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Ranking the Pac-12's defensive triplets: No. 9 Colorado

Colorado expects Chidobe Awuzie to be the leader of its secondary this season. Scott Olmos/USA TODAY Sports

We're continuing our team defensive triplet rankings for the Pac-12 with Colorado. Here are the parameters: We’ve selected a trio of skill defensive 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 player from the defensive line, linebacker group and secondary. We then ranked each program’s troika against the others in the Pac-12, and we’ll be unveiling and writing about each in reverse countdown order.

DL Josh Tupou

After serving a one-year suspension for violating team rules, Tupou has worked his way back on the team. At 6-foot-3, 325 pounds, he provides the bulk necessary to anchor Jim Leavitt’s 3-4 defense. He’s got plenty of experience, having appeared in 34 games and starting in 31 before his 2015 hiatus. He earned all-league honorable mention honors in 2014 with 42 tackles, four for a loss, with three sacks. His return is a welcome addition to a defense that showed significant improvement in 2015 and could be trending up (see the evaluation below).

OLB Derek McCartney

The 6-3, 240-pound junior came on strong in his sophomore season with 70 tackles and was second on the team with five sacks and a total of 11.5 tackles for a loss. He also added an interception. Depth is an issue at the outside spot -- despite the return of McCartney and Jimmie Gilbert opposite him. However, with 11 sacks between them last season, they provide a nice 1-2 punch on the outside. Plus, McCartney is a heck of a guy to boot.

CB Chidobe Awuzie

After earning second-team all-league honors last season primarily as a nickel back, Awuzie steps into the role as full-fledged corner, which should help offset the departure of three-year starter Kenneth Crawley. This is shaping up to be a nice-looking secondary with a balance of talented veterans and some younger players who already have experience. Look for Awuzie to build off of last season’s numbers -- where he finished second on the team with 90 tackles, four sacks and a pair of interceptions.

Evaluation

Pop quiz: Name the only Power 5 team to force a turnover in every game in 2015? Sit down, Alabama. Not you, Washington. Sorry, Stanford. It was Colorado -- which finished in the black for the first time in the Mike MacIntyre era with a plus-one turnover ratio. Turnovers do not equal wins, which is unfortunate for Colorado. But you can’t overlook the huge strides this defense made in 2015, especially when you consider that just a couple of seasons ago they had just three interceptions for the season -- all by the same player. Besides consistently pilfering the ball, the Buffs dropped their scoring average from 39 points per game in 2014 to 27.5 last season -- which was sixth in the league. Tupou’s return helps up front. And if linebacker Addison Gillam can stay healthy after such a promising freshman campaign in 2013, this could prove to be a formidable defense.