NCF Nation: Pep Hamilton

Q&A: Stanford's Mike Bloomgren

June, 19, 2013
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When Stanford coach David Shaw went looking for an offensive coordinator, he didn't look far, promoting Mike Bloomgren a couple of weeks after Pep Hamilton left for that role with the Indianapolis Colts. No other candidates were interviewed. Bloomgren, who was previously the Cardinal's offensive-line coach and run-game coordinator, took some time this week to chat with the Pac-12 blog about his expectations for this season (realistic or otherwise), the competition at running back and how his time in the NFL translates to the college game.

What would you like to see out of the offense in your first year as coordinator?

Mike Bloomgren: Well, probably average between eight or nine yards per carry, have zero incompletions and win every game we play.

Well played. What would you realistically like to see?

MB: I just want to see us keep getting better as a football team. I love the steps we've taken. I'm so proud of the way our guys work and how they fight and fight and fight. I want to keep seeing that mentality and hopefully they keep seeing that in the way we play. From an efficiency standpoint, protect the football and do all the things we talk about being the core of this offense.

What goes into game planning at Stanford? I know there were times when coach Shaw would call the plays and Pep would call plays and you'd call the plays. How much collaboration really goes into it?

MB: A lot. It was as segmented of a deal as I've ever been a part of when I first got here. And from what I understand, it was worse before I got here. Last year, it was segmented, but it worked out so freaking good. So much better than I thought possible. The reasons are very simple. We're experts in our field. There wasn't much that surprised me run-game-wise from the fronts and the defensive structure. I felt like I had a good beat on teams. I thought Pep and David and (running-backs coach) Mike Sanford had a good understanding for what the defense was going to do. David was all in on third down. He's so great at calling that. Pep in the red zone has been lights-out the last few years. It's great. It's a different system. The way I understand is it stems from coach Shaw working with Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan and how they did things when they came over to Oakland from Philly together. Jon was involved in calling the plays, but when he wanted to run, he asked coach Callahan. Hopefully I was able to be that for Dave the last few years.

There's so much NFL influence on this coaching staff -- you included from your time with the Jets. How much of the NFL game translates to what you guys want to do?

[+] EnlargeMike Bloomgren
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsMike Bloomgren will have a diverse group of running backs at his disposal in his first season as Stanford's offensive coordinator.
MB: It's unbelievable how much translates, in terms of the volume of the system and that it's done in a West Coast terminology. Bill Walsh called plays in this system -- so much of it stems from what he came up with. And it's probably the same system that's used in more than half of the teams in the NFL. That's why our free agents do so well. They are plug-and-play guys. They show up to camp and already know the terminology. The NFL influence is real. It's real on who we are and the mark that's left on this system.

Having already served as the run-game coordinator, how much does that help as you transition into the offensive coordinator job?

MB: Hopefully a lot. I'll be frank with you. I'll still be really involved in the run game and I was an offensive coordinator before at Delta State. Obviously, a smaller level of football, but it's still played on a field that's 100 yards long and the football still had air in it. And then my time in New York with Bill Callahan and Brian Schottenheimer was incredible in helping me understand what goes into make a game plan and calling a game on game day. Plus coach Shaw isn't going anywhere, so we'll continue to have that great communication.

Coach Shaw -- unfairly, as I've written many times -- gets a lot of criticism for being too conservative of a playcaller. What do you bring as a playcaller?

MB: I'm not going to be great at talking about that because I don't think he's conservative at all. He's so well thought-out. People think he's emotionless on the sidelines. But he's not! I think back at some of the calls we had over the last few years. I remember my time with Jimmy Raye in New York, he used to talk about "Diet Coke calls." I asked him one day, "Jimmy, what in the heck are Diet Coke calls?" He said, "You call it, you grab your Diet Coke and take a sip. Sometimes you watch what happens. Sometimes you don't. And you can tell by the crowd whether it's good or bad." We had a bunch of those. The halfback flip against USC to basically end the game. Critical calls on fourth-and-1. The wildcat calls we do. Reverses. I don't see the conservative approach. I don't get it.

What about you?

MB: I hope I bring something that is well thought-out and gives our kids answers. So no matter what we call from the sideline, we'll have programmed the quarterback and the offensive linemen with ways to solve whatever problems they have. We have a solid system. It's more than just being a playcaller on game day. We want our kids to have answers to whatever the defense gives them.

Now that you've been through spring, what's your take on the running backs?

MB: It's an exciting group. We were just watching some of Stepfan (Taylor's) highlights and we were like, "Dang, that guy was good." We won't have a guy that carried the load like Stepfan did the last few years -- especially last season. We've got six guys who could probably start at most schools in America and they are going to share the load. They probably could be every-down backs. But they have specialties. You look at how big Gaff (Tyler Gaffney) is right now, and oh my goodness. The way (Anthony) Wilkerson ran downhill in the Rose Bowl. The zone-running gurus are Ricky Seale and Barry (Sanders) and how they run outside and read things. You see that instinctive cut. The truth is those guys have such a good feel. Remound Wright and Jackson Cummings. If Jackson went to an Ivy League school, he'd probably be the league's all-time leading rusher by now. And he had a great spring. Those guys run the gap schemes, the who-we-are-Stanford-football plays, so well. It's going to be interesting to see where they put themselves after training camp. Who has a defined role? Who is going to snatch a job and say "Hey, I'm the third-down back. I'm going to catch it out of the backfield. I'm going to hit linebackers in their face when they try to pressure our quarterback." Who is going to win that role? Who is going to be the first- and second-down back that gets the most carries that game? And will it change from game to game?

Obviously the passing game has been catered to tight ends the last few years. How much do you need the wide receivers to be more involved?

MB: An absolute ton. Because they can handle it. You watch what Ty Montgomery did this spring and he was absolutely dominant. It's what we hoped to see last year because he was great his freshman year. We need him to not try to be any more than he is. He doesn't have to press. He doesn't have to feel any pressure. Because he is big-time good. He just needs to play his game. If he does that, we could see something that we haven't seen here in a while -- at least as long as I've been here. Then there are other guys with world-class speed. Michael Rector had a great spring. Kelsey Young is dynamic. We don't know what position he plays yet. We just call him a football player.

