Stanford Football: Josh Nunes

We continue our look at Stanford's top 5 impactful recruiting classes of the past decade.

[+] EnlargeStanford
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsShayne Skov (11) was just one of the many impactful players in Stanford's 2009 recruiting class.
No. 2: 2009

Of the 22 commitments the Cardinal received in 2009, 18 carved out significant roles during their college careers. That percentage -- just over 80 percent -- is hard to beat.

Of those 18 players, 15 received some kind of all-Pac-12 recognition, including first-team honors for LB Trent Murphy (twice), TE Zach Ertz, LB Shayne Skov and DE Ben Gardner.

The five seasons that followed their signing is arguably the best five-year stretch in Stanford history: five bowls, four BCS bowls, two conference titles and a 54-13 record.

Two running backs -- Stepfan Taylor (2012) and Tyler Gaffney (2013) -- had seasons that resulted in All-American honors, and Taylor left the school as the all-time leading rusher.

Both Levine Toilolo and Ertz were among the nation's best tight ends before leaving for the NFL after their redshirt junior seasons. Ertz was a finalist for the 2012 John Mackey Award.

Taylor, Ertz and Toilolo were on NFL rosters last season, while DT Terrence Stephens and CB Terrence Brown were in training camps before being released. Five others -- FB Ryan Hewitt, DE Josh Mauro, Skov, Murphy and Gaffney -- have a good chance to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft.

The class also included QB Josh Nunes, who led the Cardinal to a 7-2 start in 2012 -- and received a Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honor that season -- before losing his starting job.

Countdown

No. 3: 2007
No. 4: 2010
No. 5: 2006
The countdown of Stanford's top 5 position battles continues.

One position battle will be highlighted each day this week.

No. 2: Backup quarterback

Who to watch: Evan Crower, Ryan Burns, Keller Chryst

Outlook: Incumbent Kevin Hogan still has two years of eligibility remaining, but it's worth diving into what's happening behind him on the depth chart. Stanford hasn't needed to play a backup quarterback as a result of injury since the Sun Bowl in 2009, but if it needs to in 2014, it'll be between Crower and Burns. Crower, a lefty, came in with Hogan as a part of the recruiting class in 2011 and served as the primary backup last year after Josh Nunes retired due to injury and Brett Nottingham transferred to Columbia. He appeared in four games and completed 10-of-15 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown in mop-up duty while Burns redshirted.

Burns was the No. 4-ranked pocket passer in the class of 2013 and drew glowing reviews from the coaching staff for his play on the scout team, however, despite his accolades, there's no clear path to a starting job. It's much like the situation Nottingham faced after serving as Luck's backup in 2011. Even when Hogan and Crower leave, Burns will have to contend with Chryst, a recent-signee who was every bit the caliber recruit of Burns. Stanford doesn't allow early enrollees, so that competition won't truly begin until the fall. However, because Chryst lives in Palo Alto attending spring practices and meetings wouldn't be difficult. He is expected to redshirt in 2014.

The countdown

No. 3: Center
No. 4: Safety
No. 5: Fullback
 

Planning for success: Stanford

October, 3, 2013
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When Josh Nunes' lob for Levine Toilolo was intercepted on fourth-and-4 late in Stanford's 17-13 loss to Washington a year ago, receiver Ty Montgomery could only shake his head.

"Disappointment and frustration," was how he described it.

Heading into a rematch against the improved Huskies, Montgomery wasn't thrilled to relive that day at CenturyLink Field.

"I remember how I felt and I don't want to feel that way again," he said.

That doesn't mean revenge is on his mind, either. In fact, the team is on strict orders not to let that become a focus.

"Coach [David] Shaw doesn't want us to think about the word revenge," Montgomery said. "What happened last year happened last year. All we're trying to do is be 1-0 this weekend. That's our focus."

Cliche? Sure.

But considering how different each team is this year, it hasn't been hard for the Cardinal to buy in.

No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) enters Saturday's game at Stanford Stadium, which will be televised on ESPN at 10:30 p.m. ET, with some gaudy stats on both sides of the ball. The Huskies rank No. 4 in the country in scoring defense (10.8), No. 5 in total offense (574.0) and running back Bishop Sankey is the country's leading rusher at 151.8 yards per game.

No. 5 Stanford (4-0, 2-0) knows first-hand the kind of game-changer Sankey can be. He ran for 144 yards on 20 carries a year ago and his 61-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1 to close the third quarter changed the course of the game. He's coming off a school-record 40 carries for 161 yards in last week's 31-13 win against Arizona.

