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History Of Oregon Senior Quarterbacks - Part 1

We look at not only great senior QBs, but also QBs that had a great “final” season

NCAA: USA TODAY Sports-Archive Long Photography-USA TODAY Sports

To preface, Adam Holland brought up the idea last year about doing an article that talked about great Oregon senior quarterbacks. The idea was that Bo Nix was having a great senior year and he’s not the only outstanding Oregon quarterback to be in that position. I suggested that it wasn’t just the modern QBs of the past 25 or so years that had great seasons; it goes back earlier than that. The result was that the two of us would share duties on highlighting Oregon’s outstanding history at quarterback.

The problem at the time was that last season turned out to not be the last for Bo Nix as an Oregon Duck. In all honesty, if Nix has a season that surpasses last season, that should be its own examination, so we decided to do something this summer independent of Bo Nix.

Also, in looking over the history of great Oregon QBs, we find that there were great QBs of the past that didn’t play a senior season, much like many modern quarterbacks of the past 15 or so years. With that in mind, it might be more appropriate to refer to this as a look at the final season of great Oregon QBs, be they senior or not. Most of them were seniors, but we can’t leave out the greats that left after their junior season.

Also, “greatness” can’t be a universal application regardless of the era. College football may be basically the same game that it was 75 years ago, but it has undergone wholesale evolution to get where it is today. Comparing a QB from today directly and statistically with one that played in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s is an out of context comparison. The game has evolved too radically over that time to make those kinds of comparisons.

With that in mind, let’s celebrate the Oregon greatness of a bygone era.

Norm Van Brocklin - 1948

1956 NFL Pro Bowl Football Game - East vs. West Photo by Bob D’Olivo/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images/Getty Images

“The Dutchman” earns an honorable mention in this group. Even though the University of Oregon was in the Pacific Coast Conference, and were known as Webfoots, Norm Van Brocklin can be considered the first “star” quarterback of the modern era (being post-WW II), having been Oregon’s first all-American quarterback.

Van Brocklin started two seasons for Oregon before entering the NFL as a junior. Statistics for his individual Oregon college career are scant at best. His career stats for his two seasons as a Webfoot stand at 1,949 yards and 18 TDs, and in his 1948 season he lead Oregon to a 9-2 record that still stands to this day as one of Oregon’s best.

Following his time at Oregon, The Dutchman found a long and storied career in the NFL as a player and coach, and was inducted into the University of Oregon Athletics Hall of Fame in 1992, having previously being induction in the Collegiate Football and Pro Football HOFs.

Bob Berry - 1964

East-West Shrine Practice
Bob Berry (left, #15)
Photo by Jim Edelen/MediaNews Group/Oakland Tribune via Getty Images

Bob Berry was Oregon’s starting quarterback between 1962-1964. In his senior year of 1964, Oregon went from being in an independent school to joining the Athletic Association of Western Universities (which became the Pac-8 in 1967).

In his 1964 senior season, Berry was named an all-American. His individual statistics are also scant, but he was the first Oregon QB to surpass 1,000 yards passing in two season. His career stats at Oregon stand at 4,297 yards with 39 total TDs. The 16 TDs he threw in 1963, along with his career total, were school records for 23 years.

With Berry starting at quarterback, Oregon went 21-8-2, including 7-2-1 in his senior season.

Following his Oregon career, Bob Berry played in the NFL for 12 seasons.

Dan Fouts - 1972

NCAA: USA TODAY Sports-Archive
Dan Fouts vs. USC in Autzen, 1970
Long Photography-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Fouts was recruited only by Oregon and started for the Ducks three games into his 1970 sophomore season (the Ducks had a separate freshman team in those days). From then on, Fouts would be the starter through his senior season in 1972.

Fouts would amass some very impressive records in Oregon, despite the fact that the Ducks were not very good in the early 70s. In his three years as a starter, Oregon’s record was 15-17-1, including a miserable 4-7 record in 1972. Regardless, Fouts was named to the All-Pac-8 team in his senior season. He finished second in the conference behind Mike Boryla of Stanford (back then they were the Indians) in attempts, completions, touchdowns and interceptions.