Finally, coach Shaw didn't interview anyone else for the offensive coordinator job. Humbling and flattering, I'm sure. But is there some pressure that goes with that?

MB: I don't know. I don't feel the pressure, to be honest. But it is remarkably humbling. When things are in the works you get calls from friends wondering if you'll get the interview. For David to say what he said within the press release was absolutely humbling. I love working for him and continuing to learn this game from him. We're all just trying to get better and be as good as we can be.

The evolution of Kevin Hogan

December, 28, 2012
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Kevin HoganEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesKevin Hogan has a chance to have a 5-0 start to his career with a win in the Rose Bowl.
LOS ANGELES -- In a sense, Kevin Hogan caught a break. He didn’t have to be the guy who followed Andrew Luck. Instead, he was the guy who followed the guy who followed Andrew Luck.

And while Josh Nunes helped the Cardinal to a fairly successful, albeit inconsistent 7-2 start, Hogan has stepped in as the starting quarterback and gone 4-0 against four ranked teams and was named the MVP of the Pac-12 championship game. And he's leading his team into the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio against Wisconsin on New Year's Day. Not exactly a terrible start to a career.

“It’s helped him a lot [to sit early in the year],” said Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. “To have an opportunity to get those additional reps -- it’s been amazing to watch his evolution and development over a short time. The one thing, though, that I think is his best attribute is his poise. Nothing is too big for him. He’s very much even-keeled. He never gets too high with the highs and too low with the lows and that’s allowed him to make some big games in big plays.”

Both Nunes and Hogan started their careers 3-0, which hadn’t been done at Stanford since 1991 when Steve Stenstrom took over in the fifth game of the season and won seven straight. But the biggest difference between the two has been the Hogan’s mobility and efficiency in the red zone. Inside the 20 he’s completed 14 of 16 passes with seven touchdowns. He’s also averaging 7.1 yards per carry on his “non-sack” rushes and has picked up 15 first downs.

“Josh made a ton of big plays for us in the SC game as well as the Arizona game,” Hamilton said. “But I asked myself at times, man, if we had the ability to run more bootlegs and really open up the offense against a team like Notre Dame, would the result be different?”

Quiet and unassuming -- much like his predecessor’s predecessor -- the 6-foot-4, 225-pound redshirt freshman from McLean, Va., has led his team to wins over Oregon State, at Oregon and twice against UCLA. He understands that even though there is a Nunes-buffer between him and Luck, whose credentials need no re-hashing, there will inevitably be comparisons. He meets said comparisons with a good attitude and a bit of self-deprecation.

“I’ve heard it, but I try to stay away from that,” Hogan said. “We’re different players. He’s an amazing player. He’s like an idol. But I wouldn’t want to be compared to him. I don’t think that does him justice.”

Then again, Luck never led his team to a Pac-12 championship. Luck never won at Autzen Stadium. Luck never got his team to the Rose Bowl nor started his career 3-0. But Luck also didn’t have the luxury of watching half a season from the sidelines.

“It was the best case scenario for him as a quarterback to watch Josh and get a sense of what our identity was an offense before he became the starter and understand how important it is for our quarterback to be able to manage the offense,” Hamilton said.

When the quarterback competition started, there were five in the mix. When spring ball ended, head coach David Shaw had declared that Nunes and Brett Nottingham had separated themselves from the pack. And when he announced Nunes as the starter in the fall, there was also a bit of “look out for this Hogan kid.”

The tools were there. The concepts weren’t.

“I think my knowledge of the playbook held me back,” Hogan said. “It’s challenging. The coaches knew I wasn’t ready at the time. Just throughout the season, studying it more and more and knowing what I needed to focus on really helped.”

And now he’s had an additional month to get more familiar with the playbook, the process and the overall concepts. No player in college football may have benefited more from the time off between the end of the season and the bowl game than Hogan.

“It’s been big,” Hogan said. “It’s really allowed me more time to study film and be a better manger of the game.”

Stanford and Shaw: A good marriage

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
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Second-year head coach David Shaw has repeatedly said he views Stanford as his destination job. After he signed what was termed a "long-term contract extension" Wednesday, perhaps more folks will believe him.

Of course, Stanford didn't provide any details about just what "long-term" means, or about how much Shaw is being paid, because it is a private school that likes keeping secrets. If it were a 10-year deal worth, say, $30 million we could conclude both parties -- Shaw and institution -- are fully invested in each other.

But even without the details, this feels like a reasonably solid gesture of mutual affection.

Shaw played for Stanford. He loves the place. He's also a family guy who's living in a great place to raise one (if you can afford it). He's got a good thing going, both on the field and with recruiting.

On the field? Stanford finished 11-2, won the Pac-12 title and is preparing for its first Rose Bowl in 13 years. It's won 11 games for the third consecutive season, which it has never done before. Stanford is one of just four teams from AQ conferences to win 34 or more games over the last three seasons, joining Oregon (35), LSU (34) and Alabama (34) in an exclusive club, though Stanford's SAT averages are a bit higher than that troika.

The Cardinal’s .872 winning percentage since 2010 is tied for third-best among FBS teams during that stretch.

Not too shabby, which is why Shaw, the two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year, is a finalist for the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award.

When Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers after the 2010 season, some wondered if Shaw could maintain the Cardinal's unexpected rise in the Pac-12. Whereas Harbaugh was edgy and eccentric, Shaw was polished and articulate. And, perhaps, some might have fretted, a bit too mellow.

Yep, Shaw is a smooth dude. But he's 4-2 against USC, Notre Dame and Oregon and playing in another BCS bowl game with a team that appears to have a bright future.

Again, not too shabby.

We will humbly offer up a suggestion to both Shaw and Stanford, though we suspect Shaw is well ahead of us here: Take care of the Cardinal's nine assistant coaches. These guys deserve raises, too.

We've repeatedly lauded defensive coordinator Derek Mason and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Both are strong head coaching candidates. But the entire staff, from veterans such as defensive line coach Randy Hart to youngsters like running backs coach Mike Sanford, have participated in creating an outstanding team culture.

And by "team culture," what we really mean is a team that is on the cusp of a third consecutive final top-10 ranking.

