As the decade comes to a close, we as Duck fans can celebrate knowing that we just came off the most successful decade in Oregon football history. In the last ten years, the Ducks have gone to two national championships, three Rose Bowls and have won the Pac-12 championship four times.
The success of the Oregon Football program can be attributed to coaches and boosters, but most importantly, the players have been the ones who have made Oregon a perennial powerhouse. As the decade comes to a close, let’s take a look at the best of the best to don the green and yellow in the 2010s.
Before diving into the list, there are a few excellent players from this past decade that just barely missed the cut. These players in no particular order are: Deforest Buckner, Kenjon Barner, Kiko Alonso, Casey Matthews, Troy Dye and Penei Sewell.
5. Justin Herbert
Starting off at No. 5 on our list, we have current starting quarterback and future first round pick in the NFL draft, Justin Herbert.
As most know, Herbert has been the starting quarterback for Oregon since halfway through his freshman season. In his career, he has thrown for over 10,000 yards and 95 touchdowns.
To date, Herbert’s signature win comes this season against rival Washington. Herbert dealt with difficult weather conditions and a loud Seattle crowd but still managed to throw for nearly 300 yards and four touchdowns. This performance helped the Ducks defeat Washington, which eventually led to a Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl berth.
Although Herbert’s career with the Ducks is all but over, he still has one final game to cement his legacy and re-define his own signature game.
4. “Rolls” Royce Freeman
The first of three running backs making the list is also the most recent Duck alum in Royce Freeman.
Freeman ran for a Pac-12 record 5,621 yards and 60 rushing touchdowns in his four years as a Duck, including a sophomore season in which he ran for an Oregon single season record of 1836 yards. Freeman was also named first-team all-conference in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, and he even started for the Ducks in the 2015 National Championship against Ohio State.
Freeman was drafted in the third round of the 2018 draft by the Denver Broncos and currently splits time with former Colorado Buffalo, Phillip Lindsay. Although his NFL career has yet to blossom, Freeman will still always be considered one of the best Ducks to ever play at Autzen.
3. La “Mike” James
Although LaMichael James did spend part of his Oregon career in the previous decade, his two best seasons came in 2010 and 2011.
James had similar rushing stats to Freeman; however, he did it all in three seasons. In three years as a Duck, James ran for over 5,000 yards and 53 touchdowns. In 2010, he finished with nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 24 touchdowns, which propelled him to third in the Heisman voting behind future first-overall picks Cam Newton and Andrew Luck. In that same season, James helped lead the Ducks to an undefeated regular season and a national championship appearance against Auburn.
After an incredible 2010 season, James followed up this performance with an arguably better 2011, which prompted him to enter the NFL draft. He wound up up being drafted in the second round by the San Francisco 49ers.
Unfortunately, James was never able to replicate his college success in the NFL. He spent five seasons in the league, bouncing between the 49ers and Miami Dolphins, and he eventually retired in 2015.
2. De’Anthony “Black Mamba” Thomas
No. 2 on the list of best Ducks of the decade is De’Anthony Thomas. Although Thomas doesn’t have the same career rushing stats as Freeman or James, his unique skill set and ability to succeed as a running back, receiver and return specialist is why he is ranked so highly on this list.
Thomas played three seasons with Ducks from 2011 to 2013. Sandwiched between James and Kenjon Barner, Thomas was forced to move around the field in order to receive playing time. His best season came in his freshman year in which he average 10.8 yards per carry as a running back and 13.2 yards per catch as a receiver. In that season, Thomas finished with 1200 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns.
Although Thomas was a talented runner and receiver, the scariest part of his game came as a kick and punt returner. In his freshman season, Thomas accumulated nearly 1000 return yards, averaged 27.3 yards per return and had two kickoff return touchdowns. In this season, Thomas was the co-recipient of the CFPA Kickoff Returner Trophy.
Without question, Thomas’ signature game came against Wisconsin in the 2012 Rose Bowl (sound familiar). In that game, Thomas had four receptions for 34 yards, five kick returns for 125 yards and an incredible 155 yards on just two carries. James was one of the key contributors in Oregon’s last Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin.
1. Marcus “The GOAT” Mariota
Last but certainly not least is the GOAT, the Flyin’ Hawaiin, Saint Marcus Mariota himself.
This one obviously comes as no surprise to anyone. What Mariota did in his three years at Oregon is historic and may never be replicated.
Mariota threw for almost 11,000 yards and 105 touchdowns while also rushing for over 2,000 yards and 29 touchdowns. To put it in perspective, beloved quarterback and likely first round pick, Herbert never reached any of these marks in four years as a Duck.
Although Mariota was excellent in both 2012 and 2013, what he did in 2014 is what truly separates him from any other Duck. In the 2014 season, Mariota threw for 4500 yards in the air and 42 touchdowns while also picking up 770 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground.
Mariota was the first ever player from Oregon to win the Heisman trophy, and he won it by receiving a then-record 96% of the votes. (This record was broken in 2019 by Joe Burrow.) He led the Ducks to the college football playoff and defeated reigning national champion Florida State. In the game, Mariota threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns, cementing his legacy as the GOAT of Oregon football.
Looking at the list, the one common theme is offense. Through its ups and downs, the team has continued to maintain a high-powered offensive attack and has been greatly successful in developing offensive skill players.
With the influx of defensive talent Oregon has generated through recruiting, the trend of Oregon’s best players coming from offense may begin to change. Players like Dye, Kayvon Thibodaux, Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe may change the narrative of Oregon football from an offensive juggernaut to a defensive stalwart. The turn of the decade may cause Oregon to change its historical identity and I am ready for it.
Now, I want to hear from you. Did I miss anyone? Was there anyone ranked too high? Too low? Who are your best players of the decade?
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo by Tom Corno
Born and raised in San Francisco, Garrett grew up as a die hard Giants, Warriors & 49ers fan. However, as a child, he remembers watching De’Anthony Thomas and LaMicheal James highlights online which prompted a fascination with the Ducks.
Fast forward a few years and Garrett is a Junior at the University of Oregon, majoring in Sports Business while also minoring in Journalism and Spanish. As a student, Garrett has yet to miss a home football game and nor does he plan to.
When not watching or writing about sports, you can find Garrett playing intramural football and basketball or in the library completing his studies. But do not be surprised if he has a game on or a sports podcast playing in the background.
FishDuck….you are one WEIRD Dude.
I’ve heard that before. Often people do not like my contrarian view to some topics, but being a football critic is who I am.
I will call it as I see it whether positive or negative, and I will never create anything to simply generate a response; I believe in everything I write.
If we were all in agreement, then there are fewer opportunities to learn and I do love the debates we have in our protected environment. More discussion creates more learning, which makes us all better fans. Let’s make the most of it!