Before we even get started, we have to make one major but obvious caveat to this story. Landry Jones isn't an option. it should be obvious enough that it does not require much explanation, but clearly for just about any team losing their starting quarterback would be a catastrophic injury. There might even be a handful of OU fans out there who think the Sooners would be better off if Jones did get hurt, but they're (respectfully) crazy.
So with that said, we run down a list of possible candidates and talk a little about why we feel each could be considered the most valuable to this team. As always however, feel free to add your thoughts and/or other candidates in the comments section.
There are a great number of factors to consider when trying to answer the question posed here. How big of an impact does Player X have in the offense/defense? Are they a team leader? How steep is the drop off from the starter to their back-up? And those are just a few things to consider.
Here are our candidates for the player this Oklahoma team could least afford to lose in the upcoming season.
S Tony Jefferson - Any time you see a quote from Mike Stoops talking about Jefferson, you can't help but get the sense he's just giddy about unleashing the immensely talented junior on Big 12 offenses this year. On more than one occasion he has spoken about seeing Jefferson play in the past and being a fan but not truly appreciating just how talented he was until he came back to Norman. I can't speak for my fellow writers, but Jefferson is easily the player I'm most excited to see this year with Mike Stoops back in charge. I really think he puts Jefferson in places to be incredibly disruptive. I see a potential All-American type season, which if he does what I think he can do under Stoops you're going to hear the name Roy Williams and it won't be a ridiculous comparison. Safety is not a position where OU has much depth, so an injury to Jefferson would be bad both in that respect and because Jefferson is a true play-maker on this defense
LB Tom Wort - Wort is going to be one of the leaders on this defense and very likely responsible for getting the play calls from the sideline. Wort is not all that dissimilar from Landry in the sense that he seems to take a lot of criticism from OU fans at times even when he plays well. As of last year, there were still some flaws in his game and certainly areas for improvement but if you did not recognize the progress he made from Year 1 to Year 2 you simply weren't watching. Wort has a capable enough back-up in Jaydan Bird, who is a more prototypical MLB (with respect to his size) than Wort but isn't quite as athletic or as good in coverage.
CB Demontre Hurst - There might not be a more underrated player in the country, let alone this conference, than the Sooners senior. The guy is easily the most consistent and reliable corner in the Big 12 and very rarely gets the recognition he deserves. He is a guy you can put on an island and know only on rare occasions is he going to get beat. When you couple that fact with the loss of Jamell Fleming and the struggles this spring by those attempting to replace him, it only increases the value of Hurst locking down his side of the field.
WR Kenny Stills - By now, we don't need to be the one telling you that Stills is the only returning OU wide receiver (at least for now) to ever catch a pass at the collegiate level. It's a fact that has been repeated ad nauseam following the suspensions of three of his fellow wide outs. So if by nothing else than default, Stills becomes one of the most valuable players on this team. He has drawn some criticism from OU fans for a perceived lack of effort and/or toughness at times, but if any of said critics are ready to write him off they would be making a major mistake. I'm expecting a big season from Stills and quite frankly, the Sooners are going to need it from him. Oklahoma has a plethora of options at receiver behind Stills, but as you've heard there are very few with any proven experience.
CB/S Aaron Colvin - Colvin is another guy who doesn't seem to get the respect he deserves. He played incredibly well at corner two years ago and then seamlessly made the transition last year to safety and finished tied for the team lead in tackles. Personally, I think Colvin's highest ceiling is at corner and would really like to see Stoops play him there this season. Regardless, his versatility is a major asset and as long as he's on the field this OU fan will be happy. If he's at corner, an injury would be significant because the Sooners don't have anything resembling a proven option behind him. If he's at safety, the sting of an injury is less but not by a great margin.
FB Trey Millard - There are not many teams, if any, where the starting fullback would even be considered for the team's most valuable player. Obviously, limiting Millard to 'just a fullback' would be incredibly short sighted and the guy is quite simply one of the most talented all around players on the team. OU fans hope to seem him at FB, RB, TE, H-back, or anywhere else the coaches see fit to use him just so as he spends as little time on the sidelines as possible. Assuming Millard's back-up, Aaron Ripkowski, has recovered from his back injury there is little drop off with respect to blocking. However there just isn't another player on this roster that can do all the things Millard can, so by that fact alone he may be the biggest loss were an injury to occur.
C/G Gabe Ikard - No disrespect to Ikard, but if Ben Habern isn't coming back from a pretty serious neck injury he probably doesn't make this list in my mind. That's no slight to Ikard as a player, but Oklahoma has other capable options at guard. However, if you're in a situation where Habern is not available it drastically increases Ikard's value and versatility. Habern, coupled with the absence of Austin Woods who is battling cancer, would leave the Sooners incredibly thin at center. As long as Habern's return is in question, Ikard's health is of vital importance to this success of this offensive line (and potentially this entire offense).