While the personnel is similar to a year ago for Washington, the big change on offense has been in regards to tempo. The Huskies have averaged 84.3 plays per game compared to just 64.5 for Stanford.

Having played against several teams -- Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State -- that have employed a similar tempo over the past few years, some of the shock-and-awe factor is gone.

"Tempo wise, yeah you get used to making calls and not huddling and communicating quickly," Shaw said. "That part, the operational part does carry over, but they're such different offenses that it's hard to say we just take one game plan and go from one team to the other."

If Washington's moving faster, then Stanford has stretched things out. The one-time tight end capital of college football has been shut down, replaced by more downfield passes to players like Montgomery, Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector.

"[Kevin] Hogan is throwing the deep ball really well right now," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "When guys are open, he's hitting them. That's the other piece to the puzzle."

Hogan saw just one play a year ago against Washington -- a 5-yard run -- and has rattled off a 9-0 record since being named the starter.

Biggest play of 2012?

July, 16, 2013
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If we ask what was the biggest play of the Pac-12's 2012 season, the one thing we know before we start to debate is it will involve Stanford.

SportsNation

What was the biggest play of the 2012 season?

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    3%
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    25%
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    53%
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    5%
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    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,113)

Stanford not only won the Pac-12 because it came out on the better end of many of those big plays, it also was involved in plays that decided the national championship.

Consider:
  • If Stanford beats Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish don't play Alabama for the national title.
  • If Stanford loses at Oregon, the Ducks probably would have played Alabama for the national title.
  • Stanford first exposed USC as a national title pretender.
  • And the Cardinal have plenty of their own "what ifs" in losses to the Irish and Washington.
But what was the biggest individual play of the Pac-12 season?


We see four choices.

  • With the score tied at 14-14 in the fourth quarter against USC, the Cardinal faced a 3rd-and-10 at midfield. Then starting Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes dropped back, but couldn't find anyone and was under pressure. Yet the not terribly mobile Nunes scampered 12 yards for a first down. Two plays later, he connects with tight end Zach Ertz for a 37-yard go-ahead touchdown.
  • Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor is stopped -- well, sort of -- just inches short of Notre Dame's goal line in overtime, giving the Irish a 20-13 victory, the signature win of their season. Of course, Cardinal fans will tell you that Taylor scored, not once but twice, on the final set of downs.
  • In the first quarter of their 17-14 victory at Oregon, backup safety Devon Carrington caught Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota from behind, preventing him from getting the final 15 yards of what looked like a sure 92-yard touchdown run. The Cardinal defense then held when the Ducks were stopped on fourth-and-2 on the 7-yard line four plays later.
  • Facing a 3rd-and-15 early in the fourth quarter of the Pac-12 title game against UCLA, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, under intense pressure, connects with Drew Terrell for a 26-yard, game-tying touchdown. Without that play, Stanford might not have played in its first Rose Bowl since the 1999 season.

Or is there another play that was bigger this past season?
Unlike last year, there is no quarterback competition at Stanford. But the recently released post-spring depth chart does reveal some potentially interesting developments to eye-ball heading into fall.

Starting on offense -- there are only two running backs listed -- Anthony Wilkerson "or" Tyler Gaffney as the starter. Both are trying to replace three-time 1,000-yard rusher Stepfan Taylor, though it's widely believed the Cardinal will take more of a committee approach than they did last year, when Taylor led the Pac-12 with 322 carries. There is plenty of depth, albeit mostly inexperienced, behind Gaffney and Wilkerson.

Also of note offensively is the addition of Kevin Danser on the depth chart at center. He's slated to start at right guard, though there is also an "or" separating Khalil Wilkes, Conor McFadden and Danser at center. It will be interesting to watch in the fall if Danser continues to get work at center. And if he wins the job, it would allow the Cardinal to insert Josh Garnett into the starting rotation at guard. That would give the Cardinal a starting front of Andrus Peat (LT), David Yankey (LG), Danser (C), Garnett (RG) and Cam Fleming (RT).

With the news of Josh Nunes' retirement yesterday, Evan Crower is locked in as the backup to Kevin Hogan and, for now, Devon Cajuste looks like he'll start opposite Ty Montgomery at receiver.

Fullback Geoff Meinken also announced he'll retire after struggling to return from a knee injury that kept him out of 2012.

