NCF Nation: Owen Marecic
So while many view a count of returning starters as a great measure of what things might look like in the future, filling voids is really what spring practices are all about.
Many key conference players are off to the NFL. But which leaves behind the biggest hole?
For four years, Jake Locker was the face of Washington. While his numbers weren't good in 2010, he was the Huskies unquestioned leader, not to mention being good enough to go eighth overall in the NFL draft.
Just like Locker, Jacquizz Rodgers was the face of Oregon State, starting with his thrilling debut in the 2008 upset of USC. Speaking of difficult to replace, what about one player who was two players? That was Stanford's Owen Marecic in 2010, who was the Cardinal's starting fullback and linebacker.
Oregon is replacing three starters on its defensive line, but none was as productive over the past two seasons as end Kenny Rowe, who produced 20 sacks and 31.5 tackles for a loss over the past two seasons.
If the six combined picks from Colorado and Utah are taken away from the conference, the old Pac-10 provided NFL teams 3.1 draft picks per team, also just behind the SEC at 3.17.
Here's where the Pac-12 players went:
No. 8 Jake Locker, QB, Washington: Tennessee
No. 9 Tyron Smith., OT, USC: Dallas
No. 17 Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: New England
No. 24 Cameron Jordan, DE, California: New Orleans
No. 27 Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: Baltimore
7. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA: Tennessee
10. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona: Houston
13. Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA: Denver
21. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State: Chicago
24. Shane Vereen, RB, California: New England
13. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC: Tennessee
20. Mason Foster, LB, Washington: Tampa Bay
25. Shareece Wright, CB, USC: San Diego
29. Christopher Conte, S, California: Chicago
33. Sione Fua, DT, Stanford: Carolina
5. Jordan Cameron, TE, USC: Cleveland
19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon: Philadelphia
21. Jalil Brown, CB, Colorado: Kansas City
27. Owen Marecic, FB, Stanford: Cleveland
8. Brandon Burton, CB, Utah: Minnesota
9. Gabe Miller, DE, Oregon State: Kansas City
14. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State: Atlanta
23. Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford: Seattle
2. Ryan Whalen, WR, Stanford: Cincinnati
14. Caleb Schlauderaff, OG, Utah: Green Bay
17. Ronald Johnson, WR, USC: San Francisco
19. David Carter, DT, UCLA: Arizona
22. Allen Bradford, RB, USC: Tampa Bay
24. Mike Mohamed, LB, California: Denver
32. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona: Green Bay
38. Zach Williams, C, Washington State: Carolina
12. D'Aundre Reed, DE, Arizona: Minnesota
24. Scotty McKnight, WR, Colorado: New York Jets
30. Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State: Green Bay
37. Stanley Havili, FB, USC: Philadelphia
38. David Ausberry, WR, USC: Oakland
39. Malcolm Smith, LB, USC: Seattle
By Pac-12 school:
Arizona State (1)
Oregon State (3)
Washington State (1)
The final tally by automatic qualifying conferences:
Big Ten... 36
Big East 22
Nebraska was a big swing to the Big Ten from the Big 12 with seven picks. With Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12 provided 30 selections.
This was the tally through three rounds:
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 9
Big East: 4
Todd McShay provides his take after three days of Senior Bowl practices. His conclusion?
At this point, I'd be comfortable drafting Locker in Round 1 only if I had a veteran starting quarterback whom I could rely on for at least one more year, an owner I know would not push for Locker to play until he was ready and a quarterback coach who knows what he's doing.
And this portion provides a general view of the positives and negatives of the week.
I think it also has been helpful for Locker to go through the process. He's showing NFL personnel and coaches that he's committed to get better and has good football character. He understands he's flawed and has areas he needs to improve on.
Locker knows he's thinking about his footwork too much and he's robotic with his mechanics. It's not second nature and he's not comfortable like most quarterbacks who are able to just go out and play the game. The bottom line is if you're inconsistent with footwork, you're going to be inconsistent with your accuracy.
Another Washington player is generating buzz: linebacker Mason Foster, who is noted by Scouts Inc.'s Kevin Weidl's as a Day 3 top performer.
Foster's instincts are the thing that stick out. He does a great job finding the ball and always being around the ball. He's good at recognizing plays and showed that by diagnosing a screen pass twice and getting in position to make the stop. Of all the linebackers, he has the most quick-twitch power and can strike at the point of attack. In one-on-one pass drills, he has a little pop that shocked blockers and knocked them back. He could be a little better using his hands, but he had a very good overall day.
