|Aaron M. Sprecher/NFL|
|Alabama's Landon Collins is one of the top defensive backs in the Southeastern Conference.|
The sports landscape is littered with famed "triplets" -- trios of top-tier talent capable of dominating games. Perhaps the most prolific set of triplets in NFL history -- QB Troy Aikman, RB Emmitt Smith and WR Michael Irvin -- captured three Super Bowl championships in the 1990s. The NBA's Miami Heat just saw their group of triplets broken up, with LeBron James leaving Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Looking ahead to the 2014 season, College Football 24/7 is taking a look at the top triplets in each of the top conferences. We start with defensive triplets, or the teams in each league with the best set of players along the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary.
Florida State: DE Mario Edwards Jr., LB Terrance Smith and CB P.J. Williams.
Edwards, a 6-foot-3, 294-pound junior, was a top-five prospect nationally out of high school in the Dallas area in the 2011 recruiting class; he played well, if sparingly, as a true freshman, then became a starter last season. He's an excellent athlete with a quick first step, and he does a solid job against the run. Unlike many ends, he has more than one pass-rush move. He also can play tackle. Smith (6-4, 228), another junior, is the lone returning starter at linebacker for the Seminoles. He played sparingly as an outside 'backer as a redshirt freshman in 2012, then quickly became a vital component last season when he moved to the middle. His athleticism, speed and versatility are big selling points. Williams (6-0, 196), also a junior, is both fast and physical. His size stands out, as does his man-to-man ability. He was a first-time starter last season and will contend for All-America honors this season.
Michigan State: DE Shilique Calhoun, LB Taiwan Jones and FS Kurtis Drummond.
Calhoun (6-4, 257), a junior, is the best all-around end in the Big Ten -- and maybe the nation. He has a high ceiling as a pass rusher -- he had 7.5 sacks last season, his first as a starter, and should get around a dozen this season -- and also is solid against the run. Former Spartans CB Darqueze Dennard, a first-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in May, raved about Calhoun at the end of last season, saying "the sky's the limit." Jones (6-3, 252), a senior, is the lone returning starter at linebacker for the Spartans, who were second in the nation (behind Louisville) in total defense last season. Jones, who is Michigan State's second-leading returning tackler, is moving to middle linebacker this fall and looks to have the needed physical characteristics. Drummond (6-1, 200), a senior, will be a three-year starter and is one of the top three or four free safeties nationally. He has six picks and 10 pass breakups in the past two seasons, covers a lot of ground and is a solid tackler.
Oklahoma: DE Charles Tapper, LB Eric Striker and CB Zach Sanchez.
Bob and Mike Stoops' Sooners defense enters 2014 as one of the best in the conference and a key reason why some think the team can make it into the College Football Playoff. Tapper developed nicely last year as a five-technique and is still growing as a pass rusher who brings phenomenal athleticism to the position. You could sub in any of the OU linebackers to complete this trio, but Striker is the most explosive, as evidenced by anybody who watched the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. Sanchez was picked on at times last year with Aaron Colvin holding down the other side but more than held his own while delivering some big plays and was named a Freshman All-American as a result.
USC: DL Leonard Williams, LB Hayes Pullard and SS Su'a Cravens.
The middle of the USC defense is as good as any in the country. The fact that at least seven schools could mount a series challenge to these triplets is evidence of the depth of quality Pac-12 defenders. Still, Williams was an All-American last year despite playing hurt most of the season, and Pullard made All-Pac-12 second team behind a host of high draft picks. The rangy Su'a Cravens is a first-team Freshman All-American who picked off four passes and is only going to get better leading the Trojans' secondary.
Top college defensive backs to watchTake a look ahead to the 2014 college football season with the most intriguing defensive backs to follow this fall.
Alabama: DL A'Shawn Robinson, LB Trey DePriest and SS Landon Collins.
Had Robinson not been utterly dominant as a true freshman last year, the nod might have gone elsewhere. But consider this: the 320-pound defensive tackle is the first true freshman under Saban at Alabama to lead the team in sacks (5.5), and he did it from a tackle position, not at end. Collins is the best pro prospect in the league among defensive backs, and is primed for a huge junior season after leading the team in both interceptions and pass breakups last year. He also ranked behind only first-round pick C.J. Mosley in tackles with 70. As for DePriest, he might not be the spectacular playmaker that some UA fans have come to expect from the middle linebacker position, but he is a steady performer who will effectively handle pre-snap calls and checks for the entire front seven.
AAC: UCF (DE Thomas Niles, LB Terrance Plummer and SS Clayton Geathers).
Conference USA: Rice (DT Christian Covington, LB James Radcliffe and CB Bruce Callahan).
Mid-American: Northern Illinois (DE Jason Meehan, LB Jamaal Bass and FS Dechane Durante).
Mountain West: Fresno State (DE Tyeler Davison, LB Ejiro Ederaine and FS Derron Smith).
Sun Belt: Arkansas State (DE Chris Stone, LB Qushaun Lee and FS Sterling Young).
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