- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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No Heisman Trophy. No national championship. Not even a BCS bowl victory. But Andrew Luck said he made the right decision to come back to Stanford for one more season.
And he's absolutely right.
Luck is a better quarterback today than he was one year ago. Not just mechanically, but from a football IQ point of view. Learning on the job in the NFL, he probably would have picked up the same knowledge, but he would have taken a lot more hits doing it.
By staying another year, Luck learned to process an NFL offense from a former NFL quarterbacks coach as the skipper. That's a tremendous advantage over most quarterbacks entering the draft. Naturally, he would have liked to have won one more national award in particular and seen his team play in the title game. But he's more NFL ready right now than he was last season when he was still the presumptive No. 1 pick.
"Yes, it was worth it," Luck said following the Fiesta Bowl. "Not to say I enjoyed every moment, because I didn't. But I would never regret it."
Luck is still on pace to earn his degree -- probably the most important reason he decided to return -- and along the way he raised Stanford football from a neat little story -- those plucky little Cardinal of last year -- to a national championship contender.
In his final Stanford contest, he put together maybe his best game -- completing 27-of-31 balls for 347 yards and two touchdowns. The one interception by Justin Gilbert was both a bad throw and a great play by Gilbert. Outside of that, Luck was near flawless.
But as always, he doesn't measure his success by what he does statistically.
"I think winning has everything to do with your best and worst game," Luck said. "So no, I don't feel like this was my best game."
Some final numbers on Luck's career; he finishes with 82 passing touchdowns to 22 interceptions, 713-of-1064 (67 percent) passes completed , 9,430 passing yards and a 31-7 record.
"Since he's officially not completely mine anymore, I will completely go over the top and say that he's a Hall of Fame college football player," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "They come around every 20 years or so. He hates to hear that, but it's the doggone truth."
So there's another accolade Luck can lock up -- though he'll have to wait until his NFL career is over. But Luck didn't come back for halls of fame or individual awards. He came back for his degree, his teammates and the chance to have one last go of it with those guys.
"I felt like I grew a lot as a person, as a player," Luck said. "Just in life, I learned a lot. Got a chance to be around great guys ... I think we've forged unbelievable friendships and had a chance to play a great college football game. Definitely worth it."
Because of the way Shaw and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton mentally challenged Luck this year with the play calling, expansive scheme and no-huddle option (5-for-5 on that final drive, by the way), he's going to be one of those rare players that comes into the NFL ready to go. Naturally, he's going to take lumps and make mistakes. All rookie quarterbacks do. But the extra year put him closer to a Stanford degree and gives him a head start into what could be a fantastic NFL career.
Shaw had been joking leading up to the Fiesta Bowl that he was trying to entice Luck to come back for another season. But now is the right time for him to go. Luck has nothing more to learn from another year at Stanford. Shaw has taught him all he can at this level. Luck still has a lot to learn about being an NFL quarterback. But if we've learned anything about Luck from his time at Stanford, it's that he's a quick study. That will be just as important at the next level as his quick feet and quick release.