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Thursday, March 17, 2011
Pac-10 top 25 from 2010: No. 3

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

We continue our countdown of the Pac-10's 25 best players from 2010.

Note: Because we are ranking players based on this past season, it's Pac-10, not Pac-12.

Here are the preseason rankings (click each name to read the blurb).

Stephen Paea
Stephen Paea was the Pac-10's best defensive player last season.
No. 3. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State

2010 numbers: Paea had 45 total tackles, including 10 for a loss with six sacks. He also forced four fumbles and had two pass breakups.

Preseason ranking: No. 5

Making the case for Paea: It's been interesting to read some of the comments on Paea, questioning where he would be on this list. My response: really? Paea was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and won the Morris Trophy for a second consecutive year, a honor which is voted on by opposing offensive linemen. So for those of you who question Paea at No. 3, take your case to your local 300-pounder who tried to block him.

A two-time, first-team All-Pac-10 selection, he also was a first-team All-American as selected by The Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News. After setting a bench press record at the NFL combine, he might even end up getting picked in the first round of the NFL draft this spring. Paea, who only took up football when he was 17-years-old, made at least one tackle-for-loss in 12 of the past 18 games. His 14 career sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss -- accumulated over three seasons as a junior college transfer -- rank eighth on the school's all-time list. He's also the school record holder for forced fumbles with nine, including matching a school record with four this season.

Simply, Paea was the best defensive player in the Pac-10 last year as voted on by the coaches and the people who were charged with slowing him down.

No. 4 Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon
No. 5. Mason Foster, LB, Washington
No. 6. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
No. 7. Chris Polk, RB, Washington
No. 8. Cameron Jordan, DE, California
No. 9. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State
No. 10. Chase Beeler, C, Stanford
No. 11. Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State
No. 12. Jeff Maehl, WR, Oregon
No. 13 Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
No. 14. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona
No. 16. Tyron Smith, OT, USC
No. 17. Kenny Rowe, DE, Oregon
No. 18. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
No. 19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon
No. 20. Talmadge Jackson, CB, Oregon
No. 21. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
No. 22. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
No. 23. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington
No. 24. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC
No. 25. Shane Vereen, RB, California