- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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Having a triple-threat at the quarterback, running back and wide receiver positions usually translates into big-time offense. Look no further than the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s. Behind quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin, Dallas captured Super Bowls in 1992, 1993 and 1995.
In recent years, the Big 12 has boasted some dynamic offensive triplets, including West Virginia's Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in 2012 and Baylor's Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and Antwan Goodley in 2013.
Who will have the league's best triplet in 2015? We rank them below:
Boykin is the top returning quarterback in the Big 12, and maybe the country. In a breakout 2014 season, he finished fourth in the Heisman voting and led the Big 12 in total offense. Green almost topped 1,000 yards last season despite backing up B.J. Catalon for more than half the season. As the starter in TCU's final five games, Green ran wild, with 544 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Doctson headlines a versatile and productive receiving corps that also includes Kolby Listenbee and Deante' Gray. Doctson was one of seven Big 12 receivers to go over 1,000 yards receiving; he also tied for the conference lead with 11 receiving touchdowns.
The Bears boast a 1,200-yard returning rusher in Linwood and a 1,100-yard receiver in Coleman; both All-Big 12 last season. The key will be Russell, who exited Baylor's spring session atop the depth chart ahead of Jarrett Stidham and Chris Johnson. Even though he served as Petty's backup the past two years, Russell is relatively experienced, with 11 career touchdown passes.
With a clearer answer at quarterback, Oklahoma might boast the best offensive triplet combination in the country. Perine is back after rushing for more than 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns as a true freshman; he also set the FBS record with 427 rushing yards in one game. Shepard is an All-American-caliber talent. He was on pace to have a monster junior year until a groin injury slowed him during the second half of the season; he still finished fifth in the league in receiving. Quarterback is the unknown. After Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas both struggled as starters in 2014, Mayfield might be the favorite to win the job. But he hasn't played since 2013 and has just seven career starts.
This unit has the potential to be outstanding. Washington was one of three 1,000-yard rushers in the Big 12 last season, and the first at Tech in 16 years. Over the past two years, Grant has put up 1,734 yards receiving; no returning Big 12 receiver has more during that span. Mahomes is the X factor. He's still battling Davis Webb for the starting job, but he showed great promise down the stretch, tossing 14 touchdowns to two interceptions in the Red Raiders' final three games.
Like Mahomes, Rudolph was one of the big surprises in the conference at the end of the season. After his redshirt was pulled for the final three games, Rudolph threw for 853 yards while leading the Cowboys to wins against Oklahoma on the road and Washington in the bowl game. Sheperd developed an instant chemistry with Rudolph, too, emerging as his go-to target. Of his 737 receiving yards, 37 percent came in Oklahoma State's final two games. After being a backup the past two years, Childs is getting a crack to prove he can be the featured back this spring before highly touted junior college transfer Chris Carson arrives in the summer.
Kevin White, who is likely to be a top 10-pick in the NFL draft, will be impossible to replace. But the Mountaineers should be able to lean on Shell even more between the tackles after he finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing. Howard gave the Mountaineers a spark at quarterback with his wheels late in the year after taking over for an injured Clint Trickett. But he completed only 51 percent of his passes and is battling to keep the job from redshirt freshman William Crest Jr. Thompson is West Virginia's top returning receiver with 49 receptions and 598 yards receiving in 2014. This season, however, he won't have the benefit of defenses being focused on stopping White and Mario Alford.
Richardson is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the league with 21 career starts. Health has been the issue for him, but when he's been 100 percent, he's been effective as a dual-threat passer. The Cyclones basically have two potential No. 1 options at receiver in Lazard and Quenton Bundrage, who missed all of the 2014 season with a knee injury. Running back is the biggest concern on the offense. Brown is the oldest back on the roster after projected starter DeVondrick Nealy unexpectedly left the team in the offseason. Redshirt freshman Mike Warren could challenge Brown for the primary spot.
The Longhorns are one big question mark offensively, notably at quarterback and receiver. Texas is hoping Gray will be closer to his explosive 2013 self with another year removed from the Achilles tendon tear he suffered late that season. He averaged just 4.36 yards per carry last year. Texas is also banking that Johnson can take over as a primary receiver following the departures of John Harris and Jaxon Shipley. Johnson has been in the doghouse for much of his college career, but coach Charlie Strong said he's "been floored" with the receiver's strong work ethic and positive attitude this offseason. Swoopes had his moments in 2014, but really struggled down the stretch. Strong said Swoopes is "way better" right now than he was at the end of last season. The Longhorns desperately need that to be the case.
No Big 12 team graduated more offensive firepower than Kansas State, which must replace quarterback Jake Waters and 1,000-yard receivers Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton. Hubener, a former walk-on, is the favorite to take over for Lockett. He has a dual-threat skill set and is entering his fourth year in the program. Jones is back after co-starting with DeMarcus Robinson last season. But he ranked just 21st in the Big 12 in yards per carry, which could open the door for a younger back such as Dalvin Warmack to push for the starting job. Burton, who had only 17 catches last season, is probably the favorite to take over for Lockett as the go-to receiver. Those are massive shoes he'll have to try to fill.
The Jayhawks have no returning receiver with more than 20 receptions last season. That could allow Taylor, a Florida transfer and ESPN 300 recruit coming out of high school, to emerge as Kansas' top pass-catcher. Avery, who finished second behind Perine among freshmen Big 12 rushers last season, and De'Andre Mann gave the Jayhawks a solid one-two punch at running back last season. Because he limited turnovers, Cummings gave Kansas some stability at quarterback during the second half of the season, but it's unclear how the new coaching regime will affect his standing.