The assignment: Rank the top-10 Pac-10 players of the decade.
The list of folks not on this list includes numerous consensus All-Americans, award winners and record-setting players. So feel free to disagree.
And, yes, NFL success sometimes functioned as a tiebreaker, which is why Reggie Williams, Mike Williams, Rien Long, Dave Ball, J.J. Arrington, Mike Hass, Derek Hagan and Joey Harrington, among others, are not on this list.
Every player on this list, other than Steven Jackson, was a consensus All-American.
10. Troy Polamalu, S, USC: Pete Carroll’s first great defensive player, he was a two-time All-American. The 16th overall pick in the 2003 draft and five-time All-Pro is on track for a Hall of Fame NFL career.
9. Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona: The four-year starter grabbed 15 career interceptions and won the the Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back in 2007. He was the 27th pick (San Diego) of the 2008 draft.
8. Haloti Ngata, DT, Oregon: The 345-pounder was the best run stuffer the Pac-10 has seen of late. He blocked seven kicks at Oregon and piled up 17.5 tackles for a loss his final two seasons before becoming the No. 12 pick in the 2006 draft (Baltimore).
7. Dwayne Jarrett, WR, USC: What separates Jarrett from the conference’s other All-American receivers is simple: His 41 career touchdown receptions are nine more than any other player in Pac-10 history.
6. Steven Jackson, RB, Oregon State: Jackson’s NFL career has proven that he was ridiculously underrated in college. He finished with 3,625 career rushing yards, which ranks 11th on the Pac-10 career list, and 46 career touchdowns.
5. Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford: The 2009 Heisman Trophy runnerup finished with 3,522 career yards and 44 touchdowns.
4. Terrell Suggs, DE, Arizona State: In 2002, he set an NCAA record with 24 sacks and Pac-10 record with 31.5 tackles for a loss. He won the Lombardi Trophy as the nation’s best defensive lineman and the Nagurski Award as the nation’s best defensive player.
3. Reggie Bush, RB, USC: He won the 2005 Heisman Trophy after finishing fifth the year before. He led the nation with 222.3 all-purpose yards per game and set the Pac-10 record for total yards from scrimmage with 513 (294 rushing, 68 receiving, 151 return) against Fresno State. And every time he touched the ball, everyone held their breath.
2. Carson Palmer, QB, USC: He won the 2002 Heisman Trophy and his 11,818 career yards passing is No. 1 all-time in the Pac-10.
1. Matt Leinart, QB, USC: He won consecutive national championships and the 2004 Heisman Trophy. In 2005, he finished third in the Heisman voting and lost the national championship game to Texas. He owns the Pac-10 single-season (38) and career (99) records for touchdown passes.