Sean Merriman, BTN.com web editor, June 30, 2015
Our friends over at NFL.com recently put together a list of the top offensive "triplets" in college football. The list focuses on the best set of quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers in the nation heading into the 2015 season.
Ohio State tops the list at No. 1 overall, while Penn State comes in at No. 8.
This got me thinking about the top offensive trios in the Big Ten this season. Did NFL.com get it right with their top 2 Big Ten selections?
Here is a look at my top 5 Big Ten offensive triplets heading into the upcoming college football season.
1. Ohio State: QB J.T. Barrett/Cardale Jones, RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Michael Thomas
Barrett, Jones and Elliott are all considered Heisman Trophy hopefuls heading into the 2015 season. Barrett was the best quarterback in the conference last season before Jones took over after an injury and led the Buckeyes to a national championship. Elliott is the top running back in the Big Ten this season, and it really isn't even close. Thomas caught 54 balls for 799 yards and nine touchdowns last season. With Devin Smith off to the NFL, look for Thomas to improve on those numbers as he becomes the Buckeyes' top pass-catching target in 2015.
2. Penn State: QB Christian Hackenberg, RB Akeel Lynch, WR DaeSean Hamilton
Hackenberg is the most NFL-ready quarterback in the Big Ten. With a strong junior season, the Nittany Lions' quarterback could very-well be a top 5 selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. In the backfield, Lynch is a speedy back who led PSU with 678 yards on the ground last season, to go along with four rushing touchdowns. Hamilton led the Big Ten with 82 receptions as a freshman last year. He is Hackenberg's go-to guy and should be poised for a huge sophomore season.
3. Michigan State: QB Connor Cook, RB Madre London/Gerald Holmes, WR Macgarrett Kings Jr.
Cook enters his third season as the Spartans' starting signal caller and has established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the country. He sports an impressive 23-3 record as a starter at MSU, including a 16-1 mark against Big Ten opponents, and a 2-0 record in bowl games. With Jeremy Langford off to the NFL, the Spartans have an opening at running back, but plenty of talented options. The leaders to take over the starting RB spot are redshirt freshman Madre London, who was a highly-touted recruit out of Florida, and Gerald Holmes, who carried the ball 15 times for 44 yards last season as a redshirt freshman. Incoming freshman L.J. Scott will also be in the mix for playing time at running back. Macgarrett Kings Jr. is the Spartans top returning wide receiver after hauling in 29 passes for 404 yards in 2014. Aaron Burbridge and TE Josiah Price should also play a big role in the Spartans' passing attack in 2015.
4. Illinois: QB Wes Lunt, RB Josh Ferguson, WR Mikey Dudek
This trio is sneaky good, led by junior signal caller Wes Lunt. The big-armed quarterback had an up-and-down 2014 season where passed for 1,763 yards and 14 touchdowns, but injuries and ineffectiveness led to him losing his job. Ferguson is a dual-threat back who can run and catch passes out of the backfield. He rushed for 735 yards and eight touchdowns, while also adding 50 grabs for 427 yards and two scores last season. Dudek was one of the top receivers in the conference last season, but the talented sophomore-to-be suffered a torn ACL during practice in early April and is working to return for the 2015 season. If he can come back healthy and return to his old form, Illinois could boost its way up this list.
5. Rutgers: QB Chris Laviano/Hayden Rettig, RB Paul James/Josh Hicks, WR Leonte Carroo
Laviano and Rettig are battling for the right to replace Gary Nova at quarterback. Both are talented, and both bring different skill sets to the table for this Rutgers team. At running back, the Scarlet Knights have an abundance of talent. Paul James looked poised to be a game-changer in 2014, this before an ACL injury prematurely ended his junior season. Hicks stepped up in James' absence, rushing for 416 yards and two scores over the final four games of the 2014 season, including a 202 yard performance in a 40-21 bowl victory over North Carolina. At wideout, the Scarlet Knights are led by one of the top pass catchers in the Big Ten in Carroo. He joined former MSU WR Tony Lippett as the only players to top 1,000 yards and 10 touchdown catches in 2014. If Rutgers can settle on a starting quarterback, this offense has the chance to put up some big point totals in 2015.
Honorable Mention: Wisconsin (Stave, Clement, Erickson), Nebraska (Armstrong, Cross, Westerkamp).