The Senior Quarterback History, as Badwater mentioned, was an idea formed from Bo Nix’s performance as a Senior. A performance, it turns out, that won’t be his final in Eugene. Badwater’s knowledge of the history of Oregon players is unparalleled, but I do remember my portion of the list quite well, as it coincides with the beginning of my Duck fandom.
Luckily enough, I was able to speak with one of the men on this list, Mr. Dennis Dixon, as he did a weekly segment at the television studio I work at.
Though Dennis, who’s final year at UO was my first year, didn’t actually do a sit down interview with me, he did provide some insight into some of his best memories of that emotional roller coaster known as the 2007 season.
So let’s get going with the next crop of Senior QBs, starting with the predecessor to Akili Smith…
Joey Harrington - 2001
There may not be a more recognizable household name (or face) in Oregon football history than that of “Captain Comeback”, whose image was plastered across a 20 story building in Manhattan in a campaign for him to be there in December for the Heisman Ceremony. He was, though he was robbed of the hardware by biased East Coast voting. But enough about that.
Joey’s stats may not have been eye-popping, but the guy won. And won some more. And won even more after that. In fact, he won more than any player in UO history ever had by his senior campaign.
Harrington stepped in as a sophomore in 1999 after an injury to starting QB AJ Feely and subsequently took off like a rocket, as did the team. His first two seasons ended with impressive win streaks and bowl victories, but his final year was one for the ages.
The Central Catholic (Portland, OR) grad led the Ducks to their most successful season ever to that point, compiling a regular season record of 10-1. Harrington and his squad had a flair for the dramatic, winning many games in the clutch and often coming from behind to do so.
His final home game at Autzen was an unmemorable one stat-wise, partially thanks to the fact that the Civil War was played in a raging rain storm that year, but Oregon got the victory, Joey went to New York, and the Ducks landed in the Fiesta Bowl for the first time ever.
It was in that Fiesta Bowl that Harrington went out like the champion he was, throwing for 350 yards and four touchdowns in Oregon’s 38-16 drubbing of the #3 Colorado Buffaloes.
Kellen Clemens - 2005
Clemens, the youngster from the tiny town of Burns, OR was thrust into action as a freshman after QB Jason Fife struggled during the second half of the 2002 season. In 2003, Clemens became the starter and platooned with Fife as Oregon had a surprisingly successful year using two signal callers.
The following year the team was all his, but that team struggled, finishing under .500, losing the most lopsided Civil War in history to that point, and missing out on a bowl game for the first time in a decade.
2005, however, was a completely different story. Instituting the spread option offense for the first time, the “Redeem Team” produced the best single-season turnaround in Oregon history, matching the 2001 team with a 10-1 regular season and breaking the previous record for most lopsided Civil War win in their whipping of the Beavers.
Clemens was rapidly climbing up the record books in 2005, setting an Autzen Stadium completions record in a drubbing of Washington. Down in Tucson Arizona (a house of horrors for Oregon Football), Clemens had 2,406 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions when he was sacked and landed on his own leg, breaking it. This was the end of his playing time as a Senior but he enjoyed watching Oregon win its next three games straight after his injury, proving that it was a complete team.
Dennis Dixon - 2007
“Dennis the Menace” was thrust into action after Clemens’ broken leg in 2005 and showed flashes of great potential while platooning with QB Brady Leaf. Most notable was his performance in the 2005 Civil War, in which he helped Oregon compile 56 points, more than they had ever scored against the Beavers.
After a stellar fall camp in 2006, Dixon took over as the starter and had Oregon high-rolling during the first half of the season, spearheading one of the most incredible comebacks in Oregon history against Oklahoma. However, his performance declined rapidly during the second half of the season, as did the teams’. Leaf took over as the starter for the Civil War and the Las Vegas Bowl, both losses.
But in 2007 the arrival of Chip Kelly helped transform Dennis into one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, and Oregon was playing as well as they ever had in their history.
A thrashing of Michigan in a rematch of the 2003 upset launched Dixon into the national spotlight, and he began to impress the entire nation, culminating in back-to-back victories over Top 10 opponents USC and Arizona State which vaulted Oregon to #2 in the country and Dixon into the top of the Heisman contenders as he had 20 touchdowns to just four interceptions, was uncatchable in the open field, and helped the Ducks to an 8-1 record.
One of Dennis’ favorite memories he shared with me was the game up in Seattle in which the Huskies had built up some momentum and were looking for a big stop on defense. Dixon said he saw that it was the perfect formation for him to fake a handoff to RB Jonathan Stewart, as they had zeroed in on him. The fake went so well even the cameramen and commentators were fooled as he sprinted down the sideline. Dennis laughed when remembering how quiet the raucous stadium suddenly became on that play.
Unfortunately, Dixon’s season ended in an eerily similar fashion to Clemens. Against ASU, Dixon took a helmet to the knee on a tackle and was held out for the remainder of the game as a precaution. It turned out, he had torn his ACL, an injury that some QBs of the past had actually been able to play through as pocket passers. Dennis’ dual-threat nature was what made him dangerous though, and in the next game down in dreaded Tucson his knee gave out as soon as he tried to make a cut. Realizing it wasn’t worth it to injure him further, coach Mike Bellotti sidelined Dixon for the remainder of the season.
