Lists like that are far more prevalent in the internet age, but there haven’t been many times when the Ducks have had two of the best players in the country.
What makes 2014 so historic is that their supporting cast is much better. Dan Fouts and Bobby Moore (Ahmad Rashad) didn’t have Hroniss Grasu, Jake Fisher, Tyler Johnstone, Derrick Malone, Tony Washington and Thomas Tyner. Oregon is much deeper now and more able to sustain the bumps and bruises of a football season. In the Mariota era the Ducks are three-deep on the offensive line. If Fouts lost a key blocker his blind side might be protected by a walk-on from Grants Pass.
Today Oregon has talent, speed and depth at every position and up and down the roster. Rich Brooks used to have to win with a handful of good players from California and the toughest Oregon kids he could find, no more than a few who would make the roster at USC.
Fouts and Rashad both made the NFL Hall of Fame, but the best tandem in Oregon history might have been Bob Berry and Mel Renfro. Renfro was an amazing talent, a combination of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and LaMichael James, a big-play running back and a shutdown defender in the age of two-way players. Berry had a long career as an NFL back-up, a terrific quarterback and leader as a Duck.
Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart formed a dynamic duo in the 2007 season, but Dixon wouldn’t have been that highly rated going in to the year. He wasn’t a sure bet to start, having thrown 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions the season before. Dixon blossomed in Chip Kelly’s first year as offensive coordinator.
Other terrific tandems at Oregon didn’t enjoy the supporting cast that Dixon and Stewart had. Chris Miller was a great college player throwing to Lew Barnes, but the Ducks didn’t have the running game, depth or defense they do now. Offense Bill Musgrave and Derek Loville formed the nucleus of Oregon’s first bowl team in 30-odd years on the ’89 Ducks. Danny O’Neil and Cristin McLemore led a scrappy and resilient team to the Quack Attack’s first Rose Bowl since 1958.
The 2001 team finished 11-1 and #2 in the country, featuring Joey Harrington, Maurice Morris, Onterrio Smith, Rashad Bauman, Justin Peele, Samie Parker and Keanan Howry. The defense included Steve Smith, Wesly Mallard, Kevin Smith, Keith Lewis and David Moretti, one of Nick Aliotti’s best units. That team probably had as much NFL talent as any recent Oregon team, several players who could have made a Top 150 list.
Real football starts in 29 days, and that will be an end to the list-making and projections. The only list that will matter then will be the top four, the four teams that make it into college football’s first playoff. The Ducks have a pretty good chance to make that one too.