NCF Nation: Chad Johnson

ESPN.com has been doing a series on great college players who didn't pan out in the NFL -- "Simply Saturday," -- which has featured a number of Pac-10 players, including Washington's Steve Emtman and USC's Matt Leinart.

Interesting stuff.

But ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman, who is always working the angles, decided to take a look at NFL stars with so-so college careers, and his list also includes some Pac-12 guys: USC linebacker Clay Matthews, Oregon State wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and California cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

He ranks Matthews No. 2. Notes Feldman:
No NFL player has better bloodlines than Matthews, but when he was coming up as a recruit he was a wiry, undersized, off-the-radar prospect who reportedly only weighed 166 pounds as a backup LB-TE for Agoura (Calif.) High. Matthews stared to sprout in his senior year, yet still only had one scholarship offer -- from former USC assistant Nick Holt at Idaho.

Sure, Matthews blossomed as a junior and senior. But he never really was seen as the brightest star in the constellation that was the Trojans' 2008 defense.
Still, Oregon's Nick Reed and Oregon State's Victor Butler were the first-team All-Pac-10 defensive ends. Matthews proceeded to wow scouts with his explosiveness and determination. Green Bay drafted the one-time walk-on 26th overall, and he has rewarded them with two spectacular seasons, going to back-to-back Pro Bowls and winning NFC Defensive Player of the Year honors, while helping lead Green Bay to a Super Bowl victory.

Ochocinco rates No. 4.
The Miami native didn't spend much time in the Pac-10 -- just one season at Oregon State. The receiver, then known as Chad Johnson, did flash some big-play potential during his time in Corvallis, catching 33 passes for 713 yards. He also flashed a lot of personality on his way to the draft, as you can tell if you read this old Q&A he did with Mel Kiper Jr., who at one point asks: "When all is said and done, how do you want people to remember Chad Johnson?"

Johnson's response: "As a very humble, nice person who had no off-the-field problems."

I'm not sure how many will recall the Cincinnati Bengals star as "humble," but he certainly has produced, notching seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons and going to six Pro Bowls. In truth, he'd be even higher on this list, but at 33, he has dipped some in the last three years.

Asomugha is No. 5.
Oakland certainly didn't whiff on this pick. Asomugha has emerged as a true shutdown corner, earning trips to the past three Pro Bowls. He's also as good as they come off the field, winning NFL Man of the Year honors, too.

He had a good but not great career for the Bears, getting chosen as an honorable mention All-Pac-10 pick as a senior. Some great individual workouts took a guy who some touted as a fifth-rounder all the way up into the first round when the Raiders selected him 31st overall.

On a personal note, I covered Asomugha's coming-out game: a 34-27 Cal win at Washington in 2002, which ended a 19-game Huskies winning streak in the series. In that game, Cal matched Asomugha, previously a safety, on All-American receiver Reggie Williams. Asomugha's physical style -- read here to see what Williams thought of it -- threw the Huskies' passing game out of sync.

Bet more than a few Cal fans remember that game fondly.
On Friday, the Pac-10 becomes the Pac-12, and life as we all have known it ends.

But before we move on as a 12-team league, let's look back at the best of a 10-team league.

On Wednesday, we looked at the best players. Thursday, it's the best teams.

We've listed 12 teams because that's the new magic number (Arizona fans, see if you can guess who came in 13th).

Again, no team before 1978 -- when Arizona and Arizona State joined the Pac-8 -- was considered.

1. 1991 Washington: The Huskies finished 12-0 and split the national title with Miami.

Best player: Defensive tackle Steve Emtman won the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award.

Point differential: Washington outscored its foes 495-115.

Best win: Whipped Michigan 34-14 in Rose Bowl. Wolverines finished ranked sixth.

Comment: Four wins over teams that finished ranked in the final top 25, including road victories at No. 15 Nebraska and at No. 8 California. Featured one of the great defenses in college football history, yielding just 9.2 points and 67.1 rushing yards per game. Eight Huskies earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors.

2. 2004 USC: While the NCAA and BCS have nixed it in their own ways, the Trojans finished 13-0 and won the national title on the field.

Best player: Quarterback Matt Leinart won the Heisman Trophy.

Point differential: USC outscored its foes 496-169.

Best win: Crushed Oklahoma 55-19 in the national title game.

Comment: Basically a push for dominance with 1991 Washington. Beat four teams that finished ranked in the top 25, including the bludgeoning of Oklahoma. Eight Trojans earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors.

3. 2003 USC: The Trojans finished 12-1 and split the national title with LSU. Their only loss came in triple overtime at California.

Best player: Receiver Mike Williams was a consensus All-American.

Point differential: 534-239.

