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June 9, 2010

These triplets are a nightmare for defenses

The 1990s Dallas Cowboys were well-known for their "Triplets," a combination of elite players at three positions: quarterback, running back and wide receiver.

For the Cowboys, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin each caused headaches for opposing defenses on the way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Today, we'll look at the top offensive triplets in college football for the 2010 season. The three individuals aren't necessarily the most talented three players at their positions, but they are players who force defensive coordinators to game plan for them.

The triplets: QB Nick Foles, RB Keola Antolin, WR Juron Criner
The buzz: The Wildcats' offense loses coordinator Sonny Dykes, but it will retain the same philosophy under Bill Bedenbaugh -- whose roots also came from Mike Leach's Texas Tech teams. Arizona will benefit from having Foles as the starter all season. He didn't become the full-time quarterback until the fourth game last season. Thereafter, he averaged 260 passing yards per game and completed 66 percent of his passes against Pac-10 foes. Antolin split carries with Nic Grigsby when Grigsby was healthy last season. Criner was one of four Arizona receivers to catch more than 40 passes, but he was the only one to top 500 yards; he also had nine touchdowns.
The triplets: QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Derrick Washington, WR Jerrell Jackson
The buzz: The first season with Gabbert at quarterback was nearly as productive as those led by Chase Daniel. At 6 feet 5 and 240 pounds, Gabbert is the pro prospect Daniel wasn't. Gabbert passed for 3,593 yards and 24 touchdowns last season but completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes. Washington wasn't as productive last season as he was in 2008, when he rushed for 1,036 yards and 17 touchdowns. Jackson will look to replace Danario Alexander, who was the best receiver in the country over the second half of last season.
The triplets: QB Colin Kaepernick, RB Vai Taua, WR Brandon Wimberly
The buzz: Kaepernick and Taua were the most productive quarterback/running back combination in the nation last season, rushing for 2,528 yards and 26 touchdowns. Both are able to pick up yards in bunches. Meanwhile, the passing attack gradually is improving. Kaepernick completed a career-high 58.9 percent of his passes last season. Nevada's offense dominated nearly every WAC opponent, but its "pistol" offense stalled against Boise State and other quality teams on the schedule.
The triplets: QB Zach Collaros, RB Isaiah Pead, WR Armon Binns
The buzz: The Bearcats' offense has lost Mardy Gilyard, Tony Pike and Brian Kelly, but it could be just as productive as it was last season. Collaros will be the starter after being a super-sub a year ago. He's a dual-threat quarterback with an ample amount of confidence. Binns had his most productive games of the season against Syracuse and Connecticut, two games Collaros started last season. The Bearcats love to pass the ball, but Pead is good enough to flourish in a balanced offense.
The triplets: QB Tino Sunseri, RB Dion Lewis, WR Jonathan Baldwin
The buzz: Lewis and Baldwin are among the top five in the country at their positions, making Sunseri the X-factor. Actually, he's the X-factor for the whole program; if he has a solid season, Pitt should have enough to win the Big East. Baldwin will challenge to become Pittsburgh's third Biletnikoff Award winner, following Antonio Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald. Lewis is chasing Pitt history, too. Only Tony Dorsett has run for more yards in a season for the Panthers. Sunseri knows the territory -- his father, Sal, was a linebacker at Pitt and is a former Panthers assistant. Tino also is a hometown hero after winning a state title at Pittsburgh Central Catholic. Bill Stull proved last season that Pitt's starting quarterback doesn't need to be a superstar with Lewis and Baldwin leading the way.
10. UTEP
The triplets: QB Trevor Vittatoe, RB Donald Buckram, WR Kris Adams
The buzz: Buckram may be the nation's most underrated running back. He was fourth in the nation in rushing last season at 1,594 yards, and he's the nation's No. 2 returning rusher after Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis. Buckram also had 453 receiving yards. Vittatoe quietly has been one of the nation's most productive quarterbacks the past three seasons, topping 3,000 yards each year. But Vittatoe is coming off a season in which he set a career high in interceptions and career lows in touchdowns and completion percentage. Adams, who has great size (6-3/195), had 50 catches in 2008 but struggled a bit last season. With Jeff Moturi gone, expect Adams to be the Miners' go-to guy this season.
The triplets: QB Scott Tolzien, RB John Clay, WR Nick Toon
The buzz: The Badgers' trio isn't as flashy as some others on this list, but Tolzien, Clay and Toon get the job done. As usual at Wisconsin, a bruising running back is the centerpiece. Defenses know the 248-pound Clay will get plenty of work, but he still averages 5.4 yards per carry for his career. Although Wisconsin retains its run-first style, the Badgers are opening up the offense. Tolzien became the first Badgers quarterback to complete more than 200 passes in a season. In recent seasons, Wisconsin has relied extensively on its tight end in the passing game, but Toon figures to change that this season. He had 54 catches for 805 yards and four TDs last season.
The triplets: QB Landry Jones, RB DeMarco Murray, WR Ryan Broyles
