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At Stanford, it all starts with with Luck

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Best of the best: Quarterback Andrew Luck enters the season as the Heisman Trophy favorite after a superb sophomore season on the Farm. (Getty Images file photo) - BEST OF THE BEST: QUARTERBACK ANDREW LUCK ENTERS THE SEASON AS THE HEISMAN TROPHY FAVORITE AFTER A SUPERB SOPHOMORE SEASON ON THE FARM. (GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO)
  • Best of the best: Quarterback Andrew Luck enters the season as the Heisman Trophy favorite after a superb sophomore season on the Farm. (Getty Images file photo)
  • Best of the best: Quarterback Andrew Luck enters the season as the Heisman Trophy favorite after a superb sophomore season on the Farm. (Getty Images file photo)

"Athletes at Stanford are not heroes." A sociology professor at the university, one Sanford Dorenbusch, said that to Sports Illustrated in 1972 when the mood in America, trying to extricate itself from Vietnam, was very unheroic and the mood at Stanford was not much different than it is now.

The school takes itself seriously, selects its students carefully and deals with athletic success in a blend of pride and embarrassment, as if — unlike the Auburns and LSUs — it is a gift bestowed on those wise enough to have gained admittance.


Indeed, there was a time not too long ago when a Stanford team as good as the one which finished No. 4 in the nation last season, and should be thereabouts this season, would have had the academic faculty uncomfortable.

A football factory? Where do you think you are, Columbus, Ohio? But now there are fewer red faces and more professors happy to see the seats at Stanford Stadium filled with spectators wearing red — Stanford’s color for all you Cal types.

Dorenbusch’s observation came shortly after the departure of Stanford’s only Heisman Trophy winner, Jim Plunkett, a hero if ever there was one, as was another in the great line of Stanford quarterbacks, John Elway.

Which brings us to one Andrew Luck.

That a recent copy of Sports Illustrated has Luck on the cover — along with players from South Carolina, Nebraska, Alabama and Oklahoma — is less significant than the fact it already has awarded him the 2011 Heisman, beating out Oregon running back LaMichael James.

If the declaration seems premature, well, Luck was runner-up to Cam Newton in last year’s Heisman voting, and he contends whatever others say or don’t say is irrelevant, other than the publicity it brings for Stanford.

Asked if — after Stanford came in No. 2 in the Heisman in 2010 and in 2009, when Toby Gerhart was nearly the man — whether he takes “one minute a month” to contemplate the Heisman, Luck had a one-word answer, “No.”

What he did point out could have been scripted by new coach David Shaw, who may be a trifle less tunnel-visioned than Jim Harbaugh. But only a trifle.

“We understand it’s a new year,” said Luck, “and it doesn’t mean squat what you did last year and the year before. We know we have to earn everything we’re going to get, and it starts with a tough training camp and then with opening up against a tough San Jose State team.”

Said Shaw, “The Orange Bowl trophy’s in our Hall of Fame. That’s fine. It won’t go anywhere, but we’re trying to get it some company.”

You have to like a coach unafraid to reaffirm what is common knowledge. Stanford, great last year at 12-1, is going to be great this year.

Luck, who in 2010 completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns, isn’t the whole Stanford offense (there are running backs named Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney, Jeremy Stewart and Anthony Wilkerson), but he is most of it.

Shaw, offensive coordinator under Harbaugh, said as much before a non-tackling scrimmage this summer.

“Anyone who hits [Luck],” decreed the coach, “won’t be kicked out of the game, they’ll be kicked off the team.”

Shaw probably was kidding, but nobody chose to find out.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

New coach Shaw has big shoes to fill

David Shaw has the best and worst job in college football. The first-year head coach takes over a Stanford program that Jim Harbaugh, now the 49ers’ coach, turned into a national power, and keeping it in the spotlight has some immediate pressure. That’s what happens when the NFL draft’s likely No. 1 pick, Andrew Luck, decides to stay another year in college. Not that anybody here is complaining.

About the only major change for Stanford — other than the extra attention — is the coaching carousal. Although Harbaugh’s absence will no doubt be felt, players believe promoting Shaw from within was a big move to maintain continuity.

“We love coach Shaw. He’s amazing. It goes unsaid how competitive he is because he’s not as vocal as coach Harbaugh has been,” linebacker Shayne Skov said. “We have not lost a stride since he’s come in.”

— AP

IMPACT PLAYERS

STEPFAN TAYLOR


Questions surrounded the Stanford rushing game heading into last season, but the 5-foot-11, 208-pound running back led a committee of runners who picked up the slack for Toby Gerhart. Taylor ran for 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2010 and will look to take the next step in 2011. The Cardinal averaged 213.8 yards a game on the ground this past season.

SHAYNE SKOV

The inside linebacker led Stanford in tackles last year with 84 and tied for the team lead in sacks with 7½ despite missing two games. Skov has developed into one of the Cardinal’s leaders on defense and appears poised for his best season yet. His ferocious style of play should bode well against some of the high-flying offenses the Pac-12 Conference has to offer.

GAME TO WATCH

DUCKS FLY SOUTH
: When Oregon comes to the Farm on Nov. 12, it could be the biggest college football game of the season. Both teams enter the season ranked in the Top 10 in the Associated Press poll (Stanford No. 7, Oregon No. 3), both are national title contenders and both boast Heisman Trophy candidates (Stanford QB Andrew Luck and Oregon RB LaMichael James). The winner will also likely represent the Pac-12 North Division in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game.

PREDICTION

Assuming coach David Shaw can pick up where Jim Harbaugh left off, all the pieces are in place for Stanford to duplicate, if not improve on last season’s 12-1 record. Quarterback Andrew Luck is the most talented passer in the country and the Cardinal’s physical play wears opponents down late in games. While a spot in the national title game will be tough, another trip to a BCS bowl appears to be in the cards.

BY THE NUMBERS

4 Stanford’s final 2010 ranking in AP poll after 12-1 season

32 TD passes by Andrew Luck last season (a school record)

2 Consecutive seasons a stanford player has been heisman trophy runner-up