- Brandon P. Oliver, Reporter, DuckNation
Under Chip Kelly, the Oregon football program has risen to a level few ever thought it could reach. His coaching style and aggressive schemes have led the Ducks to become a powerhouse program. While they are still far from a recruiting powerhouse, the influx of elite talent is one of the biggest reasons for their recent success. On Kelly's watch, the Ducks have secured a number of top prospects, including one of the biggest recruiting coups ever when they flipped De'Anthony Thomas after a long commitment to USC. Thomas has been brilliant in his time with the Ducks. Even with the Ducks' new recruiting prowess, taking a local legend out from under the thumb of a school like USC is the exception more than the rule.
There have been a few notable misses and some heated recruiting battles in the Kelly era that could have made this season's Ducks -- one of the best teams in school history -- nearly unbeatable. With some members of the Class of 2008 still in college, we'll look at what the Ducks could have looked like had they landed a few more of their key recruits.
Key recruiting battles won: Darron Thomas (LSU commit), LaMichael James (Arkansas, Nebraska), LaGarrette Blount (Florida State)
Thomas made the switch to Oregon after LSU wanted him to play wide receiver. All he did was lead the Ducks to a BCS Championship Game appearance and the school's first Rose Bowl win in 95 years.
James looked at Minnesota, Nebraska and Arkansas before deciding to head west. It was the right call, as he not only won the Doak Walker Award in 2010, but also smashed nearly every Oregon rushing and scoring record during his amazing career.
Blount opted for the Ducks after originally choosing Florida State. He set a then-school record with 17 touchdowns in his first season with the Ducks.
Key battle lost: Jurrell Casey (USC)
The younger brother of former Oregon commit Jurray Casey, Jurrell wanted to be a Duck throughout his recruitment. Due to his mother wanting him close to home after his brother's legal troubles, he never arrived in Eugene. He made his mother's dreams come true as he had a standout career for USC and has moved on to the NFL. His brute strength and skill would have been huge for the Ducks, as they spent the majority of his career with a gaping hole in the middle of the defensive line.
Key recruiting battles won: Cliff Harris (USC), Michael Clay (Colorado)
Harris is among the most talented players to ever play for the Ducks. In his one year of being a starter, Harris became an All-American before being dismissed in 2011. Clay has been solid, if not spectacular, for the Ducks. His tackling ability and leadership have been the glue to the Oregon linebacker group during his career.
Key battle lost: Markus Wheaton (Oregon St)
Everyone knows that Wheaton is the cousin of Oregon legend Kenny Wheaton. His cousin is responsible for the biggest play in Ducks history, as his interception return against Washington in 1994 helped turn the program around. The younger cousin -- a high school teammate of Ducks star defensive end, Dion Jordan -- was considered a lock to join the Ducks until Oregon fired the two assistants in charge of his recruitment. He had a solid start to his career in Corvallis but has emerged as one of the top wide receivers in the country as a senior in 2012. Wheaton is a speed burner and would be a great fit in the Oregon offense.
Key recruiting battles won: Josh Huff (TCU), Keanon Lowe (Washington)
Huff made the switch from TCU to the Ducks late in the process. While he has been plagued with injuries and inconsistency, there is no questioning his talent. He has made some big plays for the Ducks and has matured into a strong leader for the team's young wide receivers.
A rare in-state U.S. Army All-American, Lowe decommitted from the rival Huskies almost immediately after getting an offer from the Ducks. He is a starter in 2012 and has shown flashes of brilliance.
Key battles lost: Keenan Allen (Cal), Chris McCain (Cal), Dominique Easley (Florida), George Uko (USC)
The "Greensboro Four" was a popular name in Oregon recruiting circles for months after an unofficial visit to Eugene caused Allen, Gabe King (Cal), Chris McCain (Cal) and James Scales (Ducks) to all name Oregon their leaders. Scales is the only one who ended up in Eugene and has yet to make much of an impact. McCain committed to the Ducks before switching to Cal and having a standout freshman season. His height and athleticism are the ideal fit for Oregon's drop-end position currently occupied by Jordan.
