NCF Nation: Duke Blue Devils

1. The American Football Coaches Association named David Cutcliffe of Duke its FBS coach of the year, and I hope a little part of him is seething. Yes, the Blue Devils had never won 10 games before this year. But Duke went to a bowl game in 2012. It’s not as if this season came entirely came out of the blue. Coaching awards are mostly about expectations. The AFCA voted that Duke winning 10 games is more outlandish than Gus Malzahn taking Auburn from 3-9, 0-8 in the SEC, to within nine seconds of being No. 1. That makes no sense.

2. The run of assistant coach hirings over the last few days serves as a reminder that coaches change jobs but relationships endure. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly hired Brian VanGorder as his defensive coordinator. VanGorder, the Jets’ linebacker coach, worked for Kelly at Division II Grand Valley State in the ‘90s. Bo Davis, who is returning to Alabama as defensive line coach, is the fourth of the Crimson Tide’s nine assistants whom Nick Saban has rehired. He might be hard to work for, but they keep coming back.

3. Longtime Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker died Monday, at age 72, only three seasons after retiring because of complications from diabetes. Parker was a coach’s coach. He didn’t look for the spotlight. He just delighted in coaching his players, teaching them the fundamentals of the basic, solid defense that has been a hallmark of Kirk Ferentz’s teams in his 14 seasons in Iowa City.

3-point stance: Wake Forest starts over

December, 3, 2013
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1. Jim Grobe is an old-school guy, a nice man who always wanted the attention to go to his players instead of himself. His 13-year career at Wake Forest ended Monday with Grobe tied for the most wins (77) in school history. Wake AD Ron Wellman spoke for a lot of people in extolling Grobe’s tenure. But it has been seven seasons since Wake won the ACC and five since the Demon Deacons had a winning record. In a season when Duke won the ACC Coastal, it’s time for Wake to start anew.

2. You don’t have to search very hard on the Washington Huskies football website to find a page with a photo of Steve Sarkisian and one of his favorite sayings: “a relentless pursuit of a competitive edge.” In the end, that may be why Sark returned to USC. He has seen USC’s built-in advantages of tradition and proximity to talent and the positive attention that can envelop a good Trojans team. Meanwhile, he built a foundation -- and Washington built a new football complex and stadium -- that will give his successor a leg up as well.

3. So Duke and Stanford have 10-2 records and are division champions, and Vandy went 8-4 for the second consecutive year. But don’t forget what David Bailiff has done at Rice, which is 9-3 and won the C-USA West. Rice will host Marshall for the league title on Saturday. The Owls last won an outright league (Southwest Conference, RIP) championship in 1957, about six months before Bailiff was born.

Auburn gets improbable win vs. Georgia

November, 16, 2013
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How unlikely was Auburn’s miraculous victory Saturday over Georgia?

Auburn had a 7.3 percent chance of winning before Nick Marshall threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis. The touchdown came on 4th-and-18 with 25 seconds remaining to give the No. 7 Tigers a 43-38 lead.

At the end of the play, Auburn had a 99.8 percent win probability, so that play increased Auburn’s win probability by 92.5 percentage points. Nebraska’s Hail Mary pass as time expired against Northwestern was the only play that had a greater increase in win probability this season.

Here are the top five plays in FBS this season in terms of win probability added:

• 97.2: On Nov. 2, Nebraska threw a 49-yard touchdown as time expired to win 27-24 against Northwestern.

• 92.5: On Saturday, Auburn threw a 73-yard touchdown with 25 seconds remaining to take a 43-38 lead against Georgia.

• 90.3: On Sept. 21, Florida Atlantic threw a 21-yard touchdown pass with 3 seconds remaining to tie the game against Middle Tennessee.

• 89.8: On Nov. 2, Rutgers threw a 33-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left to take a 23-20 lead against Temple.

• 74.7: On Oct. 5, South Alabama threw a 65-yard touchdown with 48 seconds left to go ahead 33-27 against Troy.

Auburn has now won 86 consecutive games when scoring at least 20 points. Its last such loss came in 1996 against Georgia.