McShay on former California defensive end Cameron Jordan, a big climber this week.
The thing I took from today is the more I see Cal's Cameron Jordan, who was a 3-4 DE in college, the more I think he's a better fit as a 4-3 left defensive end. He's a lot like Wisconsin's J.J. Watt. People look at them physically and see a great five-technique guy, but I think because they both have great hands, are active on the move and can make things happen that they are better fits at left DE. After studying both on film and seeing Watt in the Rose Bowl and Jordan here at the Senior Bowl, there's not a huge difference between them, but it's obvious Jordan is the better all-around prospect. Jordan is fighting to get in the top 20, while Watt is slightly behind him.
USC receiver Ronald Johnson was up and down on Day 3.
USC WR Ronald Johnson dropped one pass early but bounced back. He tracked the ball well during individual drills and opened up and made a nice adjustment on a pass thrown slightly behind him.
There are pluses and minuses with Stanford cornerback Richard Sherman.
There's a lot to like about Stanford CB Richard Sherman's size and how physical he can be. He made a great read on a five-yard out by Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher, but he couldn't get to the ball. He just doesn't have the closing speed.
Former Stanford fullback Owen Marecic needs to catch the ball better.
Love Stanford RB Owen Marecic's fight, strength and competitiveness in one-on-one blitz pickups. On the downside, he really fought the ball in pass-catching drills.
More on Locker, Jordan and Foster here.
A big picture story on Locker here. It just takes one team for Locker to still end up an early first-round pick.
As everyone anxiously awaits the twin decisions of coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck, an appropriate question to ask is this one:
If both leave, is this program in position to continue on its upward path?
Stanford players believe their 40-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl is a momentum-shifting event for a program that has seen its fair share of down times.
Linebacker Shayne Skov said there was no question it was a “statement win.”
“People that doubted this program four years ago, doubted the recruiting classes coming in, the motive for coming here -- this is what we’ve always dreamed of,” Skov said. “This is what we always wanted, and we weren’t going to let it slip away from us.”
The Cardinal had never won 12 games in a season before, and are going to finish ranked in the top 5 for the first time since 1940. They went from 1-11 in 2006 to 12-1 in 2010, an astonishing feat in such a short period of time.
As Marecic said, Harbaugh is the biggest reason. Therefore, he is also the biggest reason he's the hottest coach in America right now.
Of course, Luck has meant much to the team’s success as well. The Heisman runner-up had an incredible performance against Virginia Tech that left observers believing he is the most NFL-ready quarterback they had seen in years.
His second half was astounding: 9-of-10 for 201 yards with three touchdowns. His pinpoint passes were so accurate, only his receivers could catch them. The pass he threw on a rope to Coby Fleener on the sideline was perhaps his highlight of the night.
Of course, Stanford overcame the loss of Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart this season to make it to a BCS bowl game. But quarterbacks are the heart of a team, and replacing Luck would be no easy task, should he decide to head to the NFL draft.
Predictably, both Harbaugh and Luck deflected any talk about their future. So did the players, who insisted they had not thought about a future without Harbaugh or Luck.
So what does the future look like? Well, Stanford returns terrific young talent in leading rusher Stepfan Taylor and Skov, who led the team in tackles. Chris Owusu and Fleener return as well, along with Chase Thomas and Delano Howell.
But there are some big losses, including center Chase Beeler, leading receiver Doug Baldwin, Marecic, Taylor Skaufel, Richard Sherman and Sione Fua.
Then there is Luck, of course. But no matter what decisions are made, players truly believe the only place for Stanford to go is up.
“It’s been a heck of a turnaround and a championship season is special no matter how you do it,” Marecic said. “There’s still that national championship out there that this team is definitely capable of getting to. That’s going to motivate offseason workouts. These guys really have it in them. They realize that now.”
But Jeremy Stewart? Coby Fleener?
Stepfan Taylor has been the workhorse back for the Cardinal this season, but the momentum changing plays belonged to Stewart -- who has battled through ankle injuries the past several years while watching Toby Gerhart and Taylor shine in front of him.
Stewart busted through a gaping hole on the left side of the offensive line and scored on a career-long 60 yard run to give the Cardinal an early 7-0 lead. That run was much needed, as the Stanford offense looked off kilter early on.
Luck was out of rhythm, and the Virginia Tech defense was doing a good job of taking away his deep passes. Taylor also was stuffed on his first few carries, so Stanford turned to a player who had 13 carries and 38 yards going into the game. That ranked ninth on the team in rushing.
