Stanford Football: Indianapolis Colts

Best case-worst case: Stanford

August, 28, 2012
8/28/12
4:00
PM ET
This is the 10th in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

You can see previous best case-worst case posts here.

Up next: Stanford

Best case

Stanford gathers in the team hotel on the Friday night before its opener against San Jose State.

"Guys, Sam Schwartzstein has a slide show for you," Shaw says. "I believe you will find it most illuminating."

The lights dim, the Cardinal center picks up a remote control and clicks on an old-style slide projector.

Schwartzstein: [click] Peyton Manning, quarterback, Tennessee. Do you see? [Click] Peyton Manning, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts, [Click] Andrew Luck, quarterback, Stanford. [Click] Andrew Luck, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts. Do you see?

Tee Martin, quarterback, Tennessee? Do you see? Tennessee reborn. Tennessee national champions. Do you see? Josh Nunes, quarterback, Stanford? Do you see? Do you see? We are privy to a great becoming!

Chase Thomas whispers to fellow linebacker Shayne Skov, "I thought you were supposed to be the biggest loon on this team."

Replies Skov, "No way, man. Schwartzy is completely unhinged."

Stanford whips San Jose State and Duke by a combined count of 80-3. Nunes throws three touchdown passes, and Stepfan Taylor rolls up for 305 of the Cardinal's 452 rushing yards.

Up next is No. 1 USC.

Stanford leads 24-20 in the fourth quarter, but quarterback Matt Barkley leads the Trojans to a first-and-goal on the Stanford 9-yard line with 45 seconds left. Barkley connects with Robert Woods at the 1-yard line, but Curtis McNeal is stopped cold on second and third down. The Trojans call their final time out.

Barkley lines up in shotgun. He rolls to his right, looking for Marqise Lee, then pumps at Xavier Grimble. No one is open. He sprints and dives at the flag.

"I don't think he got in!" the announcer says. "Stanford is on the brink of upsetting the No. 1 team in the country, the mighty Trojans of USC."

The play is reviewed. "After further review," the official says. "The runner did cross the goal line. Touchdown."

"What do I think of the call?" Stanford coach David Shaw says after the game. "I think it was the right call. I think Barkley got in. A hardnosed play from him. And even if it was a bad call, we had plenty of chances to win that game. They just came down the field and took it from us. We'll see what we're made of over the next few weeks. If we keep our heads down and keep getting better, we'll get another shot at them."

After a bye, the Cardinal rushes for 275 yards at Washington, winning 33-21. They whip Arizona 51-24 and shut out Notre Dame 33-0. So Stanford, ranked 10th at 5-1, heads to Berkeley for an odd, midseason Big Game.

Schwartzstein: Please turn to page 100 in your dossier. You see a picture of Henry Kissinger. And you see a picture of Oski. Kissinger. Oski. Oski, Kissinger. Curious that neither is ever seen together, don't you think? And on page 245: Jeff Tedford. And then Nikita Khrushchev. Yes, I know. Very strange. What does it mean? Maybe nothing. But there is an unmistakable whiff of communism. Or maybe it means that if we fail on Saturday against Berkeley, everything we know and love just freaking blows up and nothing is left other than the ashes of humanity's grandest hopes and dreams.

A goal line stand preserves a 20-14 win over the Bears.

Stanford rolls over Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State, which means it takes a seven-game winning streak to No. 1 Oregon, which is two weeks removed from an overtime win at USC.

Ted Miller: Stanford doesn't have enough speed to keep up with Oregon. I'm sure of that.

Kevin Gemmell: Weren't you sure that USC would beat Oregon?

Ted Miller: Grrrr. Your round.

Stanford rushes for 245 yards and Nunes throws two touchdown passes in a 30-24 victory.

After a 44-17 win over UCLA, Stanford finishes 11-1 and rises to No. 4 in the BCS standings. Due to its victory over Oregon, it wins the North Division tiebreaker and will visit No. 5 USC for the Pac-12 championship game.

Barkley, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns, but Taylor rushes for 230 yards and three scores. Taylor becomes the fourth conference running back to eclipse 2,000 yards rushing and his 28 touchdowns tie former Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart for the conference record.

Oh, and his third touchdown comes with 14 seconds left to give Stanford a 31-24 victory.

Oklahoma and LSU, both undefeated, will meet for the national title. Stanford will play undefeated Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

Gemmell: We could have a split national title. No team has two better wins than Stanford, and Michigan whipped Alabama in the season-opener.

Miller: Yep.

In the closest Heisman Trophy vote in history, Taylor nips Barkley for the bronze statue.

In the Rose Bowl, a final Stanford drive is stymied at the Michigan 40-yard line with three seconds left. The Wolverines lead 23-21.

Out walks Cardinal kicker Jordan Williamson. He lines up for the 57-yard field goal.

"The goat of last year's Fiesta Bowl," the announcer says. "What must this young man be thinking? Wait ... he appears to be smiling."

Right down the middle with room to spare. Stanford wins 24-23.

The Cardinal finishes ranked second. Largely on the strength of the linemen it signs, Stanford's recruiting class is ranked fifth in the nation.

On the heels of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, presently a Stanford professor, becoming one of the first two female members at August National Golf Club, the storied and exclusive golf club decides that every Stanford graduate should get a membership.

Explains Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National, "Really, it's just based on the fact that if you go to Stanford you're pretty darn awesome."

Worst case

Nunes gets his "welcome to the Pac-12" moment against USC.