At tight end -- Stanford's go-to receiving position the last couple of years -- Luke Kaumatule and Davis Dudchock are separated by an "or." However both will probably get a ton of work in Stanford's two-tight-end sets.

Defensively, there are only two "ors" on the depth chart. Henry Anderson and Josh Mauro have a good competition going at defensive and Blake Lueders and James Vaughters are undecided at the outside linebacker spot to release Chase Thomas. Though the Cardinal rotate backers and defensive linemen so frequently that "starter" is more of an honorary title.

Worth noting also that Devon Carrington, who has spent his career at safety, is also listed as a backup with Usua Amanam at right cornerback behind Wayne Lyons. Amanam is Stanford's go-to nickelback and Carrington is also backing up Ed Reynolds.

Looking at the specialists, up for grabs is the punter, which could go to either Ben Rhyne or Conrad Ukropina. Montgomery looks set at kick return while it's a four-way race between him, Kodi Whitfield, Keanu Nelson and Barry Sanders to return punts.

You can see the complete depth chart here and interpret it as you see fit.
Stanford's post-spring depth chart was released Monday, and it revealed that sophomore quarterback Evan Crower is now Kevin Hogan's backup.

A big reason for that was revealed that Josh Nunes, who started the first eight games of 2012 before being beaten out by Hogan, has been forced to retire due to injuries, the school announced.

The injury that has ended Nunes' career was not announced, but it is believed to be a biceps muscle injury on his throwing arm that he suffered while lifting weights in January, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Nunes passed for 1,643 yards with 10 TDs and seven interceptions last season. He was the starter when the Cardinal upset then-No. 2 USC 21-14 on Sept. 15, a performance that will be his career highlight. He also led the Cardinal to a comeback win over Arizona.

Dallas Lloyd is expected to be the Cardinal's No. 3 QB. Neither Crower nor Lloyd have game experience.

Top performances of 2012: Josh Nunes

February, 14, 2013
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We're looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2012.

Up next: Start spreading the Nunes

Who and against whom: Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes helped engineer a 14-point fourth-quarter comeback as the Cardinal topped Arizona 54-48 in overtime -- capping one of the most thrilling games in the Pac-12 last season.

The numbers: Nunes accounted for five touchdowns, completing 21-of-34 passes for 360 yards and two scores plus three more on the ground.

A closer look: When future generations look back at Stanford's 2012 Pac-12 championship run and ensuing Rose Bowl victory, chances are Nunes will simply be remembered as the guy who couldn't replace Andrew Luck. Yeah, that's kind of a raw deal -- because he bailed out Stanford's impenetrable defense big time when the Wildcats showed up on the Farm and scorched Stanford's D for 617 yards. The offense had to win the game, and Nunes responded with career highs in completions, yards and quarterback rating. After the Wildcats jumped ahead 48-34 with 9 minutes, 13 seconds left in the game, Nunes put together a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with him scoring from 1 yard out. Then the Cardinal drove 79 yards on 14 plays to tie the score and force overtime, the knotting tally coming on a 3-yard Nunes run. He was 9-of-16 for 119 yards during the final two drives.

Season review: Stanford

January, 22, 2013
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Before we focus forward, we're going to look back with team-by-team season reviews.

We continue today in reverse alphabetical order.

STANFORD (12-2, 8-1)

Grade: A

MVP: Can we just go ahead and name the entire defense as a singular MVP? Judges? No? Oh well, I guess we have to pick one. And since determining the MVP from that defense is unbelievably impossible, because they truly are the sum of their parts, we'll look to the offensive side of the ball, where running back Stepfan Taylor broke 1,000 yards for third straight season and leaves the school as one of its greatest backs ever. He hit career highs in rushing yards (1,530), carries (322), and receptions (41). When an inconsistent offense stalled, he was one of the few gears that didn't shut down. He rushed for at least 100 yards in eight games, and scored at least one touchdown in nine. He's a complete back -- running, vision, catching, toughness, blocking -- and some NFL team is going to be very happy to have him.

What went right: They won the Pac-12 championship and the Rose Bowl, giving the Cardinal their second BCS Bowl victory in the past three years. The goal of every team should be -- first and foremost -- to win your league. Only one team can actually do it -- and it was Stanford, hence the 'A' grade. While the offense lacked for explosiveness -- it averaged just 27.9 points per game -- the defense was one of the best in the country. Led by a front seven that often enjoyed its "parties in the backfield" and a secondary that was perceived as a possible weak point in the preseason but turned out to be a valuable asset, the Cardinal finished 11th nationally in points against (17.2). In a league where half of the teams average at least 30 points per game, that might be the most impressive number of all.