Unlike with Clemens, the team foundered without its starting QB, and what was turning into a season for the ages became a season of lost opportunity.
Vernon Adams Jr. - 2015
Following the departure of Dixon, it was a hot second before Oregon was again led by a Senior QB, with Jeremiah Masoli, Darren Thomas, and Marcus Mariota all departing after their junior seasons, all of which ended with conference championships and Rose Bowl berths.
Perhaps lost in the transition from Mariota’s brilliance to Justin Herbert bursting onto the scene was the play of “Big Play VA”. Vernon Adams transferred as a graduate of Eastern Washington University, where he had played alongside Cooper Kupp and already defeated (to the delight of Duck fans) Washington and Oregon State.
Adams took a cheap shot in the opening game against his former school and suffered a hand injury, which limited him the following couple of games before he had to sit out and allow it to heal.
Following his return, however, Oregon went on a tear, winning their final 6 games straight. This included an incredible triple overtime win at ASU, a huge upset win at Stanford, and a stomping of USC in which Adams threw for an Oregon record six touchdowns. His accuracy, deep balls, and elite escapability had Oregon looking like a completely different team.
Unfortunately, it was a bitter ending for him as he was injured in the Alamo Bowl while Oregon had taken complete control of the game. Without Adams’ dynamic play, the Ducks looked lost offensively and TCU made an astonishing comeback to win.
Still, the difference he made in the games he did play was astronomical for Oregon.
Justin Herbert - 2019
Oregon attempted to utilize another grad transfer in 2016 in QB Dakota Prukop. However, it didn’t work out nearly as well as they’d hoped, and Oregon was struggling midway through the season when coach Mark Helfrich decided to turn to a gangly freshman from Sheldon High School in Eugene. Justin Herbert got his first start in a disaster of a game against Washington, and Oregon continued to struggle that season despite his impressive play.
Herbert spent half his sophomore season on the bench with a fractured collarbone, but in the games he did play the difference was night and day. It had become clear Oregon had found their QB.
As a junior, Herbert had the Ducks competing for a conference title, headlined by an incredible overtime victory against the Huskies. He played so well, in fact, that many NFL scouts had him going in the first round of the draft.
Justin’s love for his hometown, and a desire to finish with a bigger accomplishment, led him to return for his senior season…and what a season it was!
Oregon went undefeated at Autzen Stadium en route to winning the Pac-12 North. Herbert’s size, pocket presence, and arm strength had NFL scouts drooling but in the Pac-12 Championship game his wheels took center stage as he ran wild on Utah in a victory that put Oregon back in the Rose Bowl.
Down in Pasadena, an Oregon senior QB finally got the fairytale ending he deserved as Herbert scored all three of Oregon’s offensive touchdowns, including the go-ahead score in the fourth, and completed the final first down pass that clinched a one point victory over Wisconsin. Justin ended his tenure at Oregon with a rose between his teeth and confetti filling the air, and, unsurprisingly, was one of the top picks in the NFL draft.
Anthony Brown Jr. - 2021
Perhaps no QB in Duck history has received so much flack for playing well. Brown took over late in the shortened 2020 season and helped Oregon to another conference championship and a Fiesta Bowl berth.
With the season operating normally again in 2021, Oregon exploded out of the gates, upsetting Ohio State in Columbus and heading into the last two regular season games, Oregon sat at 9-1 and was in the College Football Playoff field.
Then came a dud of a game in Salt Lake City, which squashed those playoff hopes. Brown led Oregon to a bounce back victory in the Civil War, but Oregon was once again dismantled by Utah in the conference championship game. The two losses spoiled Oregon’s season, which ended with a loss to Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl, and since Brown had struggled in both games against the Utes he received a good portion of the blame.
In reality, Brown was an in-game manager type of QB, choosing the safe plays over the explosive ones. There was nothing dynamic about his game, but there was nothing painstakingly flawed either. In the end, Brown did what he was supposed to do, and his lone full season in Oregon was not a terrible one by any means.
Bo Nix - 2023
So here we are. The 2023 football season is rapidly approaching and this will, indeed, be Nix’s last hurrah. As a senior in 2022, Nix surprised not only Oregon fans, but the entire nation with his play. Known as an inconsistent QB with a good set of skills at Auburn, Nix absolutely destroyed opponents in 2022 with both his arm and his legs. After an embarrassing start against Georgia, Nix led the entire nation in passing efficiency and turned Oregon’s offense back into the dynamic machine it had once been known for.
Oregon was right in the thick of the conference championship race, but an injury against Washington provided just enough of a window for the Huskies to pull off the shocker. Nix was able to beat eventual conference champ Utah, hobbling around on one foot, setting Oregon up for a potential Pac-12 title game. However, the Ducks inexplicably collapsed against Oregon State in the Civil War, landing Oregon in the Holiday Bowl instead. In his duel with fellow top-tier QB Drake Maye, Nix provided the heroics, tossing the game winning touchdown to Chase Cota in the game’s final seconds.
It was a nice way to end things, but the losses to UW and OSU, coupled with the lack of opportunity to play in Pasadena, motivated Bo to return for a final run in Eugene.
Considering the weapons he has around him, his great relationship with coach Dan Lanning, and his love of attending UO, it’s not outlandish to expect Nix to turn in a Heisman-like performance in 2023 as long as he stays healthy.
Strap in, Duck fans.