The buzz: As much as any group on this list, these three Sooners have the most to gain by working together over the summer. Jones didn't become the full-time starter until the Oct. 24 game against Kansas. Broyles missed a game with an injury and combined for three total catches in the games before and after. Murray missed a game and split carries with Chris Brown. Broyles was the most productive of the group, finishing the season with 89 catches for 1,120 yards and 15 touchdowns. Jones threw 26 TD passes but also 14 interceptions; expect the first number to go up and the second to go down as he becomes more comfortable in the offense.
The triplets: QB Terrelle Pryor, RB Dan Herron, WR DeVier Posey
The buzz: After two mostly up-and-down seasons, Pryor showed why he was the No. 1 recruit in the country in 2008 with his performance against Oregon in the Rose Bowl; he threw for 266 yards and ran for 72 more. If he continues at that level, Pryor will be a Heisman candidate. Posey became Pryor's top target as the season went on and finished with eight touchdown catches. He has big-time speed and is a top-flight deep threat. Herron missed three games with an injury and split carries with Brandon Saine, but Herron did finish with 600 yards and seven touchdowns. A healthy season could mean 1,000 yards.
The triplets: QB Jerrod Johnson, RB Christine Michael, WR Jeff Fuller
The buzz: Johnson has a chance to become the Aggies' first first-team All-Big 12 quarterback after setting eight school records last season. The Aggies were a top-five offense thanks to Johnson's dual-threat production (3,579 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, 506 rushing yards, eight TDs). Despite starting only a third of the season, Michael showed big-play ability as a freshman while sharing time with Cyrus Gray. The offense could reach its full potential with a healthy Fuller, a 6-4, 215-pounder who had seven touchdown catches in nine games.
The triplets: QB Greg McElroy, RB Mark Ingram, WR Julio Jones
The buzz: The Crimson Tide's three offensive leaders include the defending Heisman winner, a potential first-round pick and a quarterback who is undefeated as a starter. Ingram rushed for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns last season to win the Heisman. The 6-4, 211-pound Jones is a physical talent, but Alabama's run-first system cuts into his numbers. McElroy isn't one of the nation's top-20 most talented quarterbacks, but he was an able game manager for the national champions in '09. He finished the season with 2,508 yards and 17 touchdowns while completing 60.9 percent of his passes.
The triplets: QB Case Keenum, RB Bryce Beall, WR James Cleveland
The buzz: This has the potential to be the most prolific trio, particularly Keenum and Cleveland. Keenum has passed for 10,691 yards and 88 touchdowns the past two seasons. He threw for 5,671 yards last season, a figure that led the nation by 1,417 yards. The only concern is that he threw 15 interceptions last season, including nine in the final two games. Cleveland was one beneficiary of Keenum's arm, as he was one of four Houston receivers who caught at least 70 passes. Cleveland led the Cougars with 104 catches, 1,214 yards and 14 touchdowns. Last season, Beall split carries with freshman Charles Sims. Now that Sims is ineligible, Beall will shoulder the load as he did in 2008; that season, he rushed for 1,247 yards and 13 touchdowns and was the Conference USA freshman of the year.
The triplets: QB Kellen Moore, RB Jeremy Avery, WR Austin Pettis
The buzz: Boise State would make the top 10 even if Doug Martin and Titus Young were to replace Avery and Pettis, respectively. Moore has lost one game in two seasons as a starter and has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country in his two seasons as the starter. Pettis has been one of the beneficiaries; he caught 63 passes for 855 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. He has good size and speed and runs crisp routes. Avery usually gives way to Martin near the goal line, but he still ran for 1,150 yards and six scores last season. He has breakaway speed and also is an effective receiver.
The triplets: QB Tyrod Taylor, RB Ryan Williams, WR Jarrett Boykin
The buzz: At times last season, Taylor looked awfully close to reaching his potential as a passer, and we're taking a leap of faith that Taylor consistently will play at a high level this season. In 2008, Taylor had two touchdown passes and seven interceptions; last season, Taylor led the ACC in passing efficiency with 13 TDs and five interceptions. He doesn't run as much as once did, but he still is capable of picking up chunks of yards on the ground. Williams stepped in after a season-ending injury to Darren Evans to become one of the top tailbacks in the nation as a redshirt freshman. He topped 20 carries in each of his last six games and scored 11 touchdowns in his last four games. At a school not known for receivers, Boykin gives the Hokies someone who can test opposing secondaries and stretch the field; Boykin averaged 20.9 yards per catch last season.
The triplets: QB Jake Locker, RB Chris Polk, WR Jermaine Kearse
The buzz: Some NFL draftniks rated Locker as the top quarterback in the 2010 class had he left school early. Scout will have a chance to examine Locker's leadership skills this season now that he has a realistic chance of reaching a bowl. Under Steve Sarkisian, Locker now plays more of a pro-style game and set career-highs with 2,800 passing yards and 21 touchdowns while decreasing his interceptions last season. He remains a phenomenal athlete who rushed for 986 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman and has dabbled in baseball. In season full of elite freshman running backs, Polk seemed to fall through the cracks despite becoming the first Washington freshman to ever rush for 1,000 yards. Kearse gives Locker a legitimate deep threat; he averaged 17.3 yards per catch last season.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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