Allen was high on the Ducks before committing to Alabama. The Tide wanted Allen as a safety, but his desire to play offense -- along with his desire to play with his half-brother [Cal QB] Zach Maynard -- led him ultimately to make the switch to Cal. Allen has been a star from the beginning in Berkeley. He is one of the top players in college football and his size, athleticism and route-running ability will likely make him a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. Ironically, Maynard's inconsistent play has kept Allen from earning the national acclaim he deserves.
Uko flirted with the Ducks for a long time, even calling them his favorite after an unofficial visit for the Ducks' summer camp. In the end, he made his parents -- long-time advocates for USC -- happy and ended up with the Trojans. Uko has become a valuable part of the defensive line for the Trojans. His size and athletic ability in the middle would help the Ducks have an even stronger defensive line.
Easley had a roller-coaster recruitment that included a commitment to Florida before decommitting and ultimately recommitting to the Gators at the Under Armour All-American Game. Easley was rumored to have given his commitment to the Oregon coaches. Even some of his family was surprised by the last-minute change of heart. Easley got off to an average start in Gainesville but has come on strong as one of the best defensive linemen in the country.
Key recruiting battles won: De'Anthony Thomas (USC), Colt Lyerla (USC, Miami), Jake Fisher (Michigan)
You can't say enough about the impact that Thomas and Lyerla have made early in their careers. Thomas was the biggest recruiting win ever for the Ducks. It is fair to say that no single recruit has ever been more destined for a school than Thomas was with USC.
Lyerla is perhaps the best pure athlete to ever come out of the state of Oregon. His talent and versatility make him a huge weapon for the Ducks. Fisher decommitted from Michigan and signed with the Ducks. He played a big role as a freshman and looks to be a key player up front for the Ducks over the next couple of years.
Key battles lost: Marqise Lee (USC), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M)
The Ducks were in good shape for Lee until USC told him he could play offense for them. The Ducks had been the only one of his favorites to offer him at wide receiver as opposed to safety. The only thing the Ducks have been missing in their record-assaulting offense is an elite wide receiver. It is scary to imagine the Ducks offense with Lee out wide. Had they been able to sign him, this season's Ducks could have gone down as one of the greatest offenses in history.
Manziel was an undervalued recruit who committed to the Ducks with little fanfare. Manziel ultimately switched to Texas A&M and he is a standout starting quarterback as a redshirt freshman. Like McCain, Manziel is the ideal fit for the Ducks' style of play. In this case, both the Ducks and the Aggies probably came out ahead. As it turns out, the Ducks are sitting pretty at quarterback with Marcus Mariota looking like he will be the best quarterback the Ducks have had under Chip Kelly.
Key recruiting battles won: Bralon Addison (Texas A&M), Byron Marshall (Cal, Arizona State), Dwayne Stanford (Ohio State)
Addison made a late visit -- and switch -- to the Ducks and is a star in the making for the Ducks as a freshman. He looks primed to take over as the Ducks' biggest offensive weapon when De'Anthony Thomas leaves school.
Marshall could have joined his brother Cameron Marshall, in Tempe -- or stayed home and played for Cal -- but he chose to sign with the Ducks and has the size and speed combination the Ducks desire at the running back position.
Key battles lost: Shaq Thompson (Washington), Ellis McCarthy (UCLA), D.J. Foster (Arizona State)
Thompson decommitted from Cal and took a hard look at the Ducks. His desire to live in a big city -- and to play baseball in college -- made Washington a better fit than Oregon. He already looks like an NFL safety and should become an All-American during his career.
McCarthy flirted with Oregon, committed to Cal, flirted with USC and finally, signed with UCLA. He is just another example of Oregon's struggles with finding elite defensive tackles. Foster had Oregon on top along with the Sun Devils until a late visit to Berkeley turned it into an ASU-Cal battle. He would be the perfect fit as Thomas' back up. He had a great touchdown run against the Ducks last week, showing the elite talent that would have been one more weapon for the Ducks.
Under Chip Kelly, the Oregon football program has risen to a level few ever thought it could reach. His coaching style and aggressive schemes have led the Ducks to become a powerhouse program.