Oregon Football: Decade of Dominance: Top 20 Players of the 2000s

Joe PenkalaCorrespondent IApril 11, 2011

Oregon Football: Decade of Dominance: Top 20 Players of the 2000s

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    With the 2011 season approaching ever so quickly, it is hard to believe that the 2000's have just flown by. The past ten years have brought a lot of change to college football and has seen the University of Oregon football program make strides to become an elite program.

    Over the past decade, Oregon has seen many great players come and go and have also seen three teams make a serious run at the national title game.

    With the amount of talent Oregon has brought in, lets take a look back at the top 20 players to call Autzen Stadium home.

No. 20: Nate Costa

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    Starting off our list is a player mostly known only by Oregon fans. Nate Costa spent five years at the University of Oregon and has left his mark on every player he has suited up with.

    Throughout his career, Costa had to overcome knee injury after knee injury and finally saw his career end this year on a fluke play.

    While many will question how Costa could make this list as a back up, look no further for his worth than to his team this past year.

    When Costa was healthy and ready to run the offense at a moments notice, the Ducks were almost unstoppable as they opened up the playbook and exposed Darron Thomas to risks. After Costa went down with a knee injury, the Ducks offense got conservative and was less effective down the stretch.

No. 19: Demetrius Williams

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    One thing the Ducks offense defiantly did not lack through the mid 2000's was speed at the receiver position. Adding to that speed was Demetrius Williams.

    Demetrius Williams was an outstanding route runner, who had great hands and the ability to make the big play.

    Williams was a great target throughout his career and was also a constant threat on a reverse or end around due to his speed.

No. 18: Kellen Clemens

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    Perhaps one of the most underrated quarterbacks of the past decade was Kellen Clemens. While Clemens didn't come in and shatter the record books, he did lead the Ducks to one of their best seasons in 2005.

    In 2005, Clemens had the Ducks humming along with only one loss before suffering a college-career ending injury at Arizona (since a 2nd round NFL Draft pick of the New York Jets). Clemens fate is something that Duck fans have seen way too often in the past ten years.

No. 17: Walter Thurmond III

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    Walter Thurmond was part of a very special secondary unit at Oregon but was never overshadowed. A four-year starter at Oregon, Thurmond was both a threat as a corner but also has skills at returning punts. 

    Thurmond finished his career with the highest punt return average in Oregon history, but that was also the way his career ended. While returning a punt early in the 2009 season, Thurmond suffered a season ending injury that also ended his career. 

No. 16: Jeremiah Johnson

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    Another player that endeared himself to fans was Jeremiah Johnson. Johnson stayed at Oregon for four years and was able to play both roles in two different two-back offenses.

    In 2007, he was able to be a change of pace back with Jonathan Stewart until he suffered a season ending injury. In 2008, he was the main back while playing with LaGarrette Blount.
     
    Johnson went out with a bang by recording two huge runs against Oregon State in the 2008 Civil War and followed it up with a great game in the Holiday Bowl.

No. 15: Darron Thomas

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    Yes, he has only started one year, but he also is the only Ducks quarterback to lead the school to a national championship appearance.

    Darron Thomas finished up his first year as a starter last year and was nothing short of tremendous. Thomas often showed the composure of a senior and the skills to back it up.

    As good as Thomas was this past year, the best part for Duck fans is he likely will be at Oregon for two more years.

No. 14: Casey Matthews

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    Casey Matthews was the quarterback of the Oregon defense. Matthews spent his time roaming the middle of the defense at middle linebacker and was able to drop back in pass protection and helped stuff the run.

    In 2010, Matthews had an incredible senior season and helped lead the Oregon Ducks to their first national championship appearance. He also was named first team all Pac-10 and second team all-american.

No. 13: Nick Reed

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    Nick Reed was not the fastest or strongest or most highly sought after recruit, but once he stepped on the field, none of that mattered.
     
    Reed was a tremendous defensive end who had a motor that never stopped. His love for the game and ability to never quit on a play separated Reed from those around him.

No. 12: Samie Parker

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    If you want speed, then Samie Parker is your guy. Parker was a stand out receiver that could get moving in a hurry on the outside. Not only did Parker have breakaway speed, but he also developed into an outstanding route runner.

    During his time at Oregon, Parker caught passes from Joey Harrington and Jason Fife. His most memorable play occurred in the Fiesta Bowl when Harrington and Parker connected for an 80-yard touchdown strike.

No. 11: Jeff Maehl

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    Jeff Maehl will go down as one of the biggest team players in Oregon history. After being brought to Oregon to play in the secondary, the coaching staff needed him to move to receiver due to injuries that had left them shorthanded.

    After switching to the offensive side of the ball, Maehl never looked back. He finished his career with 24 touchdowns, improving year in and year out.
     