Florida State versus Duke in ACC championship?
Florida State dominated its competition once again. For the second straight game, the Seminoles won 59-3, this time against Syracuse. Florida State is the first FBS team to score at least 59 points and hold its opponent to three points or fewer in consecutive games since the Seminoles did it in 1988.

Meanwhile, Duke now controls its own destiny on the path to the ACC championship game. The Blue Devils defeated Miami (Fla.) 48-30, their first time winning consecutive games against ranked opponents since 1989. The Blue Devils have won eight games in a season for the first time since 1994.

New NCAA record
After Division III Western Connecticut’s Octavias McKoy broke the NCAA single-game rushing record earlier this season with 455 yards, we now have a new record-holder. Cartel Brooks of Division III Heidelberg set a new NCAA record Saturday with 465 rushing yards.
1. On the ESPNU College Football podcast on Tuesday, I asked Tom Luginbill, our Senior National Recruiting Analyst, to name the head coaches who are the best in the living room, the guys who do the best job of convincing mama to give them her baby. Luginbill went with Dabo Swinney of Clemson, Les Miles of LSU and, in somewhat of a surprise, Jim Mora of UCLA. I say surprise because Swinney and Miles have many years in college football. Mora, an NFL longtimer, has not quite two years.

2. Duke coach David Cutcliffe knows something about teaching quarterbacks. And the essence of teaching is to break down the information into easily understood portions. In discussing his current quarterbacks, Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette, at his press conference this week, Cutcliffe said, “Every play we run at quarterback, the most important thing about the play is that we have possession of the ball when the play ends. Period. You can’t give that lip service.” Everyone understands that.

3. As Saturday night games go, seeing undefeated No. 15 Northern Illinois and its outstanding quarterback, Jordan Lynch, play once-beaten Ball State would be a treat. As a Wednesday night game, it doesn’t get any better. The winner will be the first 10-game winner in the FBS. A victory also will boost the Huskies in their attempt to overtake No. 14 Fresno State in the race for a BCS bid. The Cardinals have gotten to 9-1 by outscoring people. It’s hard to imagine they can do that on the road against an offense led by Lynch.

3-point stance: Big-time turnarounds

November, 12, 2013
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1. Turnaround I: A year ago this week, Baylor had a 4-5 record and stood last -- last! -- in FBS total defense. That Saturday, the Bears stunned No. 1 Kansas State, 52-24, and they haven’t lost since. The 12-game winning streak is a school record. And Baylor is ninth – ninth! – in total defense, allowing only 306.1 yards per game. No. 7 Auburn is getting credit for what has been a remarkable turnaround. But the 5th-ranked Bears have done a pretty nice 180 themselves.

2. Turnaround II: After a 6-1 start last season, USC finished 1-5, then started this season 3-2. Goodbye, Lane Kiffin. Hello, interim head coach Ed Orgeron. The Trojans have gone 4-1 under Orgeron. They have played better defense. The offense put up 62 points against Cal last Saturday, two more than USC scored in its previous three games combined. The Trojans host No. 4 Stanford Saturday night. The Cardinal defense will serve as a benchmark for the level of the Trojans offense. The game also might serve as Turnaround III: the last USC head coach to beat Stanford was Pete Carroll (2008).

3. In the meantime, Turnaround III: Duke is 7-2 and looking to win eight games for the first time since 1994, when the Blue Devils began the season 7-0. That team finished the season 8-4, thanks to a pair of one-point losses to neighbors North Carolina State and North Carolina. This Duke team seems different. These Blue Devils are 3-0 on the road, and they have won five straight for the first time since, yep, ’94. The last Duke team to win nine? 1941, which ended with the Blue Devils playing in the Rose Bowl on the Duke campus.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 2

September, 9, 2013
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It's time for a fresh set of power rankings with another week in the books. The top four teams remain the same from last week, but there was some shuffling the rest of the way down.

1. Clemson (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 1): The Tigers did what we all expected in a 52-13 win over South Carolina State. They also ended up moving up one spot in the AP poll to No. 3. Their big win over Georgia in Week 1 remains the crown jewel in the ACC crown after two weeks.