“They told me before the game I was going to get that play,” Stewart said. “So I was expecting at least one carry today.”
And was he expecting to score on that carry?
“I definitely wanted to,” he said with a smile. “I expected it a little but when you go out there and do it, it’s still nice.”
Stewart had another big run in the second quarter, going 26 yards on a drive that led to another touchdown and a 13-12 lead going into halftime. Stanford never trailed again.
He reached his career high for rushing in the first half, with 90 yards.
“It was absolutely fitting for him to make some of those huge plays,” said fullback Owen Marecic. “He has that talent. He’s just had bad luck with those bang ups here and there. I’m so happy the country got to see what he could do.”
Stewart played in four games the previous season but ended up injuring his ankle and sitting out the remainder of the year. Then in the season opener this year, his other ankle got rolled on during a kickoff return. Stewart only played in seven games and just started feeling healthy during bowl season.
He received a medical redshirt, so he will get to return for one more season. But the ups and downs have been tough for him, as they would be for any player.
He had more ups than anything on Monday night, though. His first half ended up carrying Stanford. Stewart finished with 99 yards on five carries. Not a bad night when you can average 19.8 yards per carry.
“He really got us juiced up,” Marecic said. “He just made huge plays for us and is probably the reason we’re on top here.”
Much of the focus was on taking leading receiver Doug Baldwin away from Luck. Virginia Tech did that, as Baldwin had just two catches for 33 yards.
That left Fleener wide open for much of the night. The result? A career night for the tight end as well.
Fleener had career highs with six receptions for 173 yards and three touchdowns, torching the Virginia Tech secondary for touchdown catches of 41, 58 and 38 yards. The yardage total was also an Orange bowl record, breaking the mark of 170 set by Florida’s Taylor Jacobs in 2002.
He even had a nifty high hurdle of a defender during one of his other receptions.
“We practiced all week and you see certain plays that have the potential to be explosive plays,” Fleener said. “It just so happened Andrew hit me with a few long balls and it added up in the end. But Andrew makes my job very easy. I get open and he can put the ball anywhere.”
As for the hurdle: “Coach asked me, ‘The next time somebody’s going to tackle you, what are you going to do?’ I said, ‘Hurdle.’ When it came to it, I hurdled him. It worked.”
Plenty worked for the Stanford offense in the second half. Luck only threw one incomplete pass, and the Cardinal shut out the Hokies 27-0. Taylor ended up finding his groove, too, finishing with 114 yards and a big 56-yard run of his own.
Stanford closes the season having scored 30 or more points in every game this season but one. The 40 points were also the most scored in an Orange Bowl game since USC scored 55 in a win over Oklahoma in 2005. It also was a school bowl record, and Stanford’s first bowl win since 1996.
The big night may not have been possible without the big plays Stewart had to start.
“I joked with a lot of the guys coming up to this game that I knew I was going to get some carries, and I was going to make the best out of it,” Stewart said. “I just let my play speak for itself.”
In addition to former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and John Elway, Condoleezza Rice and Sandra Day O'Connor are also here in Sun Life Stadium for the Discover Orange Bowl. Rice is the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, professor of political economy in the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and professor of political science at Stanford. O'Connor is a Stanford alum.
There is also a TV crew here to follow Stanford fullback Owen Marecic, who will be featured on CBS Evening News tomorrow with Katie Couric. Marecic might be the only FBS player who starts at two positions. He's on the field an average of 110 plays per game, which means he's already played the equivalent of two seasons in 12 games this year.
WHO TO WATCH: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. It's not a surprise he is the player to watch. The Heisman finalist became the first sophomore in school history to throw for more than 3,000 yards this season. He also set the single-season record for touchdown passes with 28. His two-year totals are incredible -- 5,626 yards and 41 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in 24 career games. In his past seven games, Luck has completed 76 percent of his passes for 1,792 yards and 15 touchdowns. There is no question Virginia Tech is going to have to slow him down to have any shot at winning the game. Owen Marecic is another player to watch. He starts at fullback and inside linebacker. Talk about a throwback player. Marecic has four touchdowns and 45 tackles this season.
WHAT TO WATCH: Stanford run defense vs. Virginia Tech's triple-threat. The Hokies present problems with their depth at running back, even with David Wilson suspended for the first quarter for missing a team curfew. They have the No. 18 rushing offense in the country, averaging 208.9 yards per game behind Wilson, Ryan Williams and Darren Evans. Williams has practiced sparingly this week but is expected to play. The first priority for Stanford will be to slow down the run. The Cardinal rank No. 24 in the nation in rushing defense. Watch for Chase Thomas, who leads the team with 11.5 tackles for loss.
