Nov. 29, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. -- Fair or not, comparisons are inevitable in sports when sizing up the talents of certain players. Such arguments rarely mean anything more other than you've earned the right to be a part of the conversation in the first place.
Before Andrew Luck even threw his first pass in a Stanford uniform, comparisons were being made in not-so-hushed conversations as to how he measured up against some of the all-time greats who have played the position at the University known for its quarterback pedigree.
First year Stanford head coach David Shaw is not high on comparisons, but when asked who reminds him the most of Luck, his answer will surprise you.
"Charles Woodson was the best player in college football when he won the Heisman and he didn't win it on stats. He won it because he was doing something that had never been done before. He was a great receiver, great defensive back and a great punt returner. There were guys with better numbers, but voters realized Charles was special.
"That's how I see Andrew."
Shaw's admittedly biased evaluation of Luck goes beyond the numbers, which are noteworthy.
As Shaw sees it, the most important part of a quarterback's job is to put his team in position to win, something Luck has mastered over his career, guiding the Cardinal to a 31-7 record in his 38 career starts, including an 8-2 mark against ranked opponents.
His .837 career winning percentage ranks second only to Boise State's Kellen Moore among active FBS quarterbacks.
Considering Stanford posted a combined record of 14-32 over a four-year period prior to his arrival on campus, it's hard to imagine another player other than Luck who has had more of an impact on the fortunes of their program.
He has also led the Cardinal to consecutive 11-win seasons for the first time in school history as the program anxiously awaits its second straight invitation to a BCS bowl. Stanford is 23-2 in its last 25 games with its only losses coming against an Oregon team which at the time was ranked in the Top 10 of the AP poll.
The Cardinal's .920 winning percentage is the best in the country over the last two years, slightly ahead of Boise State's .917 (22-2) mark. Stanford has also been ranked in the Top 10 for a school-record 21 consecutive weeks dating back to last season.
No mention of personal statistics just yet, but we'll get to that.
Stanford has scored 40 or more points 17 times in Luck's 37 career starts and currently ranks fifth in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 43.6 points a game. The Cardinal has set school scoring records each of the last two seasons and will assuredly surpass last year's record total of 524 points in its upcoming bowl game.
Stanford's offense has had just 13 three-and-outs all season, and has the fewest number of negative plays among all FBS teams. The Cardinal also ranks first in the nation in red zone efficiency, converting on 98.4 percent of its trips inside the 20-yard line.
Convincing victories? Ten of Stanford's last 13 victories have been by 25 points or more.
"All he wants to do is complete passes and win," said Shaw. "He does that very well."
Indeed. Luck has completed 70 percent of his passes this season for 3,170 yards and a school-record 35 touchdowns. In the last regular season game against Notre Dame, Luck's four touchdown passes ran his career total to 80, moving past John Elway into first place on the school's all-time career list.
Statistics have their place in any debate, but don't even begin to paint an accurate portrayal of Luck's immense talents and quarterback acumen according to Shaw.
"There are people out there that don't grasp what Andrew does," he says. "I can't think of any other quarterback in college football history that has done what Andrew has over the last three seasons from a game management standpoint.
"We have a quarterback who calls plays at the line of scrimmage. He's just not a guy who is listening to a play come in like a receiver, running back or offensive lineman. Andrew is making decisions at the line of scrimmage. It's unheard of in the college game."
"If we run 70-75 plays a game, there are probably 10 that we will run no matter what. The others are on Andrew. Day One of any quarterback school teaches to keep the team out of negative plays. With Andrew, he will call checks to get us in the best play possible."
Where the average college playbook may have anywhere from 70-150 plays in its arsenal, Luck has command of as many as 325 plays to call upon from game to game.
"He's uncanny. You hope any quarterback has the complete game plan down by Friday so you know what you're calling. Andrew has got it all down by Wednesday. We trade text messages late at night talking about different plays. He wants to stay on top of it and be perfect so he can put us in the best possible position to win every game.
"I caution just looking at stats," said Shaw. "You have to watch guys play. You watch what Andrew does at the line of scrimmage and in the red zone -- it's flawless, phenomenal. It's safe to say that when we get into a two-minute drill, it comforts the entire sideline knowing this guy is going to get it done."
It should come as no surprise Luck might be the brightest bulb in any quarterback room in the country. Football intelligence aside, he has managed to maintain a 3.48 grade point average as an architectural design major and is on track to graduate this spring.
Not to dismiss his physical attributes, Shaw still marvels at the effortless release and accuracy of Luck's passes.
"We still don't know how far he can throw a ball. He flicks it and it goes 65 yards. One of these days we'll find out. But I've never seen him strain when throwing a ball and I've seen him throw it 70 yards. It's effortless."
While the criteria and standards of assessing the most outstanding player in college football seemingly changes with every completion, interception, touchdown, win or loss - one thing remains certain - everybody has an opinion.
Everybody with the exception of Andrew Luck, who will gladly stand by his team's 11-1 record while taking great satisfaction in knowing he was part of a class that left the Stanford football program in significantly better shape than it was in four years ago.
His impressive body of work is complete and without comparison, at least in the circles where it really matters.
by Jim Young, Senior Asst. Athletic Director/Media Relations and Communications