2. Florida State (1-0, 1-0 ACC; last week: 2): The Seminoles were off this past week after beating Pittsburgh in the opener. Let's see what Game 2 has in store for Jameis Winston this weekend against Nevada.

3. Miami (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 3): The Hurricanes had the most impressive win in Week 2, over No. 12 Florida, which vaults them to No. 15 in the latest AP poll. But that win does nothing to change their standing in the ACC. There remains a clear gap between Clemson, Florida State and the rest of the league. Miami looks like it is starting to close the gap, but the Canes still have a long way to go -- especially after their offense struggled for most of the day against the Gators.

4. Georgia Tech (1-0 0-0 ACC; last week: 4): The Jackets were also off in Week 2, so all we have to judge them on is a blowout win over FCS Elon. The next five weeks will tell us what we need to know about this team, as the Jackets prepare to play at Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, at Miami and at BYU. That is one of the most brutal stretches any ACC team has to play this season.

5. North Carolina (1-1, 0-0 ACC; last week: 7): The truth is, you could flip flop the Tar Heels and Virginia Tech at this point. Despite their victories over the weekend, both have problems that must be addressed. For starters, North Carolina has to get the coin toss figured out. The defense was once again up and down. They need a more consistent, better effort out of that group.

6. Virginia Tech (1-1, 0-0 ACC; last week: 5): North Carolina gets the nod ahead of Virginia Tech for this week based on the quality of opponent it just played. The Tar Heels beat an FBS team, Virginia Tech an FCS team. I think we can all agree the Hokies have a formidable defense -- better than North Carolina's -- but the offense still has a ways to go to be respectable. Logan Thomas now has one touchdown pass and three interceptions on the season.

7. Virginia (1-1, 0-0 ACC; last week: 6): No. 2 Oregon boatraced the Hoos on Saturday, but the truth is, nobody really expected them to win the game. They stay in the top half of the rankings this week based on their win over BYU in the opener. That win looks a lot better today after BYU clobbered No. 15 Texas. Virginia enters a five-game stretch now with winnable games. If the Hoos can take advantage, they will be looking good for a bowl spot.

8. Maryland (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 8): The Terps have beaten their first two opponents by a combined 90-20 and have not faced much of a test. The opponents' strength has been really weak, hence their spot here. Still, this is a team that has showed off its talent on offense in the first two weeks. C.J. Brown, in his return from a knee injury, ranks No. 3 in the nation in total QBR to lead all ACC quarterbacks. Chew on that one for a while.

9. Duke (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 10): Give the Blue Devils credit for pulling out a road win in Memphis with backup quarterback Brandon Connette this past Saturday. You can write the win off by saying it was "only Memphis," but the Tigers are a rapidly improving team and Duke was on the ropes. Any road win is a good win for a team that won only once away from home last season.

10. NC State (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 9): The Wolfpack get downgraded slightly for struggling to beat Richmond. While it is true the Spiders have caused FBS opponents fits, the Wolfpack nearly handed the game away with their own miscues. NC State had four turnovers, including three inside Richmond territory. Quarterback Pete Thomas struggled, throwing two interceptions. While he did lead the team into field goal range for the game winner, he has some work to do to improve.

11. Boston College (2-0, 1-0 ACC; last week: 14): The Eagles climb out of the cellar for the first time in a long time after their 24-10 win over Wake Forest. You can already see the difference new coach Steve Addazio has made in the program. His team is playing a lot more physically and with a lot more energy. That is best illustrated in Andre Williams, who is now averaging 5.5 yards per carry -- one full yard better than last season. The BC run game has gone from awful to respectable in a matter of weeks. The Eagles have now matched their win total from 2012.

12. Pittsburgh (0-1, 0-1 ACC; last week: 12): The Panthers were off last week, so they stay put here. The good news is they will not have to play a team as strong as Florida State the rest of the way in the ACC. They get New Mexico this week.

