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College football's most indispensable players

AP Photo/Victor Calzada
UCLA has its sights set on a national title with QB Brett Hundley leading the offense.

Ohio State's hopes of making the first-ever College Football Playoff took a massive hit with the announcement that quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the season. J.T. Barrett will do his best as he steps into the starting job, but there's no replacing a talent like Miller, and his absence changes the balance of power among college football's top teams.

Miller was one of those indispensable players -- there aren't many in college football that can truly claim that title. With that in mind, here's a look at 10 players that I believe fit the same category as Miller as guys that would be nearly impossible to replace. Not surprisingly, quarterbacks, given the significance of their position, dominate the list, but some selections might surprise you.

Players are divided into two groups -- quarterbacks and non-QBs -- and listed in alphabetical order:

Quarterbacks

UCLA QB Brett Hundley

UCLA has its sights set as high as ever -- the Bruins expect to be one of the four teams in the playoff -- and Hundley has played a leading role in making those aspirations legitimate. If UCLA is going to contend for a national title, Hundley has to be healthy and perform at a high level.

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

We've seen the Ducks' offense when Mariota is at less than 100 percent -- it took a step back after he suffered a leg injury last season, even though he played through it. Think about what things would be like if he wasn't on the field at all. It's hard to imagine another quarterback taking snaps for Oregon this season and still have the team remain highly rated.

Baylor QB Bryce Petty

It might seem like Baylor's offense keeps lighting up the scoreboard over the years no matter who's taking the snaps at quarterback, but Petty is indispensable because of the talent, knowledge and experience he brings to the field as a fifth-year senior. The Bears are trying to win big on the national stage, and Petty, a top Heisman contender, offers them that opportunity.

Florida State QB Jameis Winston

We know all about Winston's accomplishments last season, but this one is as significant as any -- the team took on his personality when he was just a redshirt freshman. That's almost unheard of. The idea of anyone other than him playing quarterback for Florida State this season has to send shivers down the backs of Florida State fans.

Non-quarterbacks

Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond

Drummond was part of the Spartans' "No Fly Zone" secondary last season, but it has to retool that back end this year, which makes Drummond such an important piece. There are some big holes to fill in it following the departures of star cornerback Darqueze Dennard (a first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals) and safety Isaiah Lewis (who signed with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent). For Michigan State's hopes to be realized this season and for that secondary to maintain its identity, Drummond has to be leading the way. He makes the calls in the secondary and changes things when needed. He's the last line of defense for a team that expects to compete for a playoff spot, and he's a terrific all-around player.

Kansas State C B.J. Finney

Quarterbacks have come and gone at Kansas State, but Finney, who will be a four-year starter, has been the one constant on offense. He makes the line calls and puts everything together for the Wildcats against some tough Big 12 competition. This is not a fast-break, up-tempo offense. Kansas State is deliberate on that side of the ball, and Finney makes it go. He would be just as tough to replace as some of the best quarterbacks in college football.

UCLA LB/RB Myles Jack

Two of the most indispensable players in college football on one team? Yes, that's the luxury UCLA has afforded itself heading into the season with Hundley and Jack in tow. Jack's one of the rarest commodities as a two-way star. He starred at linebacker and running back last season, earning Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. He's only going to get better, too. There's no replacing the energy he brings to the team. UCLA wants him to play more defense this season, but if it encounters any trouble on offense, they have a pretty easy fix to go to at running back.

USC ILB Hayes Pullard

He's been overshadowed at times during his career, but he's the guy USC has always been able to count on. Pullard is the heartbeat of the defense. Pullard will be a four-year starter and his playing for his third defensive coordinator since arriving at USC. He owns the defensive huddle and makes all the calls. As the Trojans start over with a new head coach, Pullard is the guy charged with providing the leadership and excellent play needed to make the transition a smooth one. Leonard Williams is the star of that defense and pretty indispensable himself. Pullard is the glue guy, though. Williams relies on Pullard to set the tone.

Iowa OT Brandon Scherff

You don't see many offensive linemen earn their team's offensive MVP honors, but that's exactly the honor Iowa bestowed upon Scherff last season, and it was well-deserved. That tells you a little something about how much he means to the Hawkeyes. He's the next in the line of great offensive tackles to come out of Iowa. He sets the tone for that team.

Georgia ILB Ramik Wilson

Wilson has to be on the same page with the Bulldogs' new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt if Georgia is going to challenge for the SEC East championship and a chance to play for the league title. The team is young in the secondary after losing some key pieces in the offseason, including Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews, who were both dismissed, which puts even more pressure on Wilson to make sure the front seven gets the job done. Combine the transition to a new defensive system with question marks in the secondary, and Wilson sure looks indispensable to me.

Follow Charles Davis on Twitter @CFD22.

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