What went wrong: When head coach David Shaw says Stanford would not have beaten USC or Arizona with Kevin Hogan as the quarterback, you have to believe him. Why? Now this might come as a shock, so I hope you're sitting down ... because he knows more about quarterbacks, offense and football than you do; more than I do and more than Ted Miller does. Debate all you want about whether he was too late pulling the trigger in replacing Josh Nunes. He is the two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year. I'll stick by his story. So the quarterback controversy left a few ink stains on the season -- most notably at Washington, where Nunes was making his first road start and the team ran into a highly motivated Washington defense that shut down Taylor and kept the Cardinal without an offensive touchdown. The Cardinal were bad in that game -- but let's also make sure we give Washington some credit, because the Huskies played inspired football. As for the Notre Dame game in South Bend -- Stanford's only other defeat -- there's no evidence the Cardinal would have won the game had Taylor not been stopped on that controversial goal-line ending. But it would have been nice to let it play out.

2013 outlook: The defense should once again be nasty. The news that defensive end Ben Gardner, and linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy will be returning, makes the Cardinal the league's best defense until proven otherwise (we'll learn a little more when ASU's equally nasty defensive front comes to Palo Alto on Sept. 21). Chase Thomas' absence will be noticeable. But there are some young outside linebacker's in the pipeline who can fill in adequately. The issue for the Cardinal is going to be finding a way to score. With Taylor gone -- as well as five of the top six receivers from last season -- the offense has some question marks. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo were huge security blankets in the red zone and on third down. Also, the development of Hogan will need to take a big step forwar,d because he'll be asked to do a lot more. They also need to replace center Sam Schwartzstein -- a very underappreciated asset for what he did the past two seasons. Still -- with the defense headlining their efforts -- there's no reason to think the Cardinal won't be one of the top two teams in the conference again.
No big debate today. Instead, your Pac-12 bloggers thought it would be fun to look back fondly on the favorite games they covered in person during the 2012 season.

Kevin Gemmell: In January 2009, I covered the San Diego Chargers' wild-card playoff game at home against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The Chargers won 23-17 at Qualcomm Stadium in the loudest football environment I've ever experienced.

The previous season, in 2007, I covered the Chargers on Christmas Eve against the Denver Broncos: holiday game, "Monday Night Football," AFC West rivals -- things got pretty loud. But that game didn't even come close to the audio assault from the Washington faithful at CenturyLink Field for the Huskies' upset over Stanford back in Week 5.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Stepfan Taylor
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesWashington's defense held Stanford's Stepfan Taylor to 75 yards on 3.6 per carry on Sept. 27.
I was on the sidelines for the final five minutes -- and deafening doesn't begin to describe just how loud it was. It was great!

And this isn't just me spouting hyperbole. A few days after the game, Stanford coach David Shaw told me it was the third-loudest game he'd ever experienced. One of them was an NFL game, and the second was at Oregon's Autzen Stadium a couple of years ago.

The Stanford-Washington game itself was a bit of a clunker. Neither offense looked particularly sharp -- save Huskies RB Bishop Sankey's 61-yard touchdown run, which came on a fourth-and-1. Stanford's only touchdown was an uber-athletic pick-six from linebacker Trent Murphy.

The Cardinal were the talk of the college football world after knocking off No. 2 USC a week and a half earlier. Of course, at the time, USC was still believed to be one of the true juggernauts of the 2012 season. And given Stanford's recent history against Washington, we figured we'd be watching the Winter Olympics from Satan's backyard before Washington had any hope of upsetting the Cardinal.

But the Huskies' defense shut down Stepfan Taylor and the M.A.S.H.-unit offensive line kept Stanford's vicious front seven at bay as best it could -- enough to pull off a 17-13 victory.

No doubt, Washington was a much different team at home than it was on the road in 2012. And you can probably attribute a lot of that to The CLink and its boisterous 12th man.

I was fortunate enough to witness three top-10 upsets this year: Stanford's win over USC, Washington's win over Stanford, and Washington's win over Oregon State. Even Stanford's victory over Oregon State was technically an upset, since the Cardinal were No. 14 at the time and OSU was No. 11.