13. Wake Forest (1-1, 0-1 ACC; last week: 11): The Deacs were supposed to be better this season with so many veterans returning, but they looked completely lost against BC. The defense got gashed on the ground. The offense could not run, nor could it execute the option effectively. Not sure why coaches insisted on sticking with it when it was not working. Their inability to run the ball was a bugaboo last season, and it looks to be the same this season.

14. Syracuse (0-2, 0-0 ACC; last week: 13): The Orange have been the biggest disappointment in the ACC so far based on the first two games. No doubt they played a tough schedule to start against two Big Ten teams, but they were not even competitive in a loss to Northwestern this past weekend in which Drew Allen got benched after throwing four interceptions and the defense gave up 581 yards of total offense. Scott Shafer has some serious questions to answer before the season gets away from him.
1. Football players are notorious for not donating money to their alma maters. Supposedly, they believe that they gave enough of themselves in blood and sweat when they played, forgetting that they received an education and a step up the ladder in return. So kudos to Oklahoma, who announced recently that former Sooner All-Americans Adrian Peterson and Sam Bradford donated $500,000 apiece to the new $75 million Headington Hall. The donations say a lot about them -- and about their experience at OU.

2. As usual, Duke head coach and quarterback guru David Cutcliffe taught me something, but it wasn’t what I expected to hear. The rise of young quarterbacks in today’s game, Cutcliffe told me on the ESPNU College Football Podcast, is in part because the up-tempo spread offense is less taxing intellectually than traditional pro sets. The emphasis is on speed of decision, not complexity. It’s hand off or keep, hand off or throw, and do it now.

3. The only thing consistent about Virginia quarterbacks Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims last year was the tension that hovered around the offense all season. It showed. The Cavaliers scored 17 points or fewer in six games, won one of them, and finished 4-8. Rocco (graduation) and Sims (academics) are gone. Head coach Mike London told me on the podcast Monday that whoever wins the job -- sophomore David Watford and redshirt freshman Grayson Lambert are the favorites -- will be The Guy. Job-sharing is over.
1. Tedy Bruschi’s election to the College Football Hall of Fame, coming two years after the election of his Arizona defensive line teammate Rob Waldrop and four years after former Wildcat defensive back Chuck Cecil, is a tremendous tribute to former Arizona head coach Dick Tomey. The Wildcats made their bones with Tomey’s Desert Swarm defense. Bruschi, on the ESPNU College Football podcast Wednesday, said many former Wildcats returned to Tucson recently and celebrated Tomey as he turned 75.

2. One other point to be made regarding the top academic schools that have risen into the Top 25: staff stability. Northwestern has lost only two coaches in the past five years. Stanford has largely promoted from within. Vanderbilt and Notre Dame are among the nine staffs that remain intact from last season. Four of the nine -- Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, and yes, Northwestern -- play in the Big Ten.

3. Duke coach David Cutcliffe’s idea that every FBS coach should vote in the coaches poll is a welcome bit of fresh air and about 20 years too late to matter. The ACC coaches are pushing for the coaches poll to be used beginning next year by the playoff committee. But what “official’ role would it play? The committee members presumably will use every bit of information they can ingest. But in the end, they will make the decision, whether it agrees with the coaches’ poll, the media poll or the guys in your barbershop.
1. In the 15-year life of the BCS, only three schools from AQ conferences have never appeared in the standings: Duke, Indiana and Vanderbilt (Iowa State broke its schneid last fall). It’s a quirky thing. For the BCS’ first five years, the ratings stopped at No. 15. And, of course, the ratings don’t appear until midseason. All three teams are improving. Vandy, in fact, is No. 25 in Mark Schlabach’s most recent way-too-early rankings. The Commodores -- and the others -- have one more year to break through.

2. Zach Lee, the No. 3 quarterback recruit in 2010, left LSU right before classes began to sign a $5.25 million deal to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers. In his last six starts at Class AA Chattanooga last season, Lee went 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA and a 0.917 WHIP, so he’s not coming back soon. No one knows if Lee would have overtaken Jordan Jefferson, Jarrett Lee or Zach Mettenberger. But LSU’s quarterbacking has yet to return to the level where Matt Flynn played in taking the Tigers to the 2007 BCS title.