    In 2010, his success hit an all-time high with quarterback Darron Thomas. Maehl hauled in 12 touchdowns and was the Ducks go to receiver throughout the year.

No. 10: Patrick Chung

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    Patrick Chung was one of the heart and soul players of the Oregon defense throughout the middle of the 2000's. Chung was a four-year starter at the Rover position and was able to both drop back in coverage and fly up to the line to support the run.

    Chung was a two-time first-team all-conference honoree and also received second team all-american honors in his junior year. He finished his career with the fourth most tackles all-time and first among players not at the linebacker position.  

No. 9: Ed Dickson

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    One of the best overall tight ends to come to the University of Oregon was Ed Dickson. Ed Dickson was a player that many fans believe was not used enough.

    Throughout his career at Oregon, Dickson was a great run blocker and provided stability in the running game.

    Not only could he hold the edge for the Ducks but Dickson was also a stand out pass catching tight end. Dickson has the ability to not only move the chains but also stretch the field by going deep over the middle.

No. 8: Max Unger

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    Max Unger was in the middle of one of the best offensive lines Oregon has ever seen. In 2008, he was the captain of a line that set both rushing and rushing touchdown records.
     
    Unger was a two time all-conference player and was viewed as one of the premier offensive lineman on the west coast and was often mentioned nation wide.
     
    Throughout his time at Oregon, Unger showed leadership both on and off the field and gave the offense stability through his ability to stay healthy.

No. 7: Jarius Byrd

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    Jarius Byrd was a three-year starter at Oregon and started off on the right foot by earning co-Pac-10 freshman of the year honors. Not only did he receive honors in conference, Byrd was also named to the Sporting News second team all freshman team.

    While at Oregon, Byrd was a ball hawk in the secondary and helped form one of the strongest secondaries in Oregon history. He finished his career with 17 interceptions and was named the MVP of the Holiday Bowl.

No. 6: Keenan Howry

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    While Keenan Howry was a true threat in the passing game, making many diving catches, Oregon fans will always remember him for what he did in the 2001 Civil War.
     
    With the rain coming down hard and fast at Autzen Stadium, Howry made a game changing play when he returned a punt 70 yards and put the Ducks ahead for good.
     
    While Howry did play in the late 90's, his contribution in the last decade will last the test of time.

No. 5: Dennis Dixon

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    Dennis Dixon is a player that Duck fans will always hold close to their hearts. While struggling with inconsistencies early in his career, Dixon put it all together in 2007 and had the Ducks heading to the top.
     
    After lifting the Ducks to a No. 2 ranking in the nation, Dixon tore his ACL is a game against ASU but decided to try and tough it out against Arizona. It only took a little more than a quarter for Dixon to go down one last time.
     
    Dixon's ability to run and pass the ball had him as a shoe in for the 2007 Heisman Trophy and still has Duck fans to this day wondering, what if.

No. 4: Jonathan Stewart

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    From the moment that Jonathan Stewart entered the game as a freshman, he never looked back. Stewart was a rare blend of speed and power and used them both to his advantage.

    In his final two years, Stewart led the Ducks in rushing yards and helped lead them to the No. 2 ranking in the nation in 2007.
     
    Stewart finished his career at Oregon fourth on the all time rushing list and was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft to the Carolina Panthers.

No. 3: Haloti Ngata

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    Coming into Oregon, Ngata was a highly sought after recruit and much was expected. It only took him five games into his freshman season before he started to live up to those expectations as he cracked into the starting lineup.

    For as much as Ngata did while at Oregon, he missed his second season with a knee injury that he suffered in the opening game of the year. After rehabbing and getting healthy, Ngata came back and had a tremendous junior year and was a large obstacle for any team trying to run up the middle.

    Even with only playing two seasons with the Ducks, Ngata is still considered the most dominant interior lineman in their recent history. He has gone on to have great success in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens.

No. 2: Joey Harrington

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    Captain Comeback is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play at the University of Oregon. Joey Harrington led the Ducks to their first BCS victory in the Fiesta Bowl and should have had them playing in their first national championship game.

    While at Oregon, Harrington showed the mental toughness and leadership to engineer many fourth quarter comebacks over his career.
     
    When Harrington left Oregon, he was drafted No. 3 overall, which is still the highest spot any Ducks player has been drafted at.

No. 1: LaMichael James

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    While LaMichael James has only played in two seasons, he is preparing for a junior season that will shatter most of Oregon's rushing records.
     
    James holds the record for most yards as both a freshman and sophomore and was Oregon's first unanimous all-american last year. To go along with the statistics, James won the Doak Walker Award and also finished third overall in Heisman voting.

    With still at least one more year left at Oregon, James will end up owning the Oregon record books and will go down as one of the great Duck players of all time.