This Fall, I have had the true pleasure & privilege of watching one of the best college quarterbacks of the last decade in action. His name is Andrew Luck and he has brought a lot of luck and fortune to a Stanford Football program which had been absent of even a morsel of serendipitous success in recent years.
The Cardinal had gone a lowly 15-32 in the four years prior to Luck taking the reigns. Mind you…most of that misfortune took place before Jim Harbaugh brought his hard-nosed style and winning attitude to campus (the players are often quoted as saying, “…Stanford Football is about winning with class AND cruelty”). No one will argue with the fact that the transformation from the perennial basement of the Pac-10 to the doorstep of national relevance can certainly be attributed to the arrival of Harbaugh and his NFL trained staff. While that is true, a great coach/coaching staff with poor talent is a combination that doesn’t garner a lot of wins, so much of the credit can also be traced to the arrival of elite talent most namely in the form of Andrew Luck.
From all accounts, Luck (who grew up playing on the soccer fields in Europe) would hesitate to acknowledge that he has had a huge imprint on the turnaround of this Stanford program. As the national audience saw last night during his post-game interview, he isn’t one to sing his own praises. In fact, most of the interviews I’ve read or heard have him lauding praise on his offensive line or the running game or the defense or the coaching staff…..or just about anyone except himself.
While he would deflect the credit if you were to ask him about his impact on the program, what can’t be denied is that the Cardinal has gone 16-5 since Luck has been in the starting line-up (thru only 9 games this season and not including the 2009 Sun Bowl game because he sat out that game due to injury) and is in the midst of their best season since the early 70’s. Ironically, the last Rose Bowl Champions from Stanford were honored at halftime of last night’s game on the 30th anniversary of their win over Ohio State behind the leadership of another great Stanford quarterback and Heisman winner (hint…hint) Jim Plunkett. Could this be the year that history repeats itself?
Luck has been on the radar for media all season (especially after joining other Pac-10 quarterbacks this summer on a tour of Bristol), and it seems that each time someone has the chance to see him in-person, their appreciation for his talents grow immensely. This was the case in late September when Mike Golic from ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the Morning show watched Luck while visiting his sons who play for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Upon returning to the show on Monday, Golic acknowledged that he was very impressed with Luck.
One of the most respected college analysts, Kirk Herbstreit, has continued to reiterate how impressed he has been with Andrew Luck all season. Herbstreit called the Oregon vs. Stanford game a month ago and was on hand last night for this big Pac-10 match-up.
I didn’t have the opportunity to ask Herbstreit his thoughts on Andrew Luck when I conversed with him on the sideline before yesterday’s game, but heard Herbstreit state that Luck “…is the closest thing to Peyton Manning at the college level when looking at his complete command of the offense” during the replay of last night’s game on ESPN3. High praise indeed, and in my eyes a very accurate observation.
Luck is quite impressive on TV, his abilities are even more astounding from a seat in the stands, and his game is simply spectacular when you have a chance to witness his proficient aptitude from the sideline.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to witness three games (Wake Forest, Washington State, and Arizona) this season from the 20 yard line on the field. From that vantage point, you are able to see his pinpoint accuracy, deceptive speed, and exceptional decision-making. During the Arizona game, I was standing next to Stanford Hall of Famer (just inducted into the HOF this weekend) and NFL great John Lynch (aka Lynch Mob) and Stanford/NFL QB Steve Stenstrom. Both were quite impressed with Luck’s size, poise, and prototypical quarterback skills. They compared him to Sam Bradford. They both felt Bradford will be a tremendous NFL quarterback and after only having previously watched Luck on television…they both were utterly convinced that he is “the real deal”.
He is the real deal and I don’t know if we’ll be able to watch him in a Cardinal uniform beyond this season, but I hope we will…if for just one more year!
His statistics may not pop off the page, but he’s completing the ball at an amazing 67.6% clip (ranked 9th nationally) and averages 247 yards passing per game this season. He also is a threat from the ground as the 2nd leading rusher on Stanford’s team while averaging 8.6 yards per carry. He is ranked 7th nationally in passing efficiency at 163.6. And (as you can see in one of the highlights from this season) he can put a hit on an unsuspecting cornerback as well. Check out this clip of him rattling a defender from USC.
