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Most Important Player Rankings: No. 4, DT Chance Carter

Believe it or not, the upcoming college football season is not too far off. Pretty soon, your Northwestern Wildcats will travel to Syracuse, New York, for a season-opening tussle with the upset-minded Orange. To get you ready, and to ensure we don’t get too bored in the meantime, we’re putting together a list of the Wildcats’ 10 most important players in 2012. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll reveal one player on our list per day, starting with No. 10, the least important on the group, and on down the line to No. 1, our MOP (most important player).

These rankings are arbitrarily constructed, and each pick may not have any quantifiable or logical justification for its placement in the list. In other words, these 10 players can be shuffled around in a number of ways, and it’s hard to find fault with any arrangement. There’s also a number of different players we could have included, and several others that could have been omitted. Our logic may not be intelligent, practical or defendable in your opinion, but that’s exactly the point of this completely just-for-fun exercise: it really doesn’t count for anything other than your amusement.

Remember: this list ranks the most important players on this year’s NU squad, not the best, or those most likely to put up the best stats.These players are the guys whose performances we feel will impact the Wildcats season in the most obvious and influential way. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but feel free to let us know how you feel about our selections.

Today, we move on to No. 4: DT Chance Carter

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Chance Carter should play a major role on the defensive line in his first year as a starter.

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

After a disappointing season in 2011, the inside of the defensive line will be receiving a makeover in 2012, but perhaps for the better. Senior Brian Arnfelt and sophomore Chance Carter are the likely candidates to start at defensive tackle, replacing Niko Mafuli and Jack DiNardo. While having two new starters is typically bad news for teams, it may be a blessing for this NU front, which should be much more talented than last year.

Arnfelt has some starting experience and should be solid, but Carter is the X-factor and could surprise in the Big Ten this season. Carter played sparingly in 2011 after redshirting in 2010, but he was a force in spring ball, gathering praise from the coaches and his fellow teammates. During the spring game he had a "17-point play" on an interception return for a touchdown — NU awarded 12 points for the touchdown and five for the interception — that garnered some attention, but he was also good at getting to the quarterback, something the Wildcats have stressed all season long.

At 6-3, 270, Carter isn't a big defensive tackle, but he's very quick, which gives him the ability to make plays in the backfield. Like a defensive end, he can force quarterbacks into mistakes and he can be a challenge to contain for opposing offensive linemen. He can help NU's ends in getting to the quarterback, as well as help out in the run-stuffing game, and that versatility could make him a candidate for All-Big Ten honors.

NU has a lot of depth at defensive end, but the depth at defensive tackle is slim, meaning Carter will be called upon to play a major role in his first season as a starter and staying injury-free will be essential. He clearly has potential, as evidenced by spring practice, and if he builds on that performance, he can give NU a versatile presence on the defensive front, which would be a much-needed improvement from last season.