 

Jeff Tedford doomed by Cal's recent slide

November, 20, 2012
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For much of the past two seasons, as Jeff Tedford sat firmly on the proverbial hot seat, the question was whether California could afford to fire its winningest coach. There was no buyout in Tedford's contract, so it would cost nearly $7 million to dispatch him, and that didn't include paying off his coaching staff.

And, of course, there were issues of loyalty. Tedford transformed a program that went 1-10 and played in a crumbling, half-empty stadium the season before he arrived, building it into a consistent winner that could afford massive facility upgrades.
On Tuesday, Cal administrators concluded that they couldn't afford not to fire Tedford, who completes the longest continuous, and current, tenure in the Pac-12 with an 82-57 record in 11 seasons in Berkeley.

The reasons for the not-unexpected firing are obvious. Tedford is 15-22 overall and 9-18 in Pac-12 play since going 8-5 in 2009. The Bears went 3-9 this year, the worst record of Tedford's tenure, including a five-game losing streak to end the season. Crowds at newly remodeled Memorial Stadium were dwindling, threatening Cal's Endowment Seating Program, which was supposed to play a central role for financing the stadium renovation.

Over the past four seasons, California lost 16 games by at least 17 points, and it is riding a three-game losing streak in the Big Game to Bay Area rival Stanford, which could end up in its third consecutive BCS bowl game this January.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Kelley L Cox/US PresswireJeff Tedford's Bears lost their final five games to finish 3-9 -- the head coach's worst season at Cal.
The program has been in a downward trend and showed no signs this season of reversing that negative momentum. Fans were turning away just when they -- and their money -- were needed most. So, it was decided, a coaching change was critical to reverse the tide.

“This was an extraordinarily difficult decision, one that required a thorough and thoughtful analysis of a complex set of factors,” Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour said in a statement. “Ultimately, I believed that we needed a change in direction to get our program back on the right track. Cal football is integral to our department and our university, and its influence can be felt well beyond the walls of Memorial Stadium."

So what's next? Well, Cal first has to decide how much it's willing to pay.

Tedford's 2012 salary is $2.3 million, which is a lot to most of us but not that much among elite coaches, particularly when you adjust for the Bay Area's cost of living. That's like making $1.6 million if you lived in Tuscaloosa, Ala. If Cal wants to pursue, say, Cincinnati's Butch Jones, they'd have to pay him $2.3 million just to match the value of Jones' current $1.6 million salary.

A front-line head coach likely will cost at least $2.5 million to $3 million. And then you have to hire his staff. Top coordinator salaries have risen to between $500,000 and $1 million. Washington is paying defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox $750,000 this year.
So this could get expensive.

Of course, the Bears also could do what they did when they hired Tedford away from Oregon: Find a hot coordinator.

Names you likely will hear: Wilcox, Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason.

Bears fans have been frustrated by Cal's QB play since Aaron Rodgers went to the NFL. Well, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone rebuilt two offenses -- and two QBs -- in the past two seasons (at Arizona State and now with the Bruins).

Then you could trot out some other hot names in no particular order: Charlie Strong, Louisville; Art Briles, Baylor; Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech; Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky; and Gary Anderson, Utah State.

And coordinators: Kirby Smart, Alabama; Chad Morris, Clemson; Todd Monken, Oklahoma State; Brent Venables, Clemson; Lorenzo Ward, South Carolina; Kalani Sitake, Utah; Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State.

Or Cal could look to the NFL.

From the Cal statement: "Barbour said that a national search for a new head coach, which will be aided by the firm of DHR International, will begin immediately. She did not indicate a timetable for hiring a replacement, adding that Cal Athletics will have no further comment on the search until a new coach has been selected."

Tedford will land on his feet. He is plenty respected among other coaches. Don't be surprised if he lands another job in a major conference. Or the NFL.

He has proved he can build a program. As we've previously noted, in 24 seasons before he arrived in Berkeley -- 1978 to 2004 -- Cal won three or fewer games 10 times while winning seven or more games four times. Tedford suffered just two losing seasons in 11 years and has won 10 games twice and nine games once. Before he took over, Cal's last winning season came in 1993.

But football is a zero-sum game. You either win or you lose. Tedford set an early pattern of winning, but losing was the recent trend. The program seemed to plateau, then slide.

Further, Stanford's fortunes were rising, as were other Pac-12 teams with new coaches, such as UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State.

In the big business of college football, losing isn't accepted, particularly when rivals are winning.

Instant analysis: Stanford 50, Duke 13

September, 9, 2012
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Thanks to a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown by Drew Terrell following the first series of the game, the Stanford offense didn't take a snap without the lead as the Cardinal cruised to a 50-13 win. Here are a few highlights from the Cardinal's impressive victory:

It was over when: Duke failed to recover an onside kick to begin the second half. Stanford capitalized with a quick touchdown drive -- capped by a 19-yard pass from Josh Nunes to Terrell -- to go up 30-3.

Game ball goes to: Safety Ed Reynolds already has as many interceptions this season (three) as team leader Michael Thomas did all of last year. He had two picks against Duke, the first of which he returned 78 yards for a touchdown.

Stat of the game: Four yards rushing for Duke in the first half. Stanford forced the Blue Devils to be one-dimensional from the start, which had a trickle down effect on their passing game. Duke settled for quick passes to the perimeter, which played into Stanford's strength on defense.

Unsung hero: Shayne Skov. Coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Skov might not have shown up in the box score like he's been known to do (four tackles, one pass breakup), but his presence added a noticeable swagger to the defense -- something it lacked against San Jose State.

What it means: Stanford will still be big underdogs next week when it hosts No. 2 USC, but the prognosis for the rest of the season looks much better than it did after its closer-than-anticipated win against San Jose State in the season opener. By building a big early lead, coach David Shaw and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton were able to keep a lid on portions of the offense that'll be available against the Trojans.

Who's ready to be a head coach?

July, 13, 2012
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ESPN.com's week of looking at coaches continues with the question: Which assistant coaches are ready to move up to the big office?