3. There will be 14 Saturdays between Labor Day weekend and Thanksgiving weekend, which we haven’t had since 2008. That eased the task of assembling an ACC schedule that includes new members Pittsburgh and Syracuse. The Orange will close the season at home against the Panthers and Boston College. The Eagles last went to the Carrier Dome a decade ago, in the same week that Boston College announced it would leave for the ACC. With Syracuse fans mocking the Eagles by chanting “A-C-C!”, Syracuse grabbed an emotional 39-14 victory.
1. Bowl games don’t always present the crispest form of football, not after teams have sat for a month. But since both teams are dealing with rust, sometimes we are lucky enough to watch what we saw in the Belk Bowl on Thursday night. Duke and Cincinnati each blew double-digit leads before the Bearcats scored two touchdowns in the final 80 seconds to win 48-34. Sometimes, crisp isn’t necessary.

2. Move over, Mike Riley. The Oregon State head coach is renowned for the improvement that his teams show from the beginning of the season to the end. Look at what Art Briles is doing at Baylor. After the Bears defeated No. 17 UCLA, 49-26, in the Holiday Bowl on Thursday night, Baylor finished by winning five of its final six games, three against ranked opponents. Throw in 2011, and Baylor is 5-1 against ranked teams in November and December.

3. Stanford offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren has worked in Division II and worked in the NFL. He calls the No. 6 Cardinal’s run to the Pac-12 Conference championship in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year “probably the most gratifying season I’ve ever had in coaching.” Bloomgren expected a good season, but not this. With an inexperienced quarterback and little in the way of veteran depth, “I was hoping we’d win our share,” he said.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The game was billed as a battle of division leaders, but Duke hardly looked the part Saturday as Florida State dominated the Blue Devils en route to a 48-7 victory.

Despite Duke's upstart status this season, little has changed in its rivalry with the Seminoles. EJ Manuel threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns, Tyler Hunter added a 75-yard punt return for a score and Florida State cruised to its 18th victory in as many tries against the Blue Devils.

It was over when: James Wilder Jr. rumbled into the end zone from 1 yard out just 1:50 into the second quarter. That touchdown put Florida State ahead 24-0, and it was already clear that in spite of all the buzz leading up to the game surrounding Duke's sudden resurgence, the Blue Devils simply weren't in the same class as the Seminoles.

Game ball goes to: Wilder and Devonta Freeman. There were plenty of stout performances, from Manuel's long passes to stellar defensive work by Cornellius Carradine and Christian Jones. But coming into the game, the big question was how Florida State's ground game would respond to the loss of starting tailback Chris Thompson, and Freeman and Wilder offered an emphatic answer. The pair combined for 174 yards on 25 carries and scored three times on the ground. Since Thompson's injury, Wilder and Freeman have averaged 6.8 yards per carry.

Stat of the game: Manuel wasn't asked to do much against Duke, but when he unloaded in the passing game, it was usually for a big play. Manuel averaged 17.6 yards per attempt against Duke -- the highest average of his career. Five of Manuel's eight completions gained at least 30 yards, and he finished with 282 yards passing. In his two career starts against Duke, Manuel has completed just 17 passes, but five have gained 50 yards or more. Meanwhile, Duke's quarterbacks averaged just 3.6 yards per attempt Saturday.

Unsung hero: Dustin Hopkins. OK, so neither of his field goals meant a whole lot in determining the outcome, but Hopkins connected on a 56-yard kick with 9:40 to go in the fourth quarter to set the ACC's all-time record for most field goals in a career, eclipsing former Maryland kicker Nick Novak. Hopkins has 15 field goals in his last five games, but the 58-yarder was a career-long for the senior. He's just 10 points shy of setting the NCAA record for most points scored in a career.

Record performance: Hopkins provided the only ACC record of the day, as Duke's Conner Vernon will have to wait to set the conference record for receiving yards. Vernon entered play needing 94 yards to break Peter Warrick's career mark for ACC receivers, but he managed just three catches for 12 yards.

