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Ohio State, Notre Dame home to top defensive 'triplets' in CFB

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Aaron M. Sprecher / NFL
Joey Bosa is one of college football's most disruptive defenders.

» Best offensive 'triplets'


Every college coach craves "triplets" -- trios of top-tier talent capable of dominating games. Today, CFB 24/7 is looking at the top defensive triplets (the best set of players along the line, at linebacker and in the secondary). Monday, we looked at the top offensive triplets. We're also providing a list of the top triplets in the leagues that don't make our top 12.

15 for '15:
CFB 24/7 counts down the best of what college football has to offer in varying categories for 2015.

12. Tennessee

The triplets: DE Derek Barnett, LB Curt Maggitt, CB Cameron Sutton
The skinny: Barnett had a tremendous season as a true freshman last fall, finishing with 72 tackles, 10 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss (eight of his sacks came in three games, though). Maggitt is a big-play guy who can cause issues with his quickness; he had 11 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season. Sutton has good size (6-foot-1, 189 pounds) and is a steady presence in the back end; he should vie for All-SEC honors.

11. Oklahoma State

The triplets: DE Emmanuel Ogbah, LB Ryan Simmons, CB Kevin Peterson
The skinny: Ogbah is one of the more underrated ends nationally; he had 11 sacks (tied for second in the Big 12) and 17 tackles for loss (third in the league) last season. He is a physical presence (6-4, 275) who has surprising quickness. Simmons is productive (96 tackles last season) and will be a three-year starter; his cousin, Aaron Curry, was a first-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks at linebacker in 2009. Peterson, a senior who will be a three-year starter, has good speed and had two picks and 11 pass breakups last season. Peterson, who had a good game vs. West Virginia star Kevin White last season (White had three receptions for 27 yards), will be one of the best corners in the Big 12.

10. USC

The triplets: DT Antwaun Woods, LB Su'a Cravens, CB Adoree' Jackson
The skinny: Woods (6-1, 320) is a squatty load in the middle of the line. He was a part-time starter in 2012 and 2013, then became a full-fledged starter last season. He is not a pass-rush threat, but he holds up extremely well at the point of attack. Cravens is one of the biggest hitters in the nation, and after playing a hybrid safety/linebacker role last season, he will be a full-time outside 'backer this fall. He runs well and his coverage skills are above-average for a linebacker. Jackson was a big-time recruit who lived up to the hype as a true freshman last season. He has blistering speed and possesses the skill set -- including the swagger -- to be a shutdown corner.

9. Florida State

The triplets: DT Nile Lawrence-Stample, LB Terrance Smith, CB Jalen Ramsey
The skinny: Lawrence-Stample will be one of the best run-stuffers in the nation. He doesn't provide a pass rush, but, man, he is tough to move in the middle. Smith runs well, both north-south and east-west. Ramsey is moving from safety back to his natural position of cornerback, and he should be one of the three best corners in the nation this season. He has excellent size (6-1, 201) and is a tremendous athlete with blazing speed.

8. Florida

The triplets: DE Jonathan Bullard, LB Antonio Morrison, CB Vernon Hargreaves III
The skinny: Bullard was in the same recruiting class as Dante Fowler, Jr., and while Bullard will be a three-year starter, this will be the first time he has been out of Fowler's shadow. He has the ability to play tackle, is good against the run and should provide a consistent pass rush this fall. Morrison is a wild card; he is a physical and punishing tackler, but he suffered a severe leg injury in the Birmingham Bowl win over East Carolina and might not be ready for the start of the season. If he misses appreciable time, Florida is in trouble at linebacker. But UF should have no trouble in the secondary. Hargreaves might be the best cornerback in the nation; at the least, he is in the top three. He is a true shutdown corner, and he also is more than willing in run support.


» Dynamic duos: College football's top tandems


7. UCLA

The triplets: DT Kenny Clark, LB Myles Jack, CB Fabian Moreau
The skinny: Clark was a part-time starter as a true freshman in 2013, then moved into the lineup full-time last season. He is solid against the run and has the first-step quickness to get into the backfield; he had 58 total stops last season and appears ready to become one of the nation's best tackles this season. Jack already is one of the nation's best linebackers. He is a big-time athlete -- he is expected to again see some time at running back -- who has the speed and power to be a force against the run. He also has 18 pass breakups in his first two seasons. Moreau (6-0, 195), who is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has a big upside; he was strictly an offensive player (running back and wide receiver) in high school but has been a cornerback since he stepped on campus as a true freshman in 2012. He was a reserve that fall and has started in each of the past two seasons. He is a good athlete who is physical against the run.