WHY WATCH: It’s not often folks on the East Coast get to watch Stanford play. This has been one of the best seasons in school history, and could be the finale for Harbaugh and Luck. But more than anything, Stanford is a fun team to watch because of its versatility on offense and its smashmouth defense. Play a fun game as you watch and count how many different offensive styles Stanford ends up running.
PREDICTION: Stanford 37, Virginia Tech 24. The Cardinal have the edge at quarterback and present a more balanced attack because of that. It’s going to be hard for Virginia Tech to keep pace with an offense that has averaged 40 points a game.
"There really wasn't much time to work on it," Harbaugh said. "I was hired December 19th, and then all of a sudden right out there on the road recruiting guys. And then some of our best players are in that class: Owen Marecic, T.K. Amajoyi, Jeremy Stewart. I know I'm missing guys, but it was really, really kind of a core class that -- Ryan Whalen, Doug Baldwin, guys that -- kind of the core of the football team right now that have been through this all four years. We've been together the whole time, so they're kind of a special class there."
PFW’s All-America team annually honors the most talented players in college football and is determined based on considerable feedback from NFL evaluators taking into consideration a player’s pure talent and contribution to his team. Unlike many other teams rewarding the best college football players, PFW places an extra premium on true talent and draft value in the selection process. However, participants are expected to have contributed for the bulk of the season, leaving off some talented prospects who were limited this season. Extra attention was paid to qualities such as toughness, competitiveness and work ethic.
So that's why Stanford's Andrew Luck is the quarterback and not Auburn's Cam Newton: Luck is a superior NFL prospect. And that's why Washington's Jake Locker still made the list, even though his numbers weren't great.
There's a significant Pac-10 presence, though mostly as honorable mentions. Stanford fullback Owen Marecic is the only other conference player to earn "first-team" honors.
Here's the complete list (Pac-10 players are bolded). Juniors are marked by one asterisk (*), draft-eligible sophomores have two (**) and true sophomores have three (***).
Andrew Luck, Stanford**
Kellen Moore, Boise State*
Cam Newton, Auburn*
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas*
Jake Locker, Washington
Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
LaMichael James, Oregon**
Andre Ellington, Clemson**
Mark Ingram, Alabama*
Jordan Todman, Connecticut*
Mikel LeShoure, Illinois*
Owen Marecic, Stanford
Anthony Sherman, Connecticut
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State**
A.J. Green, Georgia*
Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina***
Julio Jones, Alabama*
Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma*
Titus Young, Boise State
Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
D.J. Williams, Arkansas
Michael Egnew, Missouri*
Nate Solder, Colorado
Anthony Castonzo, Boston College
Marcus Cannon, TCU
Danny Watkins, Baylor
Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
Lee Ziemba, Auburn
Ben Ijalana, Villanova
Cordy Glenn, Georgia*
Clint Boling, Georgia
John Moffitt, Wisconsin
Rodney Hudson, Florida State
Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State
Maurkice Pouncey, Florida
Chase Beeler, Stanford
Mike Brewster, Ohio State*
Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson*
J.J. Watt, Wisconsin*
Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Allen Bailey, Miami (Fla.)
Cameron Jordan, California
Marcell Dareus, Alabama*
Nick Fairley, Auburn*
Stephen Paea, Oregon State
Corey Liuget, Illinois*
Luke Kuechly, Boston College***
Greg Jones, Michigan State
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame***
Nate Irving, North Carolina State
Von Miller, Texas A&M
Justin Houston, Georgia*
Bruce Carter, North Carolina
Akeem Ayers, UCLA*
Sean Spence, Miami (Fla.)*
Patrick Peterson, LSU*
Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
Brandon Harris, Miami (Fla.)*
Janoris Jenkins, Florida*
Cliff Harris, Oregon***
Omar Bolden, Arizona State*
Eric Hagg, Nebraska
Jaiquawn Jarrett, Temple
Mark Barron, Alabama*
Rahim Moore, UCLA*
Ahmad Black, Florida
Alex Henery, Nebraska
Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State
Drew Butler, Georgia*
Chas Henry, Florida
Cliff Harris, Oregon***
Patrick Peterson, LSU*
For comparison, here is the coaches team, which was announced Tuesday.