Cause for concern: It was an easy win for Florida State, but fumbles remained a big problem for the second consecutive game. FSU coughed up the football four times Saturday, with Duke recovering each of them. This comes on the heels of a six-fumble performance against Miami last week. The problems were across the board, too, with Manuel fumbling on a QB run, Rodney Smith fumbling after a long reception, Freeman coughing up the football on a running play and Hunter muffing a return.
1. If the argument gets serious about an undefeated Oregon and an undefeated Kansas State competing for one spot in the BCS -- and granted, we are a long way from that -- the Wildcats had best not allow the debate to focus on strength of schedule. One of the reasons that the Ducks' non-conference schedule was so slight (Arkansas State, Fresno State, FCS Tennessee Tech) is that Kansas State canceled a game scheduled between the teams this season.

2. With their victories Saturday, Kent State and Duke became bowl-eligible. If the Golden Flashes and the Blue Devils get invitations, they will break postseason droughts that date to 1967 and 1994 respectively. Duke has the longest no-bowl streak going among AQ conferences, with Washington State (2003) on deck to take over. However, Kent State ranks second among all FBS schools. New Mexico State last went to a bowl game in 1960.

3. If No. 2 Florida (7-0, 6-0) defeats No. 10 Georgia in Jacksonville on Saturday, the Gators will clinch the SEC East before Halloween (thank the makeshift, post-expansion conference schedule for that). But if the Dawgs (6-1, 4-1) pull off the upset, they will all but clinch the division championship. Georgia would have a one-game lead with two SEC games to play: Ole Miss (4-3, 1-2) and at Auburn (1-6, 0-5).
1. Something to keep in mind as No. 4 Kansas State attempts to frustrate No. 13 West Virginia on Saturday: The Wildcats have allowed one touchdown of longer than 20 yards this season, and not until last Saturday against Iowa State. That’s one fewer than the West Virginia defense has scored. The Mountaineers offense has 14 offensive touchdowns of longer than 20 yards. If big plays decide big games, Kansas State has some work to do.

2. There are two ways to look at Virginia Tech after the Hokies spotted Duke a 20-0 last week and then scored the game’s next 41 points. If the Hokies (4-3, 2-1 ACC) turned a corner, then the Coastal Division, which already has four teams with one conference loss, is theirs for the taking. And if the Hokies go into Clemson, which is coming off a bye week, and get smacked around Saturday, that will reflect the mediocrity that they have become. That Duke victory was either a springboard to contention or a snapshot of inconsistency.

3. The announcement Tuesday by Penn State that it will not renew the contract of athletic director Tim Curley is no surprise. Nor should it be confused with assigning him culpability in the Sandusky scandal. His perjury trial relating to the case won’t begin until January. But even if Curley is cleared in court, Curley is a pariah. Any school that has endured what Penn State has endured would want to start over. Within the department, there is a lot of support for interim athletic director Dave Joyner to remain in charge.
Duke is a contender in the Coastal Division.

In fact, the Blue Devils just might be favored to beat Virginia Tech next weekend -- in Blacksburg.

Welcome to Bizarro world in the ACC, but before you start in on just how out of whack the Coastal Division is, pause for a second to give Duke some credit.

The Blue Devils have been banged up on defense. They were without their injured starting quarterback, Sean Renfree. And yet Duke left no doubt in Saturday's 42-17 win over Virginia that it was the better team and is a team to be taken seriously in this year's Coastal Division race.

On a day in which the rest of the ACC forgot how to play defense, Duke shut out Virginia for the entire second half. Duke is not only playing defense this year, it's playing hard-hitting, attitude defense. Virginia had two turnovers. Duke had none. This is a well-coached, disciplined team that is off to a 5-1 start. It's 2-0 in the ACC. It's undefeated at home. And it's ONE WIN away from going bowling for the first time since 1994.

Virginia, on the other hand, has now lost four straight.