Dan Fouts ended his career in Oregon with 19 records. He is still #8 all-time in career yards with 5,995 total yards.

Of course, we know about his post-Oregon 15-year NFL Hall of Fame career, followed by a career in broadcasting.

Chris Miller - 1986

Chris Miller is something of an honorable mention here. He started in his sophomore to senior seasons, 1984-86; but, like Dan Fouts before him, he played on very mediocre - at best - Rich Brooks teams. In his senior season the Ducks ended with a 5-6 record, and Miller’s stats as a senior stood at 216/356 for 2,503 yards with 12 TDs vs 13 INTs. Regardless, he is still #7 in total passing yards at Oregon with 6,681 yards, and #9 in career TDs with 42.

Bill Musgrave - 1990

Oregon Ducks v Cal Bears Photo by Bernstein Associates/Getty Images

Of course, it’s hardly a secret that with Bill Musgrave Oregon begins their modern era of great quarterbacks. He started all four seasons at Oregon from 1987-90, but as a senior he guided Oregon to their second bowl game in as many seasons, with the Ducks having been absent from bowl games since 1963.

The Ducks’ record in those bowl years was 8-4 in both 1989 and 1990. Musgraves’ season statistics slipped a bit in his senior year, ending with passing stats 173/301 for 2,219 yards with 14 TDs vs 12 INTs. However, he was named team MVP and first-team All-conference quarterback in 1990. Musgrave was also named GTE Academic All-American of the Year.

Oregon’s record during Bill Musgraves’ tenure stands at 25-10. He is still #3 in career passing yards (8,343), #8 in single season passing yards (3,081), and is tied for #1 and has the #7 spot in single game passing yards (489 and 443, respectively). He is also #6 in career passing TDs with 60.

Danny O’Neil - 1994

Danny O’’Neil

Danny O’Neil was the starter for the Ducks from 1991-94. Despite being highly regarded as a recruit - he was being recruited by Alabama and USC before choosing Oregon - he and the Ducks were quite middling in his first three years as a starter.

Then came 1994. While everyone remembers The Pick, O’Neil was able to do his part in helping the Ducks get to their first Rose Bowl since 1958, with three come-from-behind victories - defeating #9 Washington, #11 Arizona, and Oregon State before matching up against Penn State in Pasadena.

And yes, the Ducks fell on that New Year’s day in 1995, but O’Neil was co-MVP of the Rose Bowl and set records for most passes completed (41), most attempts made (61), most yardage (465), most plays (74), and most total offense (456 yards).

O’Neil’s statistics in his senior season were 182 completions on 341 attempts for 2,212 YDS and 22 TDs vs. 9 INTs. On Oregon’s all-time list, O’Neil is #4 in career yards (8,301), #4 in career TDs (62), #6 in single season yards (3,224), tied at #4 for single game yards (456), and tied at #1 for single game TDs with 6.

Akili Smith - 1998

Oregon V USC
#11 Akili Smith vs. USC

Akili Smith started QB as a junior in 1997 and a senior in 1998. His tenure at quarterback began the current golden era of Ducks teams regularly having great seasons and going to bowl games. Both teams went to bowl games - the Las Vegas Bowl in 1997 and the Aloha Bowl in 1998.

In spite of Oregon losing the Aloha bowl, Smith had an outstanding senior year. His passing on the season was 215/371 with 3,763 yards, and 32 TDs vs. 8 INTs. Smith lead the nation in passing yards per attempt. Smith also ran for 184 yards and 4 TDs. He was named Pac-10 conference offensive player of the year.

Akili Smith is in the top 10 in a number of Oregon all-time passing categories: #10 in career yards (5,148), #8 in career TDs (45), #2 in single season yards (3,763), #3 in single season TDs (32), and tied for #4 in single game yards (456). These statistics are all the more remarkable when taking into account that Smith’s career was just two seasons.

What set Akili Smith apart from his predecessors was that he was a complete quarterback and created the blueprint that so many would follow to the present day. He had intangibles that had to be seen to be believed.

I leave you with this run against ASU: