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

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

Posted on October 9, 2023

  By Mark Schmor, SuperWest Sports

If there’s one thing I’ve confirmed in doing these Top 10 lists, it’s that you can’t make everyone happy. But that’s half the fun.

Pac-12We all have our opinions and—for better or worse—these are mine.

USC fans were happy to see Matt Leinart as the top-ranked quarterback but were horrified to see Carson Palmer behind crosstown rival Cade McNown from UCLA (although McNown had a 4-0 record against the Trojans).

I included Ken Simonton on my list of running backs and received backlash that Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers were missing.

I included Myles Gaskin on the same list, but Washington fans were stunned that Napoleon Kaufman, Corey Dillon, and Bishop Sankey didn’t make the cut.

The logic in such debates is not always logical.

Oregon fans were upset to see Royce Freeman missing and their outrage is justified since Freeman is the all-time leader in rushing yardage in conference history.

Had I included Royce Freeman, I’m sure there would have been equal outrage about the absence of Jonathan Stewart.

I included tight end Brant Kuithe from Utah, who has more catches for more yards than any tight end in Conference history, only for Utes fans to say that Dalton Kincaid was more deserving than Kuithe.

The wonderful thing about these debates is that nobody is wrong. (Well, except for maybe the guy arguing for Sankey).

But enough review. It’s time to unveil my list of the Top 10 wide receivers in the Conference dating back to 1978. First, let’s just briefly mention a few guys that narrowly missed the cut.

Honorable Mention

Jeff Maehl, Oregon (2007-2010)
Career: 178 rec, 2,311 yds, 24 TDs (4 yrs)

For how prolific Oregon’s offenses have been for the last few decades, it’s kind of shocking how few elite receivers they have in their history. They don’t have a single receiver with 3,000 career yards or even 1,200 yards in a season.

(That could very well change this year as Troy Franklin is currently averaging more than 100 yards per game through five games).

I’m mentioning Jeff Maehl here in part because of his school-record 178 receptions, and in part because of his school-record 24 receiving touchdowns (tied with Josh Huff).

He also made the biggest reception in school history when he pulled in the game-tying two-point conversion in the BCS Championship against Auburn. Oregon ended up losing that game so that catch is often forgotten.

Derek Hagan, Arizona State (2002-2005)
Career: 258 rec, 3,939 yards, 27 TDs (4 yrs)

For whatever reason, I have vivid memories of several different ASU receivers from Keith Poole to Shaun McDonald to N’Keal Harry.

But the best of them all was Derek Hagan who topped 1,000 yards for three consecutive seasons and finished second all-time among conference receivers in receiving yards.

Gabe Marks, Washington State (2012-2016)
Career: 316 rec, 3,453 yds, 37 TDs (4 years)

I almost went with Gabe Marks in the Top 10 because he holds school records for receptions, yards, and touchdowns.

But there’s also a good argument for Marquess Wilson, who was only in school for three years but also finished with more than 3,000 career yards

Current Washington Trio (2020-2023)
Rome Odunze (154 rec, 2,240 yds, 15 TDs)
Jalen McMillan (139 rec, 1,895 yds, 15 TDs)
Ja’Lynn Polk (100 rec, 1,540 yds, 13 TDs)

It wouldn’t be right to talk about the greatest receivers in Conference history without mentioning this trio of current UW receivers, whom I think should be in the conversation as the greatest receiving threesome in the history of college football.

Rome Odunze is the best of the bunch and is a leading Biletnikoff candidate this year.

Jalen McMillan has missed the last two games due to injury, but could still notch a second straight 1,000-yard season if he continues to average 100 yards per game after he returns.

Ja’Lynn Polk is the most overqualified third receiver in the country. It doesn’t feel right to separate one of these guys from the others since it’s been their collective success that has set them apart.

Top 10

No. 10 — J.J. Stokes, UCLA (1991-1994)
UCLA Football on Facebook

Career: 140 rec, 2,293 yds, 28 TDs (4 yrs)

If we were just making a list of the 10 most impactful seasons that receivers have had, J.J. Stokes’ 1993 campaign would have to be on the list.

That’s when Stokes had 17 touchdown grabs and finished 7th in the Heisman voting.

He most certainly would have won the Biletnikoff Award but that trophy didn’t come into existence until 1994, when Stokes was unfortunately hindered by a thigh injury for the entire season.

No. 9 — Troy Walters, Stanford (1996-1999)
Stanford Athletics

Career: 244 rec, 3,986 yds, 26 TDs (4 yrs)

To give you an idea of how difficult it was to make this list, Troy Walters was the Biletnikoff winner in 1999 and is the all-time leader in conference history in receiving yards.

And I only have him ninth.

You could flip the rest of this list and put Walters at No. 1 and there would at least be some justification.

No. 8 — DeSean Jackson, California (2005-2007)

Career: 162 rec, 2423 yds, 22 TDs plus 6 punt return touchdowns (3 yrs)

DeSean Jackson doesn’t have the career-receiving numbers of most of the guys on this list, but the numbers don’t do justice to the pure electricity that went through a stadium when he got a sliver of space.

Jackson would be higher on this list if an injury had not hampered him during his final season.

I remember seeing him pre-injury on a trip to Autzen Stadium and he carved up the Ducks with 11 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns.

No. 7 — Reggie Williams, Washington (2001-2003)

Career: 238 rec, 3536 yds, and 22 TDs (3 yrs)

The current UW trio (see my Honorable Mention list above) may go down in school history for their collective accomplishments, but none of them will come close to matching Reggie Williams’ career production.

Williams would have probably finished higher on this list if his team didn’t become progressively worse during his three seasons as they fell from eight wins to seven wins to six wins in a period that also coincided with the firing of Rick Neuheisel.

While we’re on the subject of Washington receivers, some quick props need to be pointed toward Mario Bailey, who set a school record with 17 receiving touchdowns for the Huskies during their 1991 National Championship season.

Props, also, for John Ross, who scored 18 touchdowns for the Huskies’ College Football Playoff team in 2016.

No. 6 — Dwayne Jarrett, USC (2004-2006)
Getty Images via Orange County Register

Career: 216 rec, 3138, and 41 TDs (3 yrs)

Spoiler alert, we have now entered the USC portion of the conversation. The top of this list is going to be Trojan-heavy.

As a freshman, Dwayne Jarrett was the leading receiver on the 2004 USC team that finished the year undefeated, putting it in the conversation for the best team in Conference history (yes, that list will be coming later this season).

As a sophomore, Jarrett’s catch-and-run on fourth down against Notre Dame helped to set up the “Bush Push” in one of the most memorable college football games of the modern era.

He finished his three-year career at USC with 41 receiving touchdowns, the most of any receiver in conference history.

Doesn’t that sound like the resume of the guy who should be at the top of this list?

And yet, I’m not even sure Dwayne Jarrett was the best receiver on his own team. In Jarrett’s final season with the Trojans, he had 70 catches for 1,015 yards while the great Steve Smith had 71 catches for 1,083 yards.

This was not the only time USC had the luxury of multiple elite receivers on the same roster.

No. 5 — Mike Williams, USC (2002-2003)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Career: 176 rec, 2,579 yds, 30 TDs (2 years)

Williams only suited up for USC for two years, but in those two years, he made quite an impact.

He teamed up with Keary Colbert to give the Trojans a pair of 1,000 receivers for Carson Palmer’s breakout season in 2002 and their first National Title run in 2003.

The reason Williams ranks so high on this list, and the reason he finished eighth in the Heisman voting in 2003, is that he was a touchdown machine with 30 touchdown grabs in just two seasons.

That’s tied for seventh among all Conference pass-catchers, and every receiver ahead of Williams on that list played for three or four seasons.

No. 4 — Brandin Cooks, Oregon State (2011-2013)
Steven Bisig/USA TODAY Sports

Career: 226 rec, 3,272 yds, 24 TDs (3 yrs)

I said we had entered the USC part of the conversation but we’ve also entered the Oregon State part of the conversation as the Beavers produced two of the greatest receivers in Conference history during the Mike Reilly era.

After forming a dynamic duo with Markus Wheaton in 2012, Brandin Cooks won the Biletnikoff Award in 2013, when he had arguably the greatest season ever by a Pac-12 receiver.

Cooks finished the year with 1,947 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns.

During that season, Cooks set a conference record with 128 receptions (the next-best receiver that year had 83 receptions) and set another conference record with 1,730 receiving yards.

No. 3 — Marqise Lee, USC (2011-2013)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Career: 248 rec, 3,655 yds, 29 TDs (3 yrs)

Like Dwayne Jarrett with Steve Smith, and Mike Williams with Keary Colbert, Marquise Lee had an excellent pass-catching mate in Robert Woods, and it was Woods who was the slightly more productive receiver in 2011.

Then Marqise Lee submitted one of the all-time great seasons from a receiver in 2012 when he tallied 118 catches for 1,721 yards, and 14 touchdowns.

That was good enough to earn Lee the Biletnikoff Award and a fourth place finish in the Heisman voting, the best finish a conference receiver has ever had.

Lee would have finished even higher on this list if he didn’t have a weird final season at USC that was hindered by injury and a mid-season coaching change when Lane Kiffin was fired and replaced by Ed Orgeron.

No. 2 — Keyshawn Johnson, USC (1994-1995)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Career: 148 rec, 2,358 yds-12 TDs (2 yrs)

If you’re just looking at statistical production, it’s hard to justify putting Keyshawn Johnson near the top of this list.

There have been plenty of receivers who have come along in the last thirty years who have outpaced his production and there will be plenty more.

But for his time, Johnson’s numbers were good enough for him to be named a two-time All-American and he was far and away the best receiver in the Conference at the time that he played.

When Keyshawn led the Pac-10 with 90 receptions in 1995, the next closest receiver (Cristin McLemore of Oregon) finished with 61.

Johnson also played in an era of 11-game seasons, with no conference championship games, and bowl game stats weren’t officially included in a player’s record.

So the numbers listed above don’t include the 12 catches for 216 yards that he posted against Northwestern in the 1996 Rose Bowl.

The other thing about Keyshawn that can’t be overlooked is that he had achieved some sort of celebrity status by the end of his college career in a way that no other player on this list has.

He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and he was taken with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft by the New York Jets.

I mention his draft status only to say that by the time Keyshawn Johnson finished his tenure at USC, there was real thought that we might be looking at the greatest receiver in history.

That’s why he became just the second receiver drafted with the top pick in the modern era (and we’re still waiting for a third).

By any reasonable standard, Johnson had a very good NFL career. He was a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver for the Jets and the Buccaneers, he finished with over 10,000 career receiving yards, and he was the leading receiver for a Super Bowl winner in Tampa Bay.

No. 1 — Mike Hass, Oregon State (2003-2005)
Corvallis Gazette-Times

Career: 220 rec, 3,924 yds, 20 TDs

Prior to his incredible career at Oregon State, Mike Hass had an incredible career at Jesuit High School in Portland, where he recorded more than 1,700 receiving yards and 21 receiving touchdowns in his senior season.

He might be the greatest high school football player in the state of Oregon’s history and his seven-touchdown performance in a state semifinal win over Central Catholic is the stuff of legends.

Yet, despite his legendary high school status, Hass had to walk on at Oregon State after no other Division 1 school offered him a scholarship.

He immediately earned himself a starting spot and posted the first of three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, something no Conference receiver had done before.

During that freshman season, Hass caught passes for 208 receiving yards in a loss against USC, while Trojans Mike Williams and Steve Smith combined for 195 receiving yards.

Hass only got better from there.

In 2004, he set a single-game conference record, racking up 293 receiving yards against Boise State. In 2005, he set a single-season record when he posted 1,532 receiving yards for the season (a record that was later broken by fellow Beaver Brandin Cooks).

I could go on with the statistical accomplishments but the real reason I have Hass at the top spot on this list is because he wasn’t set up to succeed at all. Unlike several of the other guys on this list, Hass didn’t have another elite receiver drawing coverage away.

I wonder what might have happened if Mike Hass had suited up for USC in an offense surrounded by Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and Lendale White. It’s a fun exercise, but it also takes away just a little from what made Mike Hass so much fun to watch.

When Oregon State faced a third-and-long, which they did quite frequently, everyone in the stadium knew where the ball was going, and more often than not, Mike Hass made the catch anyway.

—More from Mark Schmor—