These are our annual Pac-12 triplet rankings. We’ve selected a trio of players from each team in the conference.
The rules: Each player comes from a different position group, so the defensive version of this series features a defensive lineman, a linebacker and a defensive back. Each program's troika is ranked against the others in the Pac-12, and we’ll be unveiling and writing about each in reverse-countdown order.
We continue our defensive rankings with No. 5 Colorado.
DL Leo Jackson III: All three starting linemen from the Buffs' league-leading defense are gone. That's the bad news. The good news is that Colorado featured real depth at the position last season, and Jackson is back to provide senior leadership for a new-look group. The Buffs are very excited about former Finnish judo champion Chris Mulumba and 350-pounder Javier Edwards, a pair of junior college transfers who should be able to contribute up front immediately. Since Jackson also took the junior college route, line coach Jim Jeffcoat sees him as a mentor for those two transfers and a leader of the position group.
LB Rick Gamboa: The Buffs' defensive exodus impacted all three levels of the unit. With linebacker Kenneth Olugbode and his 115 stops also departing, Gamboa is Colorado's leading returning tackler. He's been a hallmark of consistency throughout his first two years on campus, notching seasons of 78 and 76 tackles, respectively. Now an upperclassman, Gamboa will be asked to pick up a larger portion of the load on the inside.
CB Isaiah Oliver: The Buffs' cornerback tandem of Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon was one of the country's best. Safety Tedric Thompson was also very good. With all three gone, big-time pressure shifts to Oliver, who also saw a lof of playing time last season. Coaches were very happy with Oliver's performance this spring, saying that he had emerged to fill the leadership void created by all those departures in the Colorado secondary. No one expects the Buffs' pass defense to finish in the top five nationally again, but solid play from Oliver could at least keep Colorado's defense competitive within the Pac-12 in a rebuilding year.
Verdict: Although the Buffs' defense is losing so much entering 2017 -- no other unit in the Pac-12 must contend with replacing eight starters -- there's still established talent at the top of each position group. That's why Colorado maintains a solid spot in these triplet rankings. Jackson is a trusted commodity, Gamboa is as consistent as they come, and Oliver has the tools to be the Buffs' next star cornerback. Fresh off an excellent defensive season, Colorado's trio has earned the benefit of the doubt.