But nothing came close to those closing minutes in Seattle. And when Desmond Trufant intercepted Josh Nunes to clinch the win -- followed by a good old-fashioned field storming -- it was a pleasant reminder of just how cool college football is.

Ted Miller: My favorite game that I covered this year also made me a sourpuss.

[+] EnlargeJordan Williamson
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesJordan Williamson's 37-yard field goal handed Oregon its lone loss and ended its BCS title chances.
When Oregon lost 17-14 in overtime to Stanford -- Jordan Williamson hit a 37-yard field goal for the red-letter victory -- I turned to a couple of guys in the press box and said, "You know what just happened? The Pac-12 blog won't get to go to South Florida for a week and the SEC just won a seventh consecutive national title."

We now know more fully that this overtime loss probably prevented the Ducks from claiming the program's first football national title. You'll find few people today who would pick Notre Dame to beat Oregon, and that would have been the title game if the Ducks hadn't been smothered by Stanford.

And, of course, that was it, too. Stanford played brilliantly. It was perhaps the best performance by a Pac-12 team against the Ducks in four years under Chip Kelly. The defensive game plan and execution were darn near perfect, but the performance of redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan shouldn't be forgotten. He shined in the Pac-12's toughest venue and did what Andrew Luck was unable to do: beat Kelly and the Ducks.

Of course, Stanford's defense was what left everyone with an open mouth in Autzen Stadium. Oregon entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring, at 54.8 points per game. No opponent had been within double digits of the Ducks. Heck, just two foes had been within three touchdowns. But Stanford held a team that had been averaging 562.6 yards per game to 405, 77 of which came on a Marcus Mariota run that led to no points.

Want a number? The Ducks were 4-of-17 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth.

After the game, I took my tale of woe to Cardinal coach David Shaw: "You know what you just did? The Pac-12 blog won't get to go to South Florida for a week and the SEC just won a seventh consecutive national title."

He seemed less concerned about that than I was.

Pregame: Rose Bowl

January, 1, 2013
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Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)

Who to watch: The running backs. Wisconsin’s Montee Ball -- the Doak Walker award winner -- and Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor -- a three-time 1,000-yard rusher -- are two of the best in the game. Both are the engines that make their respective machines go. Each team will work furiously to establish a running game. So while you are watching two of the elite running backs in the country, keep an eye on the lines as well -- because how each team’s big boys do will go a long way toward determining how the running backs do.

What to watch: For sure, the fourth quarter. These two teams have combined to play six overtime games, Stanford has had to overcome ties or deficits six times in the fourth quarter, and Wisconsin has lost all five of its games by a combined 19 points (four field goals and a touchdown). If this game is a microcosm of these teams’ seasons, then there should be high drama up until the final play.

Why to watch: Aside from the fact that it’s the Granddaddy, this game is oozing with subplots. You have Barry Alvarez making his return to coaching -- although for just one game. You have Stanford playing in its third consecutive BCS bowl game (Wisconsin as well, for that matter) even after the departure of Andrew Luck and a midseason quarterback change from Josh Nunes to Kevin Hogan. You have a Wisconsin team that some say backed into the Rose Bowl, and you have mirror teams with nearly identical philosophies.

Predictions: In case you missed it Tuesday morning, you can see the predictions from Pac-12 bloggers Kevin Gemmell and Ted Miller here. This is what the Big Ten bloggers are thinking.

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.”
Brett Hundley and Kevin HoganAP Photo, Getty ImagesRedshirt freshmen QBs Brett Hundley and Kevin Hogan have led their schools to the Pac-12 title game.

The most impressive aspect of the two quarterbacks starting in Friday night's Pac-12 championship game isn't that UCLA's Brett Hundley is completing 67.8 percent of his passes or that Stanford's Kevin Hogan is completing 73 percent. It's not their mobility, escape-ability or moxie to extend plays. All of those things are worthy of note. But it's their youth -- more specifically, their success despite that youth -- that has impressed.

Both redshirt freshmen have taken command of their respective teams -- Hundley from preseason camp and Hogan within the past month -- and guided them to the Pac-12 championship game with zero college playing experience prior to 2012.

This is an interesting trend within the conference, and even at a few schools nationally. Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Hogan, Hundley and ASU sophomore Taylor Kelly -- a first-year starter -- all have their teams headed to the postseason and are among the top quarterbacks in the league in efficiency.

