As a massive fan of the Oregon Ducks football program, this premise got floated to me a few weeks ago, and my initial reaction was a whole lot different than how I feel today. I pulled Mr. FishDuck from his fun at Bigbambooonline.com to see if his thoughts had changed by season end, and he agrees with me.
Bo Nix is legitimately in the running for ‘best football player‘ to ever play where it never rains.
Now, if you’ve watched Oregon for a long time and your knee-jerk reaction is a resounding “No!” we aren’t surprised. You also might ask what ‘best’ even means, as stats, impact on the program, coachability, resume, leadership, and all kinds of intangibles could be measured in this conversation.
But even if you do consider all of those areas with Nix, where did he fall shorter than other players in team history? The more you look at the bigger picture of how he was able to hit the numbers he did, the efficiency in which he did so as a passer, runner, leader, and the team that head coach Dan Lanning placed around him to be special, there’s a lot to love about Nix’s tenure after transferring to Oregon.
It might just be the best one any player has had in Autzen.
Carefully Considering How Nix Finished the 2023 Season
If you look at Nix’s season stats, how he closed his time in Eugene is a night-and-day difference from how he started it. In his last five games to close out his career at Oregon, Nix threw for 1,785 yards, 20 touchdowns at a 76% completion rate, and only one interception. That completed a season in which he threw for more touchdowns than in his entire 3-year career at Auburn, and more touchdowns in a season than any quarterback Oregon’s ever seen. Additionally, not only did he elevate his game as a Duck, he laid his body on the line for the team week after week.
While he wasn’t much of a rushing threat in 2023, his previous season at 14 rushing TDs should be taken into account when comparing him amongst modern-era quarterback peers in Justin Herbert, Joey Harrington and Marcus Mariota. Also, think about the disasters over the past two years in the handful of plays he wasn’t on the field at Oregon. Needless to say, we’re lucky as a fanbase he’s as durable as he is, and finished out his time in Eugene without missing much time at all.
While the 2023 season didn’t go exactly as expected, you can’t say much about Nix underperforming in big spots or missing out on opportunities. You could point to the pick in the PAC-12 Championship as one of his few mental errors of the season, but the rest you can probably count on one hand. He was special the entire year, and deserves to be recognized as such.
If you put all that together, you get a legitimate argument for Nix to rival Oregon’s best all-time players. His numbers, leadership on the team, NFL Draft stock, and cultural impact on current/future recruiting can’t be overstated. Nix’s time at Oregon seemingly got better week after week, and if he went anywhere else, I don’t see him becoming the player he is today. Oregon made him, and he took advantage of every chance he got with the Ducks.
Still, there’s a ton of other players to consider. Particularly, a fan favorite from the beaches of Honolulu.
Other Contenders in Oregon Football History
If you look back over the past several decades, there’s a handful of players in Oregon’s history you could say changed the game for how Eugene played on the collegiate map. Norm Van Brocklin and Mel Renfro come to mind as some of the most accomplished Ducks-turned-pros, and these players are both great in their own right.
Herbert, Penei Sewell, Haloti Ngata, De’Anthony Thomas, and Dion Jordan highlight that handful of players in the new age who certainly played at an elite enough level to be a memorable part of the team’s history moving forward. Still, it’s almost impossible to compare players across several decades of football, as the game has changed on such a profound level over time.
So if it had to be any one player, Hawaiian Houdini earns that mark in almost any Oregon fan’s book. A College Football Playoff win over Florida State, the first ever Heisman Trophy for an Oregon Duck, and a complete cultural transformation for Oregon fans. Marcus Mariota was a true privilege to watch, and I have no problem if you still see him as the best Duck ever. Mariota is an easy ‘yes!‘ when it comes to picking your favorite player at Oregon for being a stand-up guy in the community, electric on the field, and rightfully being honored as a great piece of Oregon’s history for years to come.
Bottom Line: Nix is the Answer
But I say differently today. I think Nix has done enough to be considered the best football player in team history. His numbers are as good as it gets, he elevated a receiver to a first-round projection (which would be the first Oregon receiver taken in the first round since The Godfather was in theaters, mind you), he took almost zero sacks with decisive and unreal efficiency, he rarely lost, and he was a class act through and through. If you’re going to pick a player as the blueprint for what Lanning is all about, pick this guy.
He transferred in, earned the job, and kept it his entire time at Oregon as he elevated his game with good coaching and intention. If I were a quarterback like Dillon Gabriel or Dante Moore, I’d want a plate of what Lanning’s cooking, and to follow in the footsteps of the best Oregon Duck to ever play in Autzen.
Remember: Jim Harbaugh just called J.J. McCarthy the best quarterback in Michigan history, and rightfully so. He isn’t a prisoner of the moment, and neither are we here in Eugene. There are plenty of reasons why the undisputed greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady went in the sixth round of the NFL Draft, and had to earn his keep in the NFL (to the tune of seven Super Bowl rings, but who’s counting). While there’s no Brady in Oregon history, there certainly is a Bo. And for me, he was the best to ever wear green and yellow.
Anyway, enough from me, Oregon fans. Who do you think is Oregon’s best football player ever? Is there any one player that should be named Oregon’s best player, or is it impossible to transcend between different eras as the ‘best’ in school history? What criteria should be weighted the heaviest in measuring the best players? Let us know in the FishDuck Forum with decorum.
Go Ducks! And thank you, Bo!
Los Angeles, California
Top Photo By: Eugene Johnson
Alex Heining is an Oregon alumni from the graduate class of 2021. After studying sports business and media studies, he has moved into the field of digital marketing as a copywriter and content manager in the Los Angeles area. Still, he loves his Ducks and goes to local high school games all over the Los Angeles and Orange County area to check out new recruits of the future (and a SoFi game or two with the pros). On any given Saturday, expect to find him doing martial arts, playing the guitar, or screaming at the tv over a missed holding penalty.
New 2024 FishDuck Publishing Schedule….
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