've seen," said Archie Griffin, the only two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy. The 237-pound Wells is the Buckeyes meal ticket offensively. He's a back that is built for the 40-carry game in bad Big Ten weather and has been ideal at keeping the pressure off Todd Boeckman and rest of the OSU attack.
- Jevan Snead, Ole Miss, QB: The long-awaited debut of the Texas transfer should resuscitate a Rebel offense that has been dismal since Eli Manning moved onto the NFL. Snead brings a stronger arm and is more accurate than the QBs he follows in Oxford. The scary part for Ole Miss is that his understudy (Billy Tapp) is a fourth-year guy who had already once been converted to tight end.
- Brian Hoyer, Michigan State, QB: The Spartans had a very underrated offense in 2007 with Hoyer piloting the show. In fact, only was held under 21 points once last season and that was when the Spartans beat Pitt 17-13. He returns -- as does RB Javon Ringer, but there is scarcely any depth behind Hoyer thanks to the transfers of QB Nick Foles (to Arizona State) and Connor Dixon (to Duquesne). Not to mention that touted Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol has to sit out this season because of NCAA regulations, so that leaves only redshirt freshman Kirk Cousins as the only other available scholarship QB in the program this fall.
• Losing Ben Olson for up to two months after he re-broke his right foot is obviously bad news for UCLA. "You really have to feel bad for the kid," said offensive coordinator Norm Chow Sunday night. The loss of the big senior means that the Bruins young QBs will get a lot more reps now. The two biggest benefactors are JC transfer Kevin Craft and redshirt freshman Chris Forcier. Both are more mobile than Olson and look for that to be factored into the offense. I knew Forcier had really good feet, but wasn't aware that the 6-5, 205-pound Craft was as nimble as he is. "The key to any coaching job is figuring out what your guys can do and you magnify those skills of those players." True freshmen Kevin Prince and Nick Crissman and junior Osaar Rasshan also get some looks behind center.
Chow is hoping his new QB's can hone better game management skills during camp with the opener against a formidable Tennessee team looming. But the added scrambling threat is a plus, especially since UCLA's O-line is perilously thin.
Redshirt freshman tackle Mike Harris is the latest Bruin concern. Harris was carted off the field during Sunday's practice with an ankle injury. Chow, who began his coaching career in the early '70s, said he's never seen anything like the attrition the Bruins O-line has faced this year.
"It's scary," he says. "But it is what it is, and as long as we keep getting the effort from them, we'll be fine."
• With Cal trying to replace three key receivers, Marvin Jones, a rangy 6-2 freshman with great ball skills, is turning heads, writes Rusty Simmons:
"He has shown signs that he is a special player," Tedford said. "I think he's shown that he has the ability to make plays. He has very good hands, he can run and he has good body control. Now, we have to check on the learning curve because he has to keep it up."
• Dave Meggett's son Davin, a freshman TB, was impressive in Maryland's scrimmage, writes Don Markus:
"He did a good job for a true freshman seeing all the things he has to see," Ralph Friedgen said. "He's got to learn where to make the right cuts. He's got a lot of growth, but you can see he has ability. He's really pushing for the second-team spot right now. He's a smart guy, too. That really helps."
Too bad none of the Terps three QBs were very sharp. Word is Chris Turner handled himself the best.
• Confronted for the first time on Friday with direct questions about three of his underage football players showing up in a pair of Internet photos in the presence of alcohol earlier this week, Charlie Weis spoke of life in the spotlight, writes Jeff Carroll.
I thought this was the most interesting quote:
"Anyone who knows me will tell you I never have a drink in public. Ever," Weis explained. "I won't go to a Christmas party if there's somebody who I don't know. To not do that would be a misjudgment on my part."
I know a bunch of coaches who have altered how they conduct themselves in public, especially when it comes to posing for pictures. Many won't sit for a picture if the person is holding a drink.
• Quote of the day comes from USC LB coach Ken Norton Jr., who tells Dan Woike that he feels pretty fortunate to coach the talent he works with every day:
"It's like coaching the Super Friends," Norton said. "They're like super heroes. Rey Maualuga is like Superman. Brian Cushing is Batman. Kaluka Maiava's like my cage fighter. He can be hanging anywhere and he'll land on his feet. Chris Galippo is like Captain America. Malcolm Smith is the Green Lantern. It's amazing for me to coach these superhero-type guys. I'm fortunate to be with them."
• With offensive line coach Pete Perot slated to undergo double bypass open heart surgery on Thursday in Houston, Art Kehoe has taken over as La. Tech's new O-line coach. Kehoe, who had been on the Ole Miss staff the past two years, has more national championship rings than any coach in the business, having worked with five title teams in his days at Miami.
• Auburn's O-line is really banged up, reports Collin Mickle:
Right guard Chaz Ramsey, center Jason Bosley and right tackle Ryan Pugh all missed Sunday's practice. Ramsey, who had back surgery in the spring, hasn't yet attended a practice in the preseason. Bosley injured his back Wednesday and has missed five consecutive practices. According to head coach Tommy Tuberville, Pugh was poked in the eye during Saturday's scrimmage, but will be back soon. Pugh's absence was especially difficult, since he doubles as the Tigers' backup center. With the top two centers sidelined, AU turned to left guard Tyronne Green and backup tackle Mike Berry.
• USF standout pass-rusher George Selvie has been struggling to bulk up, but he did pack on 10 pounds this off-season to get up to 245, writes Jeff Berlinicke:
It's frustrating to him, defensive coordinator Wally Burnham and coach Jim Leavitt. You know, if he could get to 270, he'd be unstoppable, Burnham said. His metabolism is just so fast. He just can't put on the weight. Shoot, even if he could get to 260 that would be great, but it just isn't happening.
• Preston Parker speaks out about his return to FSU after his off-field troubles to Andrew Carter:
Parker pleaded guilty to the two counts, received probation and was ordered to do 50 hours of community service but that was only the beginning. He had to regain the trust of his teammates and coaches. Perhaps more important, he had to cut ties with people he'd known a long time, and with places where it's too easy to find trouble. "That's the first thing I had to do, Parker said. Had to separate myself from a lot of my friends or people I grew up with."
The separation process has been a "difficult one," Parker said. "When you're from a bad area or a not as good or rich area, it's like you really don't know what's bad and what's good," he said.
• FIU unveiled its new unis at media day over the weekend.