Lee and Thomas are similar players

LOS ANGELES -- Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas and USC's Marqise Lee, two of the most electrifying college athletes in the country, are both sophomores, grew up in South L.A., were recruited by many schools as defensive backs and currently play on offense in the Pac-12 Conference.

And the similarities don't end there, USC coach Lane Kiffin said. Thomas, the running back/receiver/returner, and Lee, the receiver/returner, are "very similar players" in "a lot of ways," Kiffin said this week.

Kiffin noted the two players have very different body types -- Lee is listed at 6 feet and 195 pounds and Thomas 5-9 and 176. But their agility indeed appears to be in the same stratosphere, with both players making the straight-ahead running approach a thing of the past in favor of the stop-start-and-wind-around mentality.

Thomas' remarkable punt return against Colorado last week -- during which he ran backward for several seconds -- bore similarities to several of Lee's biggest catches and returns in a USC uniform.

Kiffin said Thomas is basically the same player he was last season, when he ran back a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown against the Trojans and caught a 29-yard scoring pass.

"Last year he was as explosive as anybody in the country," Kiffin said. "He's maybe a little bit more confident, by the way that he goes after the punts and goes after it no matter where it is, but he plays with a lot of confidence."

In the Trojans' 38-35 win over the Ducks last season, Lee actually outgained Thomas, 325 yards to 214 yards, but also had 15 touches to Thomas' nine.

In an added twist to Saturday's game, both Thomas and Lee seriously considered attending the opposite school. Thomas memorably was the cornerstone of USC's 2011 class until the final weeks of the recruiting season, and Lee had the Ducks in his final three choices until a month before signing day.

"We knew he was a really good player," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said this week of Lee. "But I don't think anybody could've predicted as a sophomore he would have this type of impact."

And that's where the similarities end. Thomas hasn't been a disappointment, by any stretch, but numbers like these were expected of him from many observers.

Out of Lee? Not so much.

But both players will be their teams' top big-play threats Saturday.