Mark Schmor’s Top 10 Safeties of the Pac-10/Pac-12 Era

The ninth in a series of lists ranking the best players, coaches, teams, games, and plays

Posted on November 30, 2023

  By Mark Schmor, SuperWest Sports

Pac-12To celebrate the history of the Pac-10/Pac-12 Conference in the wake of its demise, I’m putting together a series of Top 10 lists of players, coaches, teams, games, and plays.

This week, I’m ranking the Top 10 safeties since 1978.

If there’s a particular name you don’t see on this list, know that there are a number of top players that I couldn’t find space for, including a few of my personal favorites.

Feel free to let me know what you think on X (formerly Twitter).

No. 10 — Lawyer Milloy, Washington (1993-1995)

Washington Athletics

Washington developed a bit of a reputation as DBU in the late 2010s thanks to a revolving door of NFL draft picks, highlighted by All-American Budda Baker.

As great as that group of DBs was, I think the gold standard for UW defensive backs is still Lawyer Milloy, an All-American and Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1995.

No. 9 — David Fulcher, Arizona State (1984-1986)

ASU Athletics

A two-time All-American for the Sun Devils and the best player on their Rose Bowl team in 1986.

This was before the likes of Terrell Suggs and Pat Tillman, and I’m pretty sure that Arizona State fans in the mid-‘80s would have regarded him as the best defensive player in conference history.

No. 8 — Taylor Mays, USC (2006-2009)

Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire

Taylor Mays was the No. 1 overall recruit in the state of Washington in 2006 and recorded 62 tackles in only 12 starts his freshman year at USC, leading the team with three interceptions.

In his senior season, Mays was named First-team All-Pac 10 for the second year in a row and was named First-team All-America for the third consecutive season.

No. 7 — Tony Bouie, Arizona (1991-1994)

Arizon Athletics

Tony Bouie was an All-American and a two-time All-Pac-10 selection for Arizona’s “Desert Swarm” defense in the early ’90s.

He was also a member of the Arizona baseball team that won the Pac-10 in 1992 and 1993 and was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1994.

No. 6 — Mark Carrier, USC (1987-1989)

Mike Powell/Allsport
As a junior in 1989, Mark Carrier was named to the Playboy All-American team and became USC’s first winner of the Jim Thorpe Award, presented annually to the nation’s best defensive back.

A two-time consensus first-team All-American, Carrier had seven interceptions in 1989, plus 107 tackles, three fumble recoveries, and 10 pass deflections.

No. 5 — Jordan Poyer, Oregon State (2009-2012)

Mitchell Dyer/Getty Images

An All-American in 2012, Poyer led the conference in interceptions in back-to-back seasons. Those are good enough reasons to be on this list.

He grew up in the small coastal town of Astoria, Oregon, where he was just a 2-star prospect out of high school responsible for 123 touchdowns in three seasons (and a good enough baseball player to be drafted by the Marlins).

No. 4 — Tim McDonald, USC (1983-1986)

USC Athletics
A three-year starter, Tim McDonald recorded 325 tackles and 11 interceptions as a Trojan. He was an All-American as a junior in 1985 and a consensus All-American as a senior in 1986

He is one of only six safeties named on the Walter Camp All-Century Team.

No. 3 — Chuck Cecil, Arizona (1984-1987)
Bruce McClelland/The Arizona Daily Star

Chuck Cecil came to Arizona as a walk-on and left Arizona with the Pac-10 career record for interceptions.

His 105-yard pick-six in the 1986 Territorial Cup against 4th-ranked Arizona State is considered by many to be the best play in school history.

No.2 — Troy Polamalu, USC (1999-2002)

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Another guy who became a star from an unlikely origin, Troy Polamalu played his high school ball for 2A Douglas High School in Winston, Oregon.

Despite playing only four games in an injury-marred senior season, USC had seen enough to offer him a scholarship and he didn’t disappoint.

There was one stretch during Polamalu’s junior year for the Trojans when he led the team in tackles for six games in a row. When the streak finally ended, he still had a 56-yard pick-six.

No. 1  — Kenny Easley, UCLA (1977-1980)

Thuc Nhi Nguyen/Inside UCLA

How good was Kenny Easley? Well, he was supposedly recruited by 350 colleges, which sounds preposterous, but it is the type of legend that is given life when a player does things on the field that are equally preposterous.

Easley started ten games as a freshman in 1977 and made nine interceptions, which is amazing considering how infrequently teams threw the ball in 1977.

He was an All-Conference player for four years, an All-American for three years, and the only guy on this list who was a Top 10 Heisman candidate.

Other Lists in the Series

Top 10 Cornerbacks of the Pac-10/12 Era
Top 10 Linebackers of the Pac-10/12 Era
Top 10 D-Linemen of the Pac-10/12 Era
Top 10 Wide Receivers of the Pac-10/12 Era
Top 10 Tight Ends of the Pac-10/12 Era
Top 10 Running Backs of the Pac-10/12 Era
Top 10 Offensive Linemen of Pac-10/12 Era
Top 10 Quarterbacks of the Pac-10/12 Era

—More from Mark Schmor—