6. Michigan State

The triplets: DE Shilique Calhoun, LB Ed Davis, S R.J. Williamson
The skinny: Calhoun is one of the best ends in the nation; he is stout against the run and he can be a pest as a pass rusher. Davis had 12 tackles for loss as a first-time starter last season and is part of what should be a strong front seven. Williamson is the Spartans' leading returning tackler and the lone returning starter in the secondary. He had three interceptions last season and returned two for touchdowns.

Take a look at the top 10 players from Penn State to play in the NFL.

5. Penn State

The triplets: DT Anthony Zettel, LB Nyeem Wartman, S Jordan Lucas
The skinny: Zettel could stand to add some bulk (he is 6-4 and 278 pounds), but he's strong and quick and had eight sacks and 17 tackles for loss -- big numbers for an interior lineman -- last season. Wartman became a full-time starter for the first time last fall as a sophomore and showed off his quickness and instincts; he will vie for All-Big Ten honors this season. Lucas is moving from cornerback to safety, and he should be one of the best in the league at his new position. Penn State's secondary has a chance to be the best in the Big Ten, and Lucas' skill set is one reason for the optimism.

4. Alabama

The triplets: DT A'Shawn Robinson, LB Reggie Ragland, CB Cyrus Jones
The skinny: Robinson, a junior, is a load in the middle; he was a part-time starter as a true freshman in 2013, then became the line's best player as a sophomore starter last fall. He is both big (6-4, 312) and quick, and he has 5.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in his first two seasons. Ragland is Alabama's leading returning tackler; he had 93 last season, 39 more than any other returning player. A senior, Ragland showed off his physical nature as a first-time starter last season. Jones, who is from Baltimore, is the Tide's best defensive back. The Tide's secondary struggled at times last season, but Jones was Alabama's best corner, finishing with three picks and 12 pass breakups.

3. Virginia Tech

The triplets: DE Dadi Nicolas, LB Deon Clarke, CB Kendall Fuller
The skinny: Nicolas, a native of Haiti who grew up in south Florida, is the headliner on what might be the nation's best defensive line; he and DT Luther Maddy make for a big-time duo (they also played together in high school in Delray Beach, Fla.). Nicolas, a senior who is working on his second degree at Tech, has excellent quickness and is a feared pass rusher. While Clarke is the weak link among this trio, he still is one of the best linebackers in the ACC. He provides a definite physical presence. Fuller is one of the top three cornerbacks in the nation; he is physical and fast, and has eight picks and 26 pass breakups in his first two seasons with the Hokies.

Check out the top 10 players from Notre Dame to play in the NFL.

2. Notre Dame

The triplets: DE Sheldon Day, LB Jaylon Smith, CB KeiVarae Russell
The skinny: Day, a senior, is heading into his third season as a starter. He is an important part of the Irish's 3-4 front. He can play all three spots along the line, and while he is stout against the run, he has the quickness to be a pesky pass rusher, too. Smith, a junior who is heading into his third season as a starter, might be the best linebacker in the nation. He has excellent speed and moves as easily laterally as he does straight ahead. He was a consensus top-five prospect nationally in the 2013 recruiting class and has lived up to the hype. Smith led the Irish with 112 tackles last season and had five games with double-digit stops. Russell missed last season because of an academic suspension, but he has shutdown-corner ability. He has been clocked as fast as 4.34 seconds in the 40, while his broad jump has been measured at more than 11 feet and his vertical jump at 40 inches. Russell is the only true freshman in Notre Dame history to start a season opener at cornerback (he did so in 2012).

1. Ohio State

The triplets: DE Joey Bosa, LB Darron Lee, S Vonn Bell
The skinny: Bosa, a junior who is heading into his third season as a starter, might be the best player in the nation, regardless of position. He is both athletic and powerful, and is a pass-rush force; he also holds up against the run. Lee, a sophomore, is another with a high ceiling. He runs well and packs a wallop. He and senior Joshua Perry are the best linebacker duo in the nation. Lee's athleticism really stands out; he had 7.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss last season. Bell is one of the best safeties in the nation. Bell played a lot as a true freshman reserve in 2013, then emerged as a key starter last season. He led the Buckeyes with six interceptions and was second in tackles (92). Bell has a high football IQ and a knack for coming up with a big play.

Other leagues

AAC: Temple (DT Matt Ioannidis, LB Tyler Matakevich, CB Tavon Young)
C-USA: Louisiana Tech (DT Vernon Butler, LB Nick Thomason, S Xavier Woods)
MAC: Akron (NT Cody Grice, LB Jatavis Brown, CB DeAndre Scott)
MWC: Boise State (DE Kamalei Correa, LB Tanner Vallejo, FS Darian Thompson)
SUN BELT: Louisiana-Monroe (DT Gerrand Johnson, LB Hunter Kissinger, S Mitch Lane)

Follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @mikehuguenin.

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