The balance of power has shifted in the Coastal Division, and for the first time in a long time, Duke has it. More importantly, it deserves it.

Shaw, rightfully, sticking with Nunes

October, 1, 2012
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No, Stanford head coach David Shaw is not going to replace quarterback Josh Nunes this week. No, I don’t think he should. So stop jerking your knee before you tear an ACL.

Nunes had a bad game Thursday night against the Washington Huskies. He made some bad decisions. He made more than a few bad throws. Call me crazy, but Nunes almost looked like -- oh, I don’t know -- like a first-year starter making his first career road start in an NFL stadium well known for its levels of tympanic torture. No, we shouldn’t take any of that into account. That would make far too much sense. Please, resume your knee jerking.

Asked immediately after the game if he was going to make a quarterback change, Shaw looked perturbed that the issue was even raised and responded in the negative without hesitation. By Friday afternoon he had digested a rather indigestible performance by the offense and offered this:

[+] EnlargeJosh Nunes
Joe Nicholson/US PresswireDavid Shaw will not be replacing Josh Nunes at quarterback, despite the loss against Washington.
“The bottom line is that Josh is four games into his career,” Shaw said. “Every week he does a little bit better, culminating with the USC win where he played outstanding in the second half … You can’t put Josh in the Hall of Fame after the USC game. And you can’t beat him up too much after the Washington game.”

It’s ironic in a twisted and masochistic sort of way. Many of the Stanford fans who are so eagerly calling for Brett Nottingham are falling prey to the same mistakes that a lot of Heisman voters made last year when they dismissed the exploits of Andrew Luck as commonplace. One of the biggest knocks on Luck last year was that he didn’t have many “Heisman moments.” But as I noted in a column in December, Luck had about 10 Heisman moments a game -- they just didn’t fit the traditional definition.

Luck was so gifted and special that after three years of watching him carve with a surgeon’s precision, a mathematician’s calculation and an impressionist’s beauty, Stanford fans have become desensitized to some very important facts; being a quarterback is hard; reading defenses is hard; converting third downs is hard.

And when your offensive line misses assignments, as they did Thursday, and when your receivers drop catchable balls, as they did Thursday, the difficulty level of the position gets raised exponentially.

Remember, Nunes beat out Nottingham for a reason. And it wasn't a snap decision, either. Nottingham had months to win the gig. But he didn't. Nunes did -- and he's 3-1 as a starter against a 4-1 San Jose State team, a 4-1 Duke team, a 3-1 USC team and a 3-1 Washington team.

This in no way justifies Nunes' performance. But nor should the mistakes of others be counted as checks against him.

"Some of them were tough catches, but that’s what we have to do," Shaw said. "We have to make tough catches. That’s part of the game. To sit around and ask the quarterback to be perfect is wrong. Yes, some of them were on Josh. Some of them were on the guys supposed to be catching the ball. But at the same time, as an offense, we didn’t get into an offensive rhythm that we normally get into. Give them some credit because they played extremely well."

Good point. Let's not forget to compliment Washington and the game plan it put on the field. It was a good one. The Huskies took Stepfan Taylor out of the game and pressured Nunes into some quick throws and two sacks. He didn't just have a bad game. Washington made him have a bad game. A well-deserved tip of the cap to the Washington defense.

But I can also think of about seven balls, approximately 150 yards and a possible touchdown that was left on the field from drops or mistakes that shouldn't be attributed to Nunes.

And did anyone else notice Nunes on the sideline after Washington went ahead on the Kasen Williams touchdown? The way he was going up and down the sideline smacking guys on the helmet and trying to fire them up. Looked an awful lot like another Stanford quarterback following a pick-six at USC last year. There wasn't any pouting, sunken shoulders or beleaguered body language. Nunes believed Stanford could win the game and he believed he could drive them. It doesn't count on the scoreboard -- but it should count for something.

If the Cardinal drop their next two games (home to Arizona, at Notre Dame) and look as offensively flaccid as they did last Thursday, then it might be time to open up the discussion. But for now, Nunes is the starter, regardless of whether you are on board.

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