As we head into the last month of the regular season, we will all start to speculate as to whether or not Luck will leave the comfort of a classroom on Stanford’s campus for the comfort of a multi-million dollar guaranteed contract in the NFL.
Sam Bradford faced a similar decision in 2008 when he decided to return to Norman for another season and Jake Locker was in the same boat last winter when he decided to return to the Northwest and compete for another year with the Washington Huskies. Both took a huge risk. Both suffered injuries during that extra season on campus. Bradford was the #1 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and is enjoying early success in St. Louis. Who knows what Locker’s fate will be. He may not fare as well, especially if Luck decides to enter the draft.
While I completely understand why a player would choose to forego another year of eligibility to chase his dream of playing at the next level, I selfishly am hoping that Luck will return to The Farm so Cardinal Nation can continue to walk with great pride on Saturday afternoons in the fall. I seem to be in the minority because most seem to think that he most certainly will opt to forego his senior year at Stanford and will (quoting LeBron) “take his talents to xxxx”.
As we see in all of college & pro sports, players are motivated by different things. For some, the opportunity to make crazy money is too hard to pass up. For others, they have nothing left to achieve at the collegiate level. What ultimately factors into a projected #1 draft pick choosing to stay in college one more season or to go on to the NFL is unknown to me, but here are some things that may factor into Luck’s decision (in no particular order):
- The opportunity to leave Stanford with a diploma in hand. Luck is majoring in Architectural Design and is on track to graduate from one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. How far is he from his degree? Another season on campus should allow him to accomplish this.
- The opportunity to continue learning from a great coach. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s name seems to be on every short list for major DI colleges as well as NFL teams (a strong rumor is circulating that he has caught the eye of Jerry Jones in Dallas). Whether or not Coach Harbough is on the sideline in Palo Alto in 2011 will most definitely have an impact on his decision. There’s no doubt that Harbaugh’s 10+ seasons in the NFL & pro-style offense have assisted in Luck’s development into a pro quarterback. There are always things to work on to ensure success at the next level. If Harbaugh moves on, so does Luck! (Please stay Jim)
- Family ties and friendships. Luck’s little sister is a freshman on the Stanford volleyball team, and as a fellow younger sister, I definitely know that big brothers would love nothing more than to spend more time around their younger sibling if given the chance. Regardless of where you go to college, it is evident that you forge many lifelong friendships while on campus because you interact with others you have a lot in common with. After you leave, it’s just not the same. No offense meant, but I just don’t see Luck having the same intellectual discussions with teammates at the next level as he may be enjoying currently.
- Someone to protect his blind side. The Stanford offensive line is comprised of 2 seniors, 1 RS senior, and 2 sophomores. He also loses a couple of his targets at wide receiver in Baldwin & Whalen while many starters on the defensive side also graduate. How many of the starters on the O-line are returning has to be a big concern for a quarterback who must stay healthy to take his rightful place atop any draft board. Although Sam Bradford gambled, returned to school for 2009 season, suffered a serious injury, still was selected #1 by the St. Louis Rams, and actually seems to be thriving in St. Louis. How much talent returns in 2011 will most certainly be an important factor in Luck’s decision.
- A future home that is attractive. Which NFL team will end up with the #1 pick? If I’m Luck, I keep a close eye on who may win the right to draft me in 2011. As of now, teams likely in the hunt for the #1 pick are Buffalo, Carolina (drafted Claussen last year), Dallas (how long is Romo the man in Dallas), Denver (Tebow?), San Francisco, Detroit (Stafford’s their guy), and Cincinnati (Palmer’s still the guy). If it’s an organization (aka Buffalo) that doesn’t have a winning tradition in recent years, a solid leadership structure, or an attractive market…I forego the risk of being sentenced to that fate. If it’s San Francisco or Dallas (maybe with Harbaugh making personnel decisions there)…I may have to consider it.