There are several in the Pac-12. Here are a few:

Justin Wilcox, Washington, defensive coordinator: It seems like it's just a matter of time for Wilcox, who has been a hot assistant coach for years after building an elite defense at Boise State under Chris Petersen. He is young -- 35 -- and has been around. If he transforms the rotten Huskies defense into a top-ranked unit, he'll have his pick of jobs. By the way, Brock Huard beat me to the punch on this one.

Mark Helfrich, Oregon, offensive coordinator: Word on the street was that if Chip Kelly had left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Helfrich would have been promoted to replace him, a decision made behind the scenes by the same folks who identified Kelly's talent. While folks see the Ducks' high-powered offense as Kelly's baby -- and it is -- Helfrich's role is underrated. He also understands how Kelly built a culture, which is more important for a head coach than X's and O's.

Pep Hamilton, Stanford, offensive coordinator: Hey, he is the Andrew Luck Director of Offense! Hamilton has been around -- both in college and the NFL -- and he has a way about him that suggests he would be a capable team CEO. He is a charismatic guy who is a good teacher and likes a smashmouth style of play. And the Cardinal offense has been a thing of beauty for three seasons.

Noel Mazzone, UCLA, offensive coordinator: Mazzone is old, 55, and follically challenged, but if he creates a strong offense at UCLA after doing the same at Arizona State, it's hard to imagine that some smart athletic director out there won't bite. Mazzone has coached just about everywhere, and a few years ago he reinvented himself as a spread offense/quarterback guru. He is an outgoing, likable guy who is great with the media, but that shouldn't be held against him. At least no more than his haircut.

Kalani Fifita Sitake, Utah, defensive coordinator: Sitake has a few things going for him. For one, it's become clear that he can coach the heck out of a defense. Second, he has risen through the ranks at Utah learning from Kyle Whittingham, one of the nation's best coaches. Third, some AD at some point is going to go: "If we hire a native Tongan, I wonder if that might help us recruit the thousands of Polynesian athletes who scatter across the college football nation annually?"

In case you haven't heard, some news on the Stanford front with an anonymous donor endowing Stanford's offensive coordinator position with Andrew Luck's name. Here's a snippet from the news story:

Through an anonymous donation, Stanford has ensured that former quarterback Andrew Luck's legacy will live on at the university by endowing Luck's name to the offensive coordinator position.

The position will now be formally known as the Andrew Luck Director of Offense.

"It is a huge tribute," Luck said in a statement issued by Stanford. "To have anything endowed in my name is a complete honor. I feel very fortunate to have come to Stanford, and I have always enjoyed representing the university. The offensive coordinators I've had here helped me not only in football, but also to grow so much as a person. To be a part of that leadership and position is a very proud legacy for me."

Pep Hamilton is Stanford's offensive coordinator. He replaced David Shaw, who was named coach following Jim Harbaugh's departure to the NFL.

"It is a tremendous honor to hold this position and to be associated with an outstanding young man like Andrew Luck, who means so much to Stanford football and the Stanford community," Hamilton said. "I will do everything in my power to proudly continue the tradition of creative and exciting offensive football at Stanford."

Only a handful of head coaching positions at private schools are endowed. For example, at Stanford, Shaw's position is endowed and is known as the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. Also, all 85 Stanford football scholarships are endowed.

You can read the rest of the news story here.
Three consecutive Heisman Trophy runners-up, two consecutive BCS bowl games and final top-10 rankings: Hey, Stanford's special run of football success was fun to watch. It was neat seeing the most academically elite university playing BCS football whipping the big boys.

But we all know it can't possibly last, right? Jim Harbaugh built it and he's gone. Andrew Luck was a once-in-a-generation quarterback, and he's gone. And he took with him three other offensive players among the first 42 selections in the NFL draft over the weekend.

While the Cardinal certainly had more than 15 minutes of fame, it's time for this program to go back to its familiar brainiac territory -- Faulkner, computer chips and advanced algorithms. Leave big-time football the USCs, Alabamas and Ohio States of the nation.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireDavid Shaw expects his team to take on the same tough-guy persona it has in previous years.
Yes, such talk has worked its way across the grid, onto the Farm and into the Stanford locker room.

"We've talked about that," coach David Shaw said. "But we've also talked about that there can't be anything outside of our meeting rooms that motivates us. The motivation has to come from within. It's the only way that it is real. The only way that it is legitimate. But we've heard it. We know where we're ranked. But preseason rankings don't matter. Postseason rankings do."

In other words, the Cardinal believe reports of their demise are greatly exaggerated.

"They said the same thing when Toby [Gerhart] left and when Harbaugh left," outside linebacker Chase Thomas said. "We're pretty confident. We know what we bring to the table."

Of course, things change. No team can easily replace four elite NFL draft picks from its offense. That's why Stanford may be more about defense in the early going of 2012. Thomas leads a crew of six returning starters from a unit that ranked among the nation's top 30 in both scoring and total defense. The Cardinal's front seven in their 3-4 scheme appears to be particularly strong. Few teams in the nation will be as deep at linebacker, with Thomas and inside linebacker Shayne Skov both rating as potential All-Americans.

But what about that offense? The competition to replace Luck wasn't resolved this spring, with neither Josh Nunes nor Brett Nottingham demonstrating much consistency. And whoever wins the job won't have tackle Jonathan Martin protecting his blind side, or guard David DeCastro grinding defensive linemen into hamburger, or tight end Coby Fleener sprinting open down the middle with his 6-foot-6 self.

"We will continue our commitment to controlling the line of scrimmage," coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "We're going to run power. I don't see us changing much. If anything, if we have a few more opportunities to run power, we'll do that."

That means leaning on running back Stepfan Taylor, who has rushed for 2,770 yards and 27 TDs over the previous three seasons, and a deep stable of backs. That means leaning on a tight end combination -- Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo -- that is as good as any in the nation, even without Fleener.

Receiver and offensive line? Those two spots remain questions, though the line will welcome back three starters.

Existing talent, however, doesn't tell the whole story of Stanford's potential for sustaining success. The incoming recruiting class is a significant chapter. Rivals ranked it fifth in the nation, Scout seventh and ESPN Recruiting 12th. No team in the nation came close to collecting as many elite offensive linemen: guard Joshua Garnett (Puyallup, Wash./Puyallup), Andrus Peat (Tempe, Ariz./Corona Del Sol) and offensive tackle Kyle Murphy (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente).