Best win: The completely dominant 23-0 victory at then-No. 6 Auburn in the opener set the tone for the season -- and caused many Pac-10 fans to question how good these highly rated SEC teams really are.

Comment: The Trojans finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in both polls but lost out playing in the BCS title game because of the computer polls. LSU fans have been thanking the computers for that glitch ever since.

4. 2005 USC: A 34-game winning streak came to an end with a nail-biting loss to Texas in the national title game. The Trojans finished 12-1.

Best player: Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy.

Point differential: 638-297.

Best win: The 34-31 win at Notre Dame -- the "Bush Push" game -- was one of the all-time greats.

Comment: Perhaps the best collection of offensive players in the history of college football: Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett, Ryan Kalil, Sam Baker and Taitusi Lutui earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors. And don't forget LenDale White, Winston Justice, Steve Smith and Dominique Byrd.

5. 1978 USC: Finished 12-1 and split national title with Alabama. Lost to Arizona State, 20-7.

Best player: Charles White was a unanimous All-American.

Point differential: 318-153

Best win: A 24-14 win over the team that "claimed" the other half of the national title.

Comment: Split national title -- coaches liked the Trojans; AP the Crimson Tide -- despite a decisive 24-14 USC at Alabama. So much for head to head.

6. 1979 USC: Finished 11-0-1 and No. 2 behind Alabama. Tied Stanford 21-21.

Best player: Charles White won the Heisman Trophy.

Point differential: 389-171

Best win: The 17-16 win over Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, in which White ran for a record 247 yards, including the game-winning touchdown with just more than a minute remaining.

Comment: Team featured four future College Football Hall of Famers in White, Marcus Allen, Ronnie Lot and Brad Budde. By the way, THAT undefeated, untied Alabama team was really, really good: Outscored foes 383-67. So no sour grapes on that one.

7. 2001 Oregon: The Ducks finished 11-1 and ranked No. 2 in both polls. The only loss was 49-42 versus Stanford (a really, really weird game, if you recall).

Best player: Quarterback Joey Harrington finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Point differential: 412-256.

Best win: A 38-16 win over Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl.

Comment: The Fiesta Bowl victory caused plenty of folks to bemoan the Nebraska-Miami matchup in the BCS title game, considering Colorado had blown out Nebraska the final weekend of the regular season. As for the Stanford loss, the typically straightforward AP noted the game had "everything but aliens landing on the Autzen Stadium turf."

8. 1984 Washington: Finished 11-1 and ranked No. 2 behind BYU. Lost to USC ,16-7.

Best player: Defensive tackle Ron Holmes was a consensus All-American.

Point differential: 352-145

Best win: Shocked Oklahoma 28-17 in the Orange Bowl. Sooners finished ranked sixth.

Comment: A controversial season. Before the Orange Bowl, Sooners coach Barry Switzer lobbied hard for the winner to be declared the national champion. As it was, BYU won the national title after beating a bad Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl. Does anyone believe BYU was better than the Huskies? No.

9. 2010 Oregon: The Ducks finished 12-1 and No. 3 in both polls, losing the national title game to Auburn.

Best player: Running back LaMichael James finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Point differential: 611-243

Best win: The Ducks handed Stanford its only loss, 52-31, after trailing 21-3 early. Cardinal finished ranked No. 4.

Comment: An innovative, exciting team to watch, one that played faster than perhaps any big-time college team in history.

10. 1996 Arizona State: Finished 11-1 and ranked No. 4 in both polls. Lost Rose Bowl -- and potential national championship -- to Ohio State, 20-17.

Best player: Quarterback Jake Plummer finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Point differential: 488-216

Best win: The Sun Devils trounced top-ranked, two-time defending national champion Nebraska, 19-0.

Comment: The Sun Devils lost one of the most dramatic Rose Bowls, when the swashbuckling Plummer was out-swashbuckled by Joe Germaine, who was raised in Arizona as an ASU fan.

11. 2000 Washington: The Huskies finished 11-1 and ranked No. 3, their only loss coming at No. 7 Oregon. They beat Purdue 34-24 in the Rose Bowl.

Best player: Marques Tuiasosopo finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Point differential: 387-270

Best win: Beat Miami, 34-29. Hurricanes finished ranked No. 2.

Comment: This is not the most talented team on the list. In fact, some have rated the 2000 Oregon State team -- see below -- ahead of the Huskies. And based on NFL results, the Beavers were more talented than the Huskies. But head to head matters, and the win over Miami is better than anything Oregon State did.

12. 2000 Oregon State: The Beavers finished 11-1 and ranked No. 4, their only loss a 33-30 decision at Washington, which finished ranked No. 3.