While he gets sacked four times and throws two interceptions, he watches as Barkley posts a masterful effort in a 40-17 USC victory.

Washington gangs up against the Stanford running game two weeks later, and Nunes and his still-middling receivers can't take advantage, as the Huskies end a four-game run of futility in the series, 27-24. Shaw announces that Brett Nottingham will start the following weekend.

With Nottingham behind center, the Cardinal bounce back with wins over Arizona and Notre Dame, as the defense steps up its effort and holds the both the Wildcats and Fighting Irish to fewer than 10 points.

Things seem to be righting themselves in advance of the Big Game, an oddly timed midseason affair. But, as players are vigilantly studying their playbooks on team-issued iPads, the screens become pixilated and blurry. Then they dissolve into the Cal logo.

"You've been hacked by Oski!" it scrolls across the screen over a laughing, dancing Oski. "Tell Schwartzstein to never compare Kissinger to anything at Cal ever again!"

Ten minutes later, Stanford's entire playbook is on Wiki Leaks.

The Big Game belongs to California, 28-21, as Zach Maynard throws two touchdown passes and the Bears roll up 210 yards on the ground against a rugged Stanford defense. Nottingham throws two interceptions, and Nunes takes over in the fourth quarter.

Relying on its defense and playing two quarterbacks, Stanford wins its next three over Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State. But Oregon ends all intrigue early, with De'Anthony Thomas rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown and catching four passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-21 Ducks victory.

Stanford looks deflated in a season-ending 24-17 loss to UCLA. The Cardinal finishes the regular season 7-5.

Boise State whips Stanford 30-21 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Playing in its first Rose Bowl since the 1958 season, Cal beats Michigan 30-28. It's the Golden Bears' first Rose Bowl win since 1938.

The Bears finish ranked sixth.

Lisa Simpson is admitted to rehab. TMZ reports that her life started falling apart when she was forced to attend Stanford.
I smell like coffee, a fried egg burrito with hot sauce and befuddlement. New Indianapolis Colts savior Andrew Luck smells differently.

Said former USC tackle and new Luck protector, Winston Justice: “He has that aroma of being the first-round pick.”

ESPN.com's AFC South blogger Paul "Special K" Kuharsky was on hand for Luck's first workout -- his arrival had been delayed because of a rule that keeps players away from team work until their college class finishes its semester -- but there were few surprises to report.

Luck looks the part. Check. He throws well. Check. He carries himself well. Check. He's certain to be the best QB of ALL TIME!

Well, we're going to have to wait on that. It might help if Indy bolsters a deeper roster around him.

What was clear is the NFL-Luck won't go about his business much differently than the Stanford-Luck. He will be unassuming, focusing on the task at hand instead of the hullabaloo that surrounds top overall draft pick, one generally viewed as perhaps the most NFL-star-ready rookie QB in a generation.

From Kuharsky:
As the voice in the middle of the offensive huddle, he showed nice command, teammates said.

That’s not as hard as it may sound, Luck countered.

“It’s always assumed when the quarterback is stepping in the huddle, you’re going to listen, so that part’s easy,” Luck said. “A big part of playing quarterback too is just faking like you know what you’re talking about even if you don’t know it. But I think it is somewhat of a slow process, because he knows what happens when a game starts? I could totally flub it and lose the respect of everybody. You try to build that confidence and trust as practices go on.”

That's vintage Luck, batting away a question that asks him to celebrate himself.

Luck will be on display for the first time during a public afternoon practice Wednesday at Lucas Oil Stadium. It's hard to imagine he won't look like the guy Indy believes can replace future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning.

Not that Luck sees himself that way.
“I think I have to earn the face of the franchise stuff,” he said. “I try to come in here and learn as much as I can, do my best job so I can help all the guys that are here get back to the playoffs, get back to being a championship team. I don’t know if that will ever sink in. I just try to go about my job and not get too caught up in anything else.”

Yep. Same ole Luck.

By the way, you can see video of him throwing and chatting here.
The ongoing deck-shuffling that is NFL draft projections continued this week with ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay both releasing their latest respective projections.

They both agree on quarterback Andrew Luck as the No. 1 pick. No real shock there.

But taking a look at Insider Kiper's latest Big Board, you see a pretty significant drop for offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, who slips from No. 13 last week to No. 19 this week.

Kiper isn't alone in his thinking. Insider McShay's latest ranking of the top 32 players has Martin down to No. 24 after being at No. 17 last week.

McShay on Martin:

Martin continues to fall as other linemen emerge and his 2011 film shows him to be less dominant than expected. However, he still has the physical tools to become and NFL starter.

Kiper also dropped guard David DeCastro on his Big Board from No. 10 to 14. But DeCastro is where Kiper and McShay disagree. McShay actually moves DeCastro up one spot, from No. 14 to 13.

McShay also ranks tight end Coby Fleener at No. 29 (Kipers' Big Board only goes through his top 25).

Finally, Kiper released his Insider Mock Draft 2.0.

Kiper on Luck and the No. 1 pick:
While the public relations drama continues between Jim Irsay and Peyton Manning, there's little drama surrounding whom the Colts will take with the No. 1 pick. I doubt Luck throws next week at the NFL combine, but his status among evaluators really isn't in question. Arm talent, strength, size, smarts, leadership, intangibles -- it's all there. The only question is whether he'll be serving an apprenticeship under Manning, but my guess right now would be that he won't have to.

Kiper has Martin headed to Arizona at No. 13 and DeCastro to the Bengals at No. 21.

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