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Kyle Terada/US Presswire Replacing Andrew Luck will challenge Stanford.
Shaw isn't afraid to play the young guys, either. True freshmen will get opportunities on both sides of the ball, including the offensive line.

"There's a reason why we recruited a couple of big-timers at those positions," he said. "They will have an opportunity to play if not start at the left tackle position."

Instead of going away, Stanford may well have found a perfect formula that Harbaugh generated and Shaw has refined. Stanford has a lot to sell a certain type of athlete, one who is equal parts brains and brawn. Despite what many folks think about young athletes, there are plenty who want to challenge themselves intellectually before playing football on Sundays.

"This is a special place that attracts a certain kind of person," said Shaw, a former Stanford player himself. "The GPAs in this recruiting class are high, even positions where they are not always high. Our lowest receiver GPA is a 3.4. Not regular GPA, core GPA. These guys are good students and tough kids."

But how fast are they? A 3.4 is nice, but what about 4.4? The one thing that has held Stanford back is a lack of elite speed all over the field, particularly in the secondary and at receiver. Shaw said they "are getting closer" in terms of speed, but he also admitted that the Cardinal -- just like every other Pac-12 program -- have a bit of an Oregon problem. They are 23-1 versus everyone else over the past two seasons, outscoring those foes 1,024-405. Against the Ducks, Stanford is 0-2, outscored 105-61.

Does Stanford have an "Oregon problem?"

"That's a great question," Shaw said. "I'd like to have a survey on your website if anybody has some ideas. Chip [Kelly] does a phenomenal job."

While Shaw is said this in a good-humored way, it's clear that he and his coaches have spent plenty of time thinking about the Ducks. They recall beating them 51-42 in 2009, particularly how they handled the ebbs and flows of momentum. They know it's about preventing big plays and not wasting opportunities on offense. They know it's about tempo, a pitched battle of contrasting styles. Oregon wants to play fast and slash you. Stanford wants to slow things down and pound you.

At least one insider believes Stanford will sustain its recent run of success.

"Absolutely. Hopefully they do better than we did," Luck said. "I think there are a lot of great players here, starting at the top with the coaching staff. Great players, great recruiting classes. They will only continue to get better."

As for what Stanford will be in 2012, its first season of the post-Luck era, Shaw thinks his team will have the same tough-guy persona. But it'll be angrier.

"We're going to go right at people and hit them in the mouth," he said. "And it helps to feel like you're disrespected."

Stanford notes: Who replaces Luck?

April, 6, 2012
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STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford kicked off its second spring session after a three-week break this week, and here are some notes from the Pac-12 blog's visit on Thursday.

  • And the first quarterback of the post-Andrew Luck Era is ... Yeah, right. It's likely going to be either junior Brett Nottingham or senior Josh Nunes, but coach David Shaw said the competition will extend into fall camp. "I want them to finish spring in competition mode. And I want them to start fall camp in competition mode," he said. "I don't want to name a starter the week of the first game. I'd like to do it before that so we can start to settle in." Shaw called the competition "Neck and neck."
  • A recurring theme from the coaches -- Shaw and both coordinators -- is that members of the 2012 recruiting class are going to play in the fall. Several, in fact. Particularly in need areas such as the offensive line and secondary. Yes, those touted frosh O-linemen are going to see immediate action.
  • As for the competition among existing players to replace left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David DeCastro, those spots are still up in the air. Brendon Austin and Cole Underwood are in the mix at LT, and Khalil Wilkes and Kevin Danser are in a battle for DeCastro's guard spot.
  • Talented sophomore James Vaughters will get on the field, and don't be surprised if he ends up at inside linebacker. At least, that seems to be where defensive coordinator Derek Mason envisions him at present. Part of this appears to be his comfort with Kevin Anderson, who's been playing defensive end, and Alex Debniak backing up outside 'backers Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas.
  • By the way, Mason loves his linebacker depth. He said as many as 10 could play in the Cardinal's 3-4 next year.
  • Henry Anderson and Josh Mauro are locked in a tough competition to replace underrated defensive end Matt Masifilo.
  • The Cardinal need to replace both starting safeties. The name that comes up the most is Ed Reynolds, who was out last season with a knee injury. Jordan Richards, Kyle Olugbode and Devon Carrington are in the mix also, but Mason doesn't hesitate to bring up incoming freshmen Drew Madhu and Zach Hoffpauir.
  • It's pretty clear that the not-entirely-unreasonable questioning of whether Stanford can remain an elite team post-Andrew Luck is serving as motivation in the locker room. While the topic is hardly obsessed over, it's also fair to say everyone is aware of the widespread doubts heading into 2012.

Pep Hamilton to Alabama?

January, 16, 2012
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Alabama has contacted Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton about taking the same job with the Crimson Tide, a source close to Hamilton has confirmed.

Through a Stanford spokesperson, Hamilton declined comment, though the source said that only contact has been made and no interview has been scheduled. The source did not indicate whether the interest was mutual.

Alabama is looking to replace Jim McElwain, who is leaving to become the head coach at Colorado State.

Washington offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has also been linked to the position and is reportedly the favorite.

Hamilton joined the Stanford staff in 2010 as the wide receivers coach before assuming offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach duties this past season in David Shaw's first year as head coach. He spent the previous decade working with several NFL teams on the offensive side of the ball — specifically as a quarterbacks coach.

Hamilton is one of the architects of Stanford's current offensive scheme that ranked eighth nationally in total offense and seventh in scoring offense this past season. On more than one occasion, Shaw has referred to Hamilton as a "guru" when it comes to red-zone play calling. The Cardinal led the nation in red-zone efficiency this past year, scoring on 67-of-69 trips (97 percent) inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

"He's a great person and a great offensive mind," the source said. "He's going to make a great head coach someday."

Alex Scarborough, who covers Alabama for ESPN.com's Tide Nation contributed to this report.

Two NFL MVPs chat about Luck

December, 31, 2011
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Stanford head coach David Shaw knows quarterbacks. For nine years in the NFL, he studied them, analyzed them and broke down every tangible mechanic and intangible characteristic trait there is.

