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Top 10 Pac-12 Defensive Backs of the BCS Era

Antoine Cason

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

Maybe it’s the elite coaching or Hall of Fame quarterbacks and the electric offensive skill players, but the Pac-12 (Pac-10 until 2012) hasn’t had a long list of decorated defensive backs. There have been plenty of great players but this league boasts just seven consensus All-Americans, only one Thorpe Award winner during the BCS Era and only two defensive backs were named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Here are the best DBs the West Coast has to offer.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Troy Polamalu, USC (1999-2002)
The big-play machine was a three-year starter for the West Coast powerhouse. He was a two-time All-Pac-10 selection, a consensus All-American and stuffed the stat sheet his entire career. The big hitter finished with 278 tackles, 29.0 for loss, six interceptions and four blocked punts in 36 career starts for the Men of Troy. Polamalu led USC back to prominence with a league title and trip to the Orange Bowl before being taken in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft.

2. Antoine Cason, Arizona (2004-07)
The California native was a four-year contributor for Arizona, playing in 46 career games in Tucson. He burst onto the scene in his first collegiate game by winning Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week. He went on to win Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year. He was named first-team all-league twice as an upperclassman and is the only player form the Pac-12 to win the Thorpe Award during the BCS Era (2007). He scored four times (two INTs, two punt returns), intercepted five passes and made 71 tackles as a senior. He finished with 253 tackles, 14.0 for loss, 15 interceptions and five total touchdowns. Cason was the 27th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

3. Deltha O’Neal, Cal (1996-99)
The Golden Bear great is one of the most decorated defensive backs from the Pac-12 during the BCS Era. He is one of just two players to win conference Defensive Player of the Year when he set an NCAA record by returning four interceptions for touchdowns in his senior year. He also won the Mosi Tatupu Award as the nation’s top special teamer and the Pop Warner Award as the most valuable player on the West Coast —  one of only six Pac-12 players to do so and one of only two Pac-12 defensive players. He was a consensus All-American and first-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.

4. Daymeion Hughes, Cal (2003-06)
The shutdown corner started at least one game in each of his four years, capping his Cal tenure with the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which recognizes a college defender for his achievements and success both on and off of the field. He also landed Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors, being just one of only two defensive backs to win this award during the BCS Era. Hughes was a two-time, first-team All-Pac-10 honoree and a consensus All-American in 2006 with 72 tackles, eight interceptions and 19 passes broken up. He was a third-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

5. Chris McAlister, Arizona (1996-98)
He only played three seasons in Tucson after attending Mt. San Antonio College yet still made a major impact at Arizona. He was a first-team All-Pac-10 selection in all three seasons and a consensus All-American in his final season. He became the first player in school history to return a kick, punt and interception for a touchdown and his 18 career interceptions rank third in school history. McAlister won the Mosi Tatupu Award as the nation’s top special teams player. He was the 10th overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

6. Taylor Mays, USC (2006-09)
A five-star recruit coming into college, Mays helped lead USC to three consecutive conference championships and a 34-5 record in his first three seasons. He was a rare three-time All-American from 2007-09 and was a freshman All-American in '06. Mays finished his career with 276 tackles, 21 pass breakups and five interceptions. He was a second-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

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7. Marcus Trufant, Washington State (1999-2002)
He started all four seasons for the Cougars and helped lead Washington State back to the Rose Bowl in 2002 as a senior. Trufant is one of the best pure cover corners to ever play the game, as he didn’t allow a single touchdown in his last two seasons. He was a freshman All-American in his first year, twice earned All-Pac-10 honors and was a second team All-American in 2002. Trufant was taken with the 11th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.

8. Jordan Poyer, Oregon State (2009-12)
He played in all 13 games as true freshman. He had 34 tackles and 1,109 all-purpose yards on 44 returns as a sophomore. As a junior, Poyer led the Pac-12 in interceptions. In his final season, he earned consensus All-American honors and was arguably the top cover corner in the nation. He finished his career with 153 tackles, 23 pass breakups, 13 interceptions, four return touchdowns and over 2,000 yards in punt (316) and kick returns (1,711).

9. Ricky Manning, UCLA (1999-2002)
The Fresno native was a stalwart in the defensive backfield for the Bruins. He started 45 consecutive games, the second longest streak in UCLA history. He also was a rare three-time, first-team all-conference selection from 2000-02. His finished his career with 13 interceptions and was a third-round pick of the Panthers in the 2003 NFL Draft.

10. Ed Reynolds, Stanford (2011-13)
As just a sophomore, Reynolds made his presence felt on what many considered the best defense in the nation. He posted 47 tackles, six interceptions and scored three touchdowns on defense en route to All-Pac-12 honors and the Jack Tatum Trophy as the nation’s top defensive back. He led Stanford to back-to-back Pac-12 championships and was a two-time, first-team All-Pac-12 pick and two-time All-American. Had he stayed for his senior season, Reynolds could have become one of the league’s all-time greats.

Just missed the cut:

11. Lamont Thompson, Washington State (1998-2001)
When it comes to making big plays on opposing quarterbacks, Thompson is statistically the best the Pac-12 has ever seen. He tied a Pac-12 record with four interceptions in one game against UCLA in 2001 and is the league’s all-time leader with 24 interceptions during his career.

12. Rahim Moore, UCLA (2008-10)
A heralded big-time recruit, Moore stepped right into the starting lineup and started all 37 games of his career. He led the nation with 10 interceptions as a sophomore and was a two-time, first-team All-Pac-10 selection before leaving early for the NFL. Moore finished with 186 tackles and 14 interceptions.

13. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon (2011-present)
In just three seasons on the field, Ekpre-Olomu has established himself as one of the Ducks' greatest defensive backs. He is already a two-time, first-team All-Pac-12 pick and received some All-American consideration. Oregon is 35-5 with IEO on the field and position coach John Neal has stated he is the best player he’s ever coached. In just three years, he already has 181 tackles, 30 PBUs and seven interceptions.

14. Syd’Quan Thompson, Cal (2006-09)
He played in 52 games during his excellent college career, making plays all over the field. Thompson was simply a playmaker. He had 258 tackles, 20.0 for loss, 36 PBUs, seven interceptions and scored on both a fumble and punt return during his career. He was s two-time, first-team All-Pac-10 pick.

15. Patrick Chung, Oregon (2005-08)
Chung started at “rover” as a true freshman and posted 91 total tackles, earning freshman All-American honors in the process. He registered 384 career tackles, 19.0 for loss, nine interceptions and two return touchdowns. Chung was a two-time, first-team all-league pick and was taken in the second round of the NFL Draft.

Best of the rest:

16. Kevin Ellison, USC (2005-08)
17. T.J. Ward, Oregon (2007-09)
18. Tank Williams, Stanford (1998-2001)
19. Darnell Bing, USC (2003-05)
20. Desmond Trufant, Washington (2009-12)
21. Sabby Piscitelli, Oregon State (2003-06)
22. Jairus Byrd, Oregon (2006-08)
23. Alterraun Verner, UCLA (2006-09)
24. Dennis Weathersby, Oregon State (1999-2002)
25. T.J. McDonald, USC (2010-13)
26. Nnamdi Asomugha, Cal (1999-2002)
27. O.J. Atogwe, Stanford (2001-04)
28. Terrell Thomas, USC (2004-07)
29. Matt Giordano, Cal (2001-04)
30. Dashon Goldson, Washington (2003-06)