"These guys are coming in ready," UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "A lot of it has to do with the offenses they are playing in in high school. There are all the passing leagues. And the spread offenses usually allow good athletes to succeed quicker."

The similarities between Hogan and Hundley (sounds like a great buddy film) are actually quite striking, statistically or otherwise. Both are mobile athletes. Both have talented, veteran running backs to help shoulder the weight. Both have former NFL quarterbacks coaches directing them.

"Nothing seems to bother them," said Pac-12 Network analyst and former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel, who recruited Hundley. "I think what strikes me about Brett is how he handles all situations. There's no nervousness or trepidation. If he misses a pass, it's a one-clap and back to the huddle.

"Kevin Hogan is a very good athlete. Also a lot of maturity. And he's even more dangerous when he gets outside of the pocket."

In the month of November, Hundley has completed 70.9 percent of his throws for 1,044 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Hogan has completed 72.2 for 809 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

Of the aforementioned youngsters, Hogan is the only one in a pro-style offense, but it's his athleticism that helped him work his way onto the field before eventually overtaking Josh Nunes on the depth chart. Head coach David Shaw worked out a zone-read option package for Hogan, and the more time he got on the field, the better he looked in practice. Shaw eventually gave him the starting role.

Since getting his first extended playing time at Colorado , he has gone 3-0 as a starter, beaten three ranked teams, won at Autzen and won at the Rose Bowl. Freshmen aren't supposed to do that. They aren't supposed to win their first career road start in Eugene.

For the fourth consecutive week, he'll be starting against a top-25 program. In the Cardinal-Bruins Round 1 matchup -- which Stanford won 35-17 -- Hogan was an efficient 15-of-22 for 160 yards and a touchdown.

And the more work he gets, the more confident Shaw becomes.

"We don't have handcuffs on him anymore," Shaw said. "We can audible. We can change plays. We can give him the full complement.

"The last few weeks, he's been pretty much the same. Not perfect, but gosh, he's so instinctive. When to run, when not to run. When to slide in the pocket and let the ball go. When to throw it with touch and when to throw it hard. He's not playing like a redshirt freshmen. He's playing like a guy beyond his years. We've been able to put more audibles on his plate because he's handled those so well and adjusting the protection and running game checks. Those things have gone so well that we don't worry about what we give him. We've developed comfort in him. Whereas he's stayed the same. We just feel more and more comfortable giving him more as time goes on."

And Hundley has been the model of maturity. Media policies vary from school to school; UCLA players have breakout sessions with the media after games. At first, the horde storms Hundley with cameras in tow. Then the writers. Then the pack thins. And thins. And Hundley is usually the last to leave the media room -- making sure every question has been answered. I know this as fact because twice this season, he and I have closed up the media room.

"It's part of the job of being a quarterback and representing your team, but this is also who I am," Hundley said. "I was raised well. My parents did a great job. This is all a blessing. I'm so happy to be here and feel so blessed to be in the position that I'm in that you can't take any part of this for granted."

And now, here they both are, pushing their respective teams to within one game of the ultimate conference goal -- a date at the Granddaddy.
David ShawJason O. Watson/Getty ImagesIn its first year without Andrew Luck, Stanford is one win away from the Pac-12 title game.
If Stanford football were a tradable commodity, it would not be for the timid investor. In the first preseason of the post Andrew Luck era, investors were taking more of the long view approach -- good recruiting class with good offensive linemen; invest in the future, proceed with caution in the interim.

Then USC happened. Buy, buy, buy.

Then Washington happened. Sell, sell, sell.

Then Notre Dame happened. Insider trading!

And now, following a bullish defensive performance against an Oregon team that has made a bear market out of the Pac-12 the last three years, the Cardinal's stock is trading somewhere between the stratosphere and the mesosphere.

"We've got a great coaching staff that understands the kind of team we have," said Stanford head coach David Shaw. "We said this is going to be a team that rides its defense. Depends on its defense. Depends on its running game with some seniors at key position at outside linebacker and running back and center and tight end. We were going to lean on those positions.

"We knew we had to grow at the quarterback position and grow at the wide receiver position and we're going to have some tight games. Last year's streak of winning games by x-amount of points, whatever it was, that wasn't going to be us. We knew we were going to have some bumps and bruises. But we also figured when you have a great defense, you're going to be in a lot of games."

A lot of tight games. Prior to Shaw coming on board as Stanford's head coach, the Cardinal had only played in four overtime games in school history. Since he's been the head coach, Stanford has played in five overtime games over the past two seasons -- including a triple-overtime game.