So when he says he's never seen anyone like Andrew Luck -- specifically, a college quarterback with the intelligence to read defenses the way he does and call plays -- you have to consider him a credible source.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Paul Connors"I applaud him for being able to do it," former NFL quarterback Brian Sipe says of Andrew Luck calling plays for Stanford, "and for the coaches who are willing to give him that responsibility."
But he's also biased. Like any good coach, he sticks up for his guy. Pumps him up. Some have even accused Shaw of over-inflating his future No. 1 draft pick.

So to get unbiased sources, I looked to a pair of former NFL MVP quarterbacks from two different eras -- Steve Young and Brian Sipe -- for their take on Luck and the significance of a college football player calling his own plays. Young, a Hall of Famer, spent years carving up defenses just up the road from Palo Alto with the San Francisco 49ers.

And he knows a little something about the Stanford offense. It derives from the Bill Walsh offense Young ran with San Francisco. It's not identical, but as a Walsh disciple, Shaw kept many of the same principles.

Much is made about what Luck does pre-snap. He has a playbook of 250 plays each week in his mental Rolodex and he can pull from anything at any time. That's an awful lot to heap on a college kid. And the fact that Luck does it with amazing results is tangible, empiric evidence of his football IQ and NFL potential.

“What I appreciate is what [offensive coordinator] Pep Hamilton has done for Andrew, continuing what Jim Harbaugh did. They have really prepared him like a pro,” said Young, a two-time NFL MVP. “They do pro game plans with pro verbiage and pro schemes. They can’t push some of the other kids as much, because they don’t have the experience. But they find ways to keep Andrew motivated. Calling his own plays, creating his own plays, putting more responsibility on him keeps him focused and sharp.”

Sipe, now the quarterbacks coach with San Diego State, played during a transitional era -- spanning a time when all quarterbacks called their own plays to a time when none of them did. Sipe was one of the last to still make the calls in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage.

“[Luck] is obviously very intelligent and we know it can be done,” said the 1980 NFL MVP. “What’s shocking to me is that there is a coaching staff out there comfortable enough to relinquish that kind of responsibility. If we prepare these kids right, they know what we’re trying to do and they should be able to do it. But at the same time, they don’t have the luxury of all the information and data in front of them. I understand why coaches prefer to call their own plays from the sidelines and the press box. I applaud them for having that confidence in him.”

That confidence comes from trust. Shaw said he knew early on he’d be able to take this leap with Luck -- and when Luck announced he was returning for another year and Shaw was promoted from offensive coordinator, the two clicked.

“As soon as I got the job, the first thing I said was 'Andrew, we’re going back to the no-huddle,' and there was a big smile on his face,” Shaw recalled. “He and I have both loved the idea from the beginning, and he’s so good at it. It took a little bit of time, but he’s a rare quarterback that can handle this.”

Luck said they tinkered with the idea early in his career, but not until he proved he was ready to handle the extra responsibility did they start integrating his play calling into the game plan.

“Experience is a big part of it, and showing the coaches that you can execute their plan on the field,” Luck said. “As a player, obviously it’s great to know your coaches trust you. To go out there and make the call and know they are behind you, that’s special.”

Sipe said he enjoyed being able to call his own plays -- though he understands the game has evolved.

“As a quarterback, I felt like I had a feel for the game that could only come from being out on the field and being in the huddle with the guys and being close to it,” Sipe said. “But at the same time I recognize the benefit of having data at your fingertips and hearing from everybody else. When you’re out there, you are on your own and have to process it all … you have to think like an offensive coordinator, and I applaud him for being able to do it and for the coaches who are willing to give him that responsibility.”

Chances are, Luck won’t be calling his own plays at the next level. Young said the pro game has changed so much that quarterbacks actually calling their own plays could be detrimental.

“I think it’s almost foolish -- like you’re not a real man if you don’t call your own plays,” Young said, the second part tongue in cheek. “Good play-callers like Marty Mornhinweg or Mike Holmgren or Mike Shanahan, the all-timer -- in some ways the last thing you want to be doing is taking them out of the mix. I had free range to call whatever I wanted. But I liked calling their combinations. I think it’s overrated a little bit in the pro game. Drew Brees could call his own plays. But Sean Payton can put together great combinations. I don’t see it as a badge of honor.

“But in college, the way Stanford uses it for Andrew, I think it’s really great. It’s the perfect way to keep him active and keep him sharp.”

It's when pulling those combinations together, Shaw said, that Luck is at his best.

"That's a big part of understanding the situations -- what do we need on second-and-5 as opposed to second-and-10," Shaw said. "He gets it. We don't give him any guidelines. We put it in his hands and he gets it naturally.

"We wanted to make sure we were continually challenging him. Let's give him options. Let's make sure he always has something to study. Andrew has taken it to the next level."
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Stanford's offensive big guns were falling back on the old adage this week that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

What they were really trying to say was we're not going to change who we are offensively just to try and match Oregon.

"We’re aware of how prolific their offense is," said Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. "But you don’t want to change your mindset especially when you have been successful and put too much pressure on yourself to do something out of character or force something. You don’t want to put the game out of proportion."

And proportion is the name of the game for Stanford. Proportionate running. Proportionate passing. Proportionate play-action.

[+] EnlargeStanford's David Shaw
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images"Everybody calls us a running team, but we're a balanced team," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "...We have a pretty good quarterback."
"Everybody calls us a running team, but we're a balanced team," said Stanford head coach David Shaw. "We want to be able to do both well. We'll run the ball physically, but at the same time, we have a pretty good quarterback."

And the Cardinal have been almost perfectly balanced this season, running the ball 55 percent of the time for an average of 224.7 yards per game.

"We want to be balanced," Shaw said. "If we went out and said 'OK, because we’re in a big game, we’re going to let Andrew throw 50 times.' That’s not how we’re built. We need to be balanced. We need to be able to run it. His decision-making on game day is what’s going to get us in the right play. That’s what we lean on him for."

But it's when the Cardinal get inside of the opponent's 20-yard line that they are perfect. Not really good. Not great. Perfect.