We didn't include a tight end because receiver was a far deeper position. And, unlike the coaches, we didn't make a wishbone backfield just to accomodate Stanford's Owen Marecic. Instead, we made up a specialist position for a guy who starts at both fullback and linebacker: "STUD."
So here you go.
QB Andrew Luck, So., Stanford
RB LaMichael James, So., Oregon
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Jr., Oregon State
WR Juron Criner, Jr., Arizona
WR Jeff Maehl, Sr., Oregon
WR Jermaine Kearse, Jr., Washington
OL Chase Beeler, Sr., Stanford
OL Colin Baxter, Sr., Arizona
OL Tyron Smith, Jr., USC
OL Bo Thran, Sr., Oregon
OL Jonathan Martin, Jr., Stanford
DL Brandon Bair, Sr., Oregon
DL Cameron Jordan, Sr., California
DL Stephen Paea, Sr., Oregon State
DL Jurrell Casey, Jr., USC
LB Chase Thomas, So., Stanford
LB Mason Foster, Sr., Washington
LB Casey Matthews, Sr., Oregon
DB Talmadge Jackson, Sr., Oregon
DB Omar Bolden, Jr., Arizona State
DB Delano Howell, Jr., Stanford
DB John Boyett, So., Oregon
PK Nate Whitaker, Sr., Stanford
P Bryan Anger, Jr., California
KOR Robert Woods, Fr., USC
PR Cliff Harris, So., Oregon
STUD (FB-LB) Owen Marecic, Sr., Stanford
WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma St.
WR Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
TE Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
OL Lee Ziemba, Auburn
OL Rodney Hudson, Florida St.
C Chase Beeler, Stanford
OL Stefen Wisniewski, Penn St.
OL Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
QB Cam Newton, Auburn
RB Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma St.
RB LaMichael James, Oregon
DL Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson
DL Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
DL Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh
DL Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College
LB Greg Jones, Michigan St.
LB Tank Carder, TCU
DB Reggie Rembert, Air Force
DB Patrick Peterson, LSU
DB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
DB Quinton Carter, Oklahoma
P Kyle Martens, Rice
PK Will Snyderwine, Duke
AP Owen Marecic, Stanford
2. Kelly suspended James for one game after his guilty plea but the coach defends his player’s integrity. Kelly also pointed to the Pac-10 naming James to its All-Academic first team Tuesday. James lines up behind Stanford fullback Owen Marecic. “He has stated that his only goal was the All-Academic team,” Kelly said of James. “When he made the first team, he was more excited than he’s been after a game. It’s unfair that he’s getting maligned.”
3. During my chat Wednesday, someone asked if the Pac-10’s decision to play a nine-game, round-robin schedule had cost the league at least one bowl bid. My colleague Ted Miller projects that only four league schools will qualify for the league’s seven bowl berths. Yes, had the league played only eight conference games, teams like UCLA, Oregon State and Arizona State might have scheduled another win. Are schedule strength and ticket sales worth endangering a bowl bid? I think the Pac-10 comes out ahead.
Haunted House: Oregon has won 14 in a row in Autzen Stadium, but it's not only that. Against their last five ranked visitors, they've won by an average of 19.8 points.
Scary movie -- Worst loss of the season: Speaking of haunted, UCLA looked pretty frightened during a 60-13 beatdown delivered by Oregon on Oct. 21. Making matters worse: It was an ESPN night game the whole nation saw.
Nightmare at the Coliseum? Oregon is dreaming of a national title, but will USC turn that dream into... a NIGHTMARE! (Insert scary laugh).
Trick-or-Treat: If Stanford and Arizona win this weekend, their matchup on the Farm on Nov. 6 could have significant implications: Rose Bowl? Second BCS bowl berth? Top-10 ranking? Etc.
Boo (Boo): There have been two significant injuries this season. For UCLA, the what-might-have-been is over quarterback Kevin Prince, who is now out for the season with a knee injury. It's not just that, though. Prince battled injuries in training camp. When he had a full week of practice, the Bruins played well. When he didn't, they haven't. The second major injury is Oregon State's James Rodgers, who went down against Arizona with a knee injury. The loss of a potential All-American always hurts.
Night of the living dead: Oregon State always seems to get buried and then go all crazed zombie through the Pac-10 schedule. The Beavers dropped two nonconference games to top-5 foes -- TCU and Boise State -- who continue to be unbeaten, by the way. They lost Rodgers. They lost at Washington. But the reality is this: Oregon State controls its own destiny. While it may seem like a longshot, if the Beavers win out, they go to the Rose Bowl.
Witchcraft: LaMichael James has posted 32 runs of over 20 yards over the past two seasons. He leads the nation in rushing. And he's the Pac-10's leading Heisman Trophy candidate. Last year, he was just a fast guy. This year, he's a more complete running back. Next step is becoming a true threat in the passing game.
Cursed team: UCLA has been riddled with injuries and player suspensions. Every time it seems to be breaking through -- a win at Texas-- it falls back down (see: consecutive defeats by a combined count of 95-20).
- Mike Stoops: Barney Rubble.
- Vontaze Burfict: Jason Voorhees.
- Jeff Tedford: Professor Charles Francis Xavier
- Chip Kelly: Dr. Strange.
- LaMichael James: Flash.
- Jacquizz Rodgers: Mighty Mouse.
- Jim Harbaugh: Dudley Doright or is he Snidely Whiplash!
- Owen Marecic: Juggernaut.
- Andrew Luck: Mr. Kotter.
- Rick Neuheisel: Eddie Haskell
- Lane Kiffin: The Joker.
- Matt Barkley: Fred from Scooby-Doo
- Jake Locker: Batman.
- Paul Wulff: Lazarus.
That, at least, was a major school of thought heading into the 2010 season. Well, that school of thinkers certainly wasn't smart enough to get into Stanford. In fact, it needs to put on a dunce cap and go sit in the corner.
"It's still the same schemes," said Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who's fourth-ranked team will play host to the ninth-ranked Cardinal on Saturday.
No Gerhart, no problem. You want balance? How about 11 touchdown passes from Luck and 11 rushing TDs from eight different players.
The simple fact is the Stanford offense in 2010 -- at least so far -- is better than the one with the best running back in the country last year. Stanford is averaging 457.6 yards and 48 points per game this year vs. 428 yards and 35.5 points last year. While many focus on what skill player are coming back from season to season, the key for Stanford was the return of four offensive linemen from what might have been the Pac-10's best unit last year. The Cardinal also returned perhaps the best fullback in the country in Owen Marecic, who pulls a night shift as a starting inside linebacker, too.
Of course, the competition steps up considerably in Pac-10 play, starting with a visit to soothing, tranquil Autzen Stadium.
"I hear it is crazy loud," said Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, who has become the lead dog in what started out as a backfield-by-committee.
Taylor had 28 of the Cardinal's 44 rushes at Notre Dame last weekend and he finished with 108 yards. His 59 carries -- for 265 yards -- are more than backups Tyler Gaffney and Usua Amanam have combined (46).
Taylor, a 5-11, 208-pound sophomore, joins a long list of Texans -- Luck and Oregon QB Darron Thomas as well as Ducks running back LaMichael James are all from the Lone Star state -- who will be key figures in Saturday's game, which should establish an early frontrunner for the Rose Bowl.
Luck is the potential Heisman Trophy candidate and the likely first-round pick in the NFL draft whenever he opts to declare. He's Stanford's star, and deservedly so. Last year, though, he played a critical Robin to Gerhart's Batman in the Cardinal's 51-42 upset of Oregon. Gerhart rushed for 223 yards and three TDs, but Luck's 251 yards passing and two touchdowns softened the Ducks up. Luck had completions of 40, 39, 31 and 27 yards, often throwing the ball into the only place where his receivers could get it and Ducks DBs couldn't.
Now Stanford is his team. But it won't be ideal for Luck, no matter how good he is, to be throwing the ball 40 times in Autzen Stadium against an athletic Ducks defense that is third in the nation with nine interceptions.
"Andrew is amazing but we have great players around him as well," Taylor said.
That means the power running game will be key. While the Ducks lead the Pac-10 in scoring defense -- 11 ppg. -- they have shown a vulnerability to the power running game against Tennessee and Arizona State. The Ducks have yielded a middling 122.8 yards rushing per game.
And more than a few folks believe Stanford and coach Jim Harbaugh will run right at that fast but undersized Ducks defense. Not just because it might work, but also because Harbaugh is hardwired to want to turn big games into street fights.
"I equate rough and tough with Jim Harbaugh," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "He should be a defensive coach -- his offense plays like defense."
Taylor is known for being a humble guy, but when asked if Stanford is eager to pound at Oregon and physically challenge the Ducks defense, he said, "I think everybody knows what our game is. We play with class and cruelty."
So Stanford believes itself just fine without Gerhart. And it also doesn't believe Luck is going to be the only weapon at Oregon.
There's no rampaging bulldozer in the backfield, but Stanford still believes it's going to win by running right at you. Again and again and again.