"I don't know how to respond to that," said Shaw with a laugh. "I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing. I have no idea what that means."

Well, he's won more overtime games than he's lost -- a 3-2 record to be exact -- so that's better than being on the south side of .500. And both of their losses this year have come by a touchdown or less -- a four-point loss at Washington and a seven-point loss in overtime at Notre Dame. Conversely, six of Stanford's nine wins have come by a touchdown or less.

This is not a team for the faint of heart.

"We devote more time to redzone than any other segment of our game plan," Shaw said. "That's spring football. That's training camp. That's throughout the season. Part of it was because of [the possibility of overtime]. We know how vital scoring touchdowns is in the redzone. We have scripted overtime plays throughout training camp and spring football and we prepare our guys specifically for that segment of the game. When it happens, it's vital that you're ready. You have to be good. You have to have a plan going into it and guys have to know how to execute. It's been a priority for us."

And now Stanford is on the precipice of doing something that not even the great Andrew Luck pulled off -- winning the Pac-12 championship and going to the Rose Bowl. To do that, all they have to do is beat UCLA. Twice.

If the Cardinal beat the Bruins (or if Oregon loses to Oregon State) they will be the Pac-12 North champs. UCLA has already locked up the South with its 38-28 win on Saturday over USC, so the two would play again next week with the league crown and a trip to the Rose Bowl at stake.

Not exactly an easy task, mind you. The Bruins are also trending up behind the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin -- who was recently named a Doak Walker finalist.

Then again, the defense is coming off a performance where they held another Doak Walker finalists, Oregon's Kenjon Barner, to just 66 yards, no touchdowns and 3.1 yards per carry.

Offensively, a late-season quarterback change from Josh Nunes to Kevin Hogan hasn't completely jump-started things, but it's gotten Stanford out of neutral -- where it stalled several times this year. Particularly on the road. Shaw said to expect more of the same when his team heads to SoCal.

"Probably the best example [of Stanford this year] is what they do in New England," said Shaw, who had a life as an NFL assistant in Baltimore and Oakland before joining Jim Harbaugh in the college ranks. "How is our team built this year? There are some years when New England has a great defense and they are going to run the ball. And the next year, they say we don't have the same defense but a great quarterback. We've got weapons around him so let's throw a bunch.

"We've shown in spots we can score -- we did that against Arizona and we spread Oregon out a little bit. But that doesn't play to our strengths. Playing to our strength is running the ball, using an athletic quarterback and play good defense. Our kickers and punters had great nights. Our kickoffs were great our punts were great our coverage teams were great. We played defense and the field position game and run the ball, that's how we're built this year."

And so far this year Stanford knocked of the AP Nos. 1 and 2 in the same season. Their opponents have a combined record of 71-50. They are 3-1 in games against top 25 opponents.

It's not as pretty offensively as it was when Luck was running the show. And that doesn't always sit well with investors. But the results are indisputable.
The Pac-12 typically is the "Conference of Quarterbacks." In 2012, that's still the case. Only it's the "Conference of Quarterback Nuttiness."

Kevin sent me a note on Sunday: "Hey, Nostradamus, here's a curiosity ... 23 different Pac-12 quarterbacks attempted at least a pass this weekend."

It's crazy. We're at Week 11, and many Pac-12 teams need a "Hello, my name is ..." sticker on their quarterbacks' chest.

  • Colorado, Oregon State and Stanford have either changed starting quarterbacks over the past two weeks or are about to make a change.
  • Arizona and California are likely to have new starting quarterbacks on Saturday due to injury.
  • It looks as though when we emerge from the weekend, only five Pac-12 teams -- Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington -- will have started the same quarterback in every game.


Further, consider the youth movement.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan may see an increase in looks as the Cardinal deploy a new package in their offense.
Kelley L. Cox/US PresswireRedshirt freshman Kevin Hogan will make his first start for the Cardinal on Saturday against Oregon State.
Last weekend, the conference's three freshman starters -- Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Utah's Travis Wilson -- combined to complete 60 of 72 passes for 763 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception. That works out to a 210.8 efficiency rating.

Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, the leading Heisman Trophy candidate, is No. 1 in the nation with a 174.49 mark.

Meanwhile, most of the conference's veteran quarterbacks are struggling. In the Pac-12's pass efficiency rankings, the bottom six includes two seniors and three juniors.

In