Stanford is a pristine 52-of-52 in the red zone this season, scoring a touchdown 79 percent of the time (41-of-52). To get to that point, you have to convert third downs -- and the Cardinal are pretty good at that also, ranking fourth nationally with a 53.3 percent third-down conversion ratio.

"It's execution, execution and execution," said offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. " Our players understand that you win and lose ball games on third down and in the red zone. They really take pride in the fact that when the opportunity presents itself for us to extend a drive on third down or score touchdowns in the red zone, we can't make any mistakes. We have to continue to execute at a high level and really cover our details and do whatever we have to do to score."

Saturday's matchup presents fans with two very conflicting styles of offense. While Stanford has the potential to be explosive (three touchdowns of 50-plus yards), Oregon is explosive (seven touchdowns of 50-plus yards).

Stanford is likely to hold the ball longer and throw together one of its 12-play, 80 yard drives that sucks up seven minutes of clock. Oregon could go that distance in two plays and use up 38 seconds of clock. But that's beyond the control of the offense.

"We have to play our game," Hamilton said. "Our approach is a lot more methodical. We're a run-first team. We want to wear our opponents down and score touchdowns every time we touch the football ... In a perfect world for us, we would like to be able to run the football, control the line of scrimmage, wear our opponents down and ultimately that is going to open up our play-action passes."

Of course, if Stanford holds the ball significantly longer and can't come away with seven points, they could find themselves in a hole.

"For us, time of possession works for us because of the way that we operate," Shaw said. "Against this team, it’s time of possession, plus touchdowns. You can hold the ball for a while and kick field goals and lose by 28 points. You have to be able to control the clock for a certain degree, because that’s how we play, but you have to finish drives in the end zone. They could have a three-play, 78 yard drive. If you’re kicking field goals and they are scoring touchdowns, you don’t have a chance regardless of what the time of possession is."

Stanford has seen this type of speed and athleticism before from a defense -- a couple of weeks ago, in fact -- when they traveled south to Los Angeles to face USC. The Ducks are sixth nationally in sacks, averaging 3.22 per game, while Stanford counters with the nation's best pass-rush offense, allowing just four sacks on the year.

"Oregon is all about speed, and their defense is no different," said Luck. "They get to the quarterback. They bring a lot of different blitzes and when the ball is in the air, they make plays. They are ball hawks. You don't want to get caught on your heels against them. Once you are on your heels, they keep attacking."

Despite adversity, Cardinal prevail

October, 30, 2011
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LOS ANGELES -- Atlas doesn’t carry this much on his shoulders. And yet, Stanford’s world keeps turning.

Stanford is still in the hunt. Still in the conversation. Still perfect on a night when the Cardinal were anything but. Still in the game when fate’s dice seemed so unbelievably loaded.

In an epic contest that made last year’s last-minute nail biter look like a Swedish massage, the Cardinal overcame three deficits before topping USC 56-48 in triple-overtime.

It wasn’t just the fact that they won. It was the burdens they had to carry on their way to victory lane.

Consider:

  • For the second consecutive week, they were without safety Delano Howell (and he was missed).
  • Before kickoff, it was decided that kicker Jordan Williamson, Mr. Accuracy himself, would not play.
  • Before quarterback Andrew Luck even took the field, tight end Zach Ertz, one of his biggest and most reliable weapons, was lost for the game with an injury on the opening kickoff.
  • Add the weight of the nation’s longest win streak (now 16 games) and playing in a hostile environment with national championship aspirations and it would be easy to see how they’d collapse.

And they almost did.

But they didn’t.

“We talk about fighting adversity, but I didn’t know it was going to be this much adversity,” said head coach David Shaw. “But the kids fought through it and I love them to death for it.”

The Cardinal overcame their first deficit of the season – three deficits in regulation, to be exact – but fought back each time. They overcame injuries to three starting offensive linemen that cost all of them some time. And with a little more than three minutes remaining in the game, they overcame a horrendous miscue from Luck, their unflappable signal caller.

[+] EnlargeStanford's AJ Tarpley
Gary A. Vasquez/US PRESSWIREStanford linebacker AJ Tarpley celebrates after recovering a fumble in triple overtime to seal the victory over USC.
With the score tied at 27-27, the stage was set for Luck to march the Cardinal down the field for the go-ahead score. But even though we’re in sight of the Hollywood sign, things don’t always go as scripted. USC corner back Nickell Robey jumped Luck’s pass intended for Chris Owusu and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown and a 34-27 lead.

The weight could have been crushing. It wasn’t.

“I was very disappointed in myself,” said Luck, calling it a bad decision from the start. “There were a couple of seconds there when I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself. But the guys believed in me. For that I was grateful. I was happy there was still some time on the play clock to go down there again.”

And they did, moving 76 yards on 10 plays and capping the overtime-forcing drive with a 2-yard Stepfan Taylor run. From there, the Cardinal and Trojans went blow-for-blow until Taylor’s 5-yard score put them ahead and USC failed to answer, with Curtis McNeal fumbling into the end zone to cap the game.

“When a bad play happens, he goes completely down in the dumps,” Shaw said of his quarterback. “He’s so mad, so upset, so furious. Then it’s like flushing a toilet. He flushes it and it’s like it never happened and he moves on more determined. The look in his eye was ‘We’re going to get this done.’ That’s what he said. He went up and down and told everybody, ‘We’re going to get this done.’ He was so mad at himself. He was not going to let that play lose the game for us.”

Without Ertz, much of Stanford’s offensive identity is lost. The Cardinal’s three-tight end formations are as much their calling card as Luck.

“It’s probably 25-30 percent (of our offense),” Shaw said. “It's a healthy chunk. And we also have a lot of two-tight-end stuff. And between those two, it’s doggone near 50 percent. We had to count on other guys stepping up.”

To lose that significant portion of the offense right before it takes the field has to be daunting. There are game plans. Scripted plays. It would crush most teams. Right?

“We had to regroup and restructure part of our game plan,” said offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. “… It was a character-building game. Our group, collectively they do a great job of maintaining their focus. Tonight was a night where we had a lot of adversity … It’s a testament to the poise of our head coach. What you see is what you get. He never panics. I tend to get emotionally hijacked at times. He calmed us all down. Our kids feed off his temperament. It was a night when we were only as good as our last play and we were focused on winning each play.”