Best player: Running back Ken Simonton was first-team All-Pac-10.

Best win: Beat Oregon 23-13 in Civil War. Oregon finished ranked seventh in the coaches poll.

Comment: One or two more plays at Washington, and the Beavers would have played for the national title. And they, by the way, were more talented than the Oklahoma team that did win the title. Notable Beavers: Ken Simonton, Chad Ochocinco (the Chad Johnson), T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chris Gibson, DeLawrence Grant, LaDairis Jackson, Dennis Weathersby and Eric Manning. They spanked Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl.

Pac-10 teams of the decade

January, 20, 2010
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Yes, there are lots of USC teams in our list of the "best Pac-10 teams of the decade."

Not sure how you get around that. From 2002 to 2008, the Trojans finished ranked in the nation's top four. During that span, no other conference team topped the Trojans in the national rankings.

One team not listed, however, merits special mention: Oregon in 2007.

That team was 8-1, ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings and appeared to be headed for a showdown with LSU for the national championship. Then quarterback Dennis Dixon blew out his knee at Arizona -- he'd actually hurt it the week before vs. Arizona State -- and the Ducks subsequently lost to the Wildcats, the first of three consecutive losses before a blowout victory over South Florida in the Sun Bowl.

More than a few people -- not just Ducks fans -- believe that team would have won the national title if Dixon had remained healthy.

Of course, if wishes were fishes then cows would fly.

10. USC, 2007: A toss-up between this squad and the Trojans 2006 team. The '07 team finished ranked third in the AP and second in the coaches poll, while '06 finished fourth in both. '07 lost to 41-point underdog Stanford and at Oregon, see above about the Ducks. '06 lost at Oregon State and at UCLA, a 13-9 defeat that cost it a spot in the national title game. That last detail iced it for '07.

9. USC, 2002: More than a few pundits watching Carson Palmer and company pound Iowa in the Orange Bowl opined that, by season's end, this might be the nation's best team in 2002. After a 3-2 start in Year Two of the Pete Carroll Era, the Trojans won eight in a row to finish 11-2 and ranked No. 4.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Don RyanAaron Rodgers and the Golden Bears only had one regular-season loss in 2004.
8. California, 2004: Sure, the Bears laid an egg vs. Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl -- quick Cal fans: how many receivers were missing due to injury? And what do you think of Mack Brown? -- but Aaron Rodgers and company put on quite a show. The only regular-season defeat came in a thriller at USC -- see below -- 23-17, when the Trojans held strong after the Bears had a first-and-goal from the 9-yard line with less than two minutes left.

7. Oregon State, 2000: If not for a crazy finish at Washington in a 33-30 defeat, the Beavers might have played Oklahoma for the national championship. They went on to blister Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl and finished ranked fourth in the nation. Go back and look at the roster: Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, DeLawrence Grant, Dennis Weathersby, LeDarius Jackson, Ken Simonton, etc. This was hardly a scrappy, little team.

6. Washington, 2000: This crew of Huskies was hardly dominant but they just found a way to win week after week, led by quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo. The 11-1 season included a victory over Miami, which finished ranked No. 2, a loss at No. 7 Oregon, and a Rose Bowl win over Drew Brees and Purdue.

5. USC, 2008: This crew paired one of the best defenses in college football history with a quarterback who's playing in the AFC championship this weekend. Yes, it's fair to ask how the horsepucky this team didn't win the national championship. Oregon State fans care to explain?

4. Oregon, 2001: How strange was the Ducks 49-42 loss vs Stanford, their only defeat of the season? The normally staid AP said this in the game story, it was "a game that had everything but aliens landing on the Autzen Stadium turf." The Ducks led by 14 in the fourth quarter before a blocked punt and interception from Joey Harrington allowed the Cardinal to take the lead. While Oregon fans mostly remember getting BCSed out of the national title game by Nebraska, the Stanford game prevented them from playing Miami in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks blasted Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl and finished No. 2, still the program's best final ranking.

3. USC, 2003: A dominant team that lost only in triple-overtime at California. Only a BCS computer glitch forced the Trojans, ranked No. 1 in every poll, to share a portion of the national title with another squad.

2. USC, 2005: The offense was a thing of beauty -- 580 yards, 49 points per game -- but a young defense, which featured a true freshman and four sophomore starters, cost the Trojans in the thrilling BCS title loss to the University of Vince Young.

1. USC, 2004: Unbeaten, undisputed. Dominant. Best team of the decade in all of college football? Perhaps, though folks could make a strong argument for Miami in 2001. An extraordinary array of talent on both sides of the ball. And defense was the difference vs. 2005. It ranked sixth in the nation in total defense and third in scoring. The Trojans battered Oklahoma 55-19 for the national title.

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