- Is an invite to the Downtown Athletic Club in his future. In 2009 Luck caught the eye of Heisman voters who were tuning in to see Toby Gerhart. At the beginning of 2010, voters were watching to see if he would take over the reins as the leader of the Cardinal offense. Three-quarters of the way into the 2010 season, Luck seems to be on the periphery in the discussion for the Heisman although Harbaugh is doing his best to change that. In 2011, will the evidence of his greatness and pro-readiness earn him the votes from members of the Heisman voting team? Will an opportunity to win this prestigious award lure him back?
- What are NFL scouts like Gil Brandt saying about Luck. Between Harbaugh & Luck’s father (Oliver), he will have great access to information directly from the NFL on his prospects and projections for the next level. This data will be used to help determine his final decision. There’s no doubt that scouts like his talent but do they think he needs another year to continue to develop?
- Can NFL teams show Luck the money. As was witnessed with NFL free agents this past off-season, owners are somewhat reluctant to spend money in advance of reaching a new collective bargaining agreement. Luck is lucky that his father has been an executive at the professional level, which will undoubtedly give him must better clarity into the impact any labor strife may have on his contractual status. Will the rookie pay scale change as the NFLPA is hoping it will in efforts to reward veterans and retired players? If it does, that will surely take money out of Luck’s pocket.
Why should he return to The Farm for the 2011 season? Time for proud Stanford alum to start saying our prayers. In addition to the games I witnessed from the sideline, I have been blessed to catch Luck in person on a couple of other occasions including the Notre Dame and USC victories and caught the Oregon & UW games on TV. He has made football Saturdays something to look forward to!
If the Cardinal continue their strong play on both sides of the ball and are able to run the table the rest of the regular season, they undoubtedly will finish the season ranked in the Top 5 and have a legitimate chance at a high paying BCS Bowl bid (hopefully the Rose Bowl depending on how Oregon, TCU, and/or Boise State end up). A Top 5 finish in 2010, with many starters returning in 2011, should equal a high ranking for the Cardinal at the outset of 2011. Will the opportunity to led his Stanford team to a National Championship bid in 2011 motivate Luck to stay one more year?
A chance to continue being the big man on campus, lead your team to a National Championship, and win the Heisman Trophy is something that Luck should take into serious consideration. In my mind, he will be the #1 pick regardless of when he comes out of school. There are risks for sure, as Bradford witnessed, but I personally think that Luck is more pro-ready than Bradford and will only benefit from another year of growth at the college level.
Since arriving on Stanford’s campus during the summer of 2008 for summer school prior to fall ball and his freshman campaign, Luck has seemed to truly enjoy being a student-athlete at Stanford and is widely regarded as an amazing teammate/classmate. He can be seen jovially riding his bike to/from Arrillaga Family Sports Center during the week leading up to Saturday competitions.
From a distance, Luck seems like someone who is able to truly enjoy his college experience because he is confident that he will be playing on Sundays for a long time to come. He is not consumed with the uncertainty that fuels some but instead is engaged in the here and now. Last winter Jake Locker was told by his father, “…make the decision that you won’t regret for the rest of your life.” Locker took those words of wisdom and went on to return for another year in Seattle. His final year in the Pac-10 hasn’t been one we all expected due to injuries and a lackluster performance by the Huskies, but I am pretty sure that Locker will never regret returning to campus to spend time enjoying life as a college student.
Like many, we would go back to my college days in a minute. To a certain extent, those were the best four years of our life where we made many lifelong friends. While Andrew can always return to campus, he won’t get these years back.
On the other hand, athletes must make the most of their time and ability to generate income while their bodies allow. The average playing career for a NFL player is less than 5 years, so it is imperative that you take advantage of the years in your prime. Unless you are Brett Favre who continues to defy odds, lengthy playing careers (especially for those who want to live healthy lives in retirement) are few and far between. The good thing for Andrew is that the quarterback position is the most protected position on the roster and great quarterbacks seem to have lengthy careers.
Stanford fans…NFL general managers….this guy is the real deal. Cardinal Nation, we all have been lucky to watch his development. NFL owners, one of you will be lucky to have his services in the future. Regardless of the outcome, Andrew Luck is a tremendous player and an even better person. I know that I look forward to watching him player whether it’s on Saturday’s on The Farm or Sunday’s somewhere in the NFL.
What I know for sure is that each week this kid continues to improve and there is no doubt that we will continue to see a “Better Luck Next Time!”