And then there was the kicker situation. An undisclosed injury kept Williamson out of the game. So it was up to Eric Whitaker – who was yet to kick a field goal in a game this season — to step in and perform. While he was shaky on kickoffs, putting two of them out of bounds, he made both of his field goals (33 and 29 yards) and converted all six PATs – including two in overtime.

The weight could have been crushing. It wasn’t. Not when the Cardinal fell behind by 10 points in the third quarter.

“We had talked all week about the fact that Stanford hadn’t had to go into the fourth quarter trailing,” said USC head coach Lane Kiffin. “Our goal was to keep it close and take the lead in the second half and see what happened. They haven’t been in that situation before.”

Now they have. Even when Luck’s pick-six put them in the hole, the players had overtime on their minds.

“We always talk about how adversity is an opportunity for greatness,” said defensive end Ben Gardner. “This was our first chance to show our mettle in the face of adversity. We got behind, but we never lost faith. It was a struggle, but when the time came, we made the plays.”

Video: Stanford OC Pep Hamilton

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
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Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton talks about the legend of Andrew Luck and the Cardinal’s big win over USC.
STANFORD, Calif. -- The media often falls for polite and polished and humble. It doesn't require a gaggle of publicists to know that a superstar athlete doing polite, polished and humble charms reporters and therefore the public. And, of course, it's often a con, or a least a public persona that doesn't match the reality of said superstar athlete.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Paul SakumaStanford's Andrew Luck is a front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy next season.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is a superstar athlete, even if trying to get him to engage the topic is like playing dodge ball with Plastic Man. He was the Heisman Trophy runner-up last season and he almost certainly would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft on April 28 had he not opted to return for his redshirt junior season, in large part, he said, because he wanted to finish up his degree in architectural design.

This story, however, must now pause because Luck has walked away from an interview to help a woman open a door to the Stanford athletic building. She needs to use the restroom, and it doesn't require Woodward & Bernstein to ascertain that this might be a pressing need. Luck points her in the right direction but warns her that they might be cleaning up inside.

Where were we? Yes, moments before becoming a hero to a woman who had perhaps imbibed too much afternoon coffee, Luck walked past a ballroom dancing class and, making small talk, noted, "I don't think I'm coordinated enough for ballroom dancing."

Luck is a buffed-up, 6-foot-4, 235 pounds and, besides ranking third in the nation in passing efficiency in 2010, he rushed for 453 yards. But ballroom dancing students, now those folks are athletes.

Actual exchange once the interview starts again:

Hyperventilating reporter [Me]: "Now, everybody in the country knows who you are."

Luck: "I don't think everbody knows."


Said former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, now with the San Francisco 49ers, last fall: "He's almost embarrassed if somebody compliments him or wants to talk about him. He's very quick to deflect it to his teammates. He's someone people want to follow, want to emulate. It's a unique quality to be the sort of anti-celebrity quarterback, the anti-big-man on campus."

More than a few folks were stunned Luck opted to return, no matter how much he enjoyed college or wasn't burdened by financial need -- his father, Oliver, is a former NFL quarterback and presently the athletic director at West Virginia.

Said Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov, "Anybody's logic would have been to leave. We were all stunned."

There is a potential red flag here, though, on the football side of things. Some might observe that NFL coaches prefer the singular focus of the football obsessed over a Renaissance man who enjoys college. Further, the best quarterbacks are often swashbuckling sorts -- Tom Brady, Brett Favre (without the text messages), Joe Namath and Kenny "The Snake" Stabler -- so if Luck seems too much the Boy Scout, might that make it difficult for him to lead a locker room that includes an array of edgier personalities?

Ah, but not unlike Peyton Manning, Luck doesn't do Ned Flanders on the football field. Just ask former USC cornerback Shareece Wright and California safety Sean Cattouse, who both ended up on the losing end of a Luck hit when they stood between the quarterback and something he wanted during a game.

"My dad calls it 'crossing the white line'," said new Stanford head coach David Shaw, who's father, Willie Shaw, was a longtime college and NFL coach.

"You can be the greatest human being on the planet, but once you cross that white line, it's whatever it takes to win football games. Andrew has started to remind me of another guy who was like that: [former Cardinal and nine-time Pro Bowl safety] John Lynch. John Lynch was an all-time human being -- a phenomenal person. One of those guys you say you want your daughter to grow up and marry. That's the way Andrew is. But once he crosses that white line, he's such a competitor. He doesn't care who you are, he's going to try to knock you out. Andrew flips that same switch."

While Stanford practices are closed, the scuttlebutt is that Luck has been masterful this spring. Quipped offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton with a straight face, "He was able to complete 70 percent [71 percent actually] of his passes last year. Our goal is for him to complete 100 percent of his passes."

When asked about this, Shaw pointed out that Luck, indeed, missed a throw-- a 6-yard out -- at practice the previous day.

"You'd have thought it was the Super Bowl," Shaw said. "With a guy like this, you shoot for the moon. You see how far you can push him. And Andrew loves it. He wants to be pushed every day. He wants to be coached, he wants to be coached hard and he wants to be coached specifically. He doesn't know what his ceiling is. So let's not set it."

The high ceiling for Luck is a big reason the national perception is there's a high ceiling for Stanford. The Cardinal will be ranked in the preseason top-10, and Oregon's visit on Nov. 12 is likely the Pac-12 North game of the year, one that might have national championship implications. And if the Cardinal again surges a year after turning in its best season of the modern era, it's almost certain that Luck will be a Heisman Trophy front-runner.

That means even more celebrity for Luck. While Stanford's pristine campus and academically elite student body present a less football-obsessed environment that allows him some privacy, Luck's future is under the klieg lights. It's unavoidable and it will test him.

Luck is told a story about an early Ben Affleck interview with Jay Leno when Affleck tells of pulling out the "I'm Ben Affleck" for the first time to get a restaurant reservation. Luck's asked if he's had a similar moment when waiting for a table.

At first, he seems to be honestly baffled by the inquiry, then replies, "There are enough good restaurants in Palo Alto. We could leave. No, I haven't tried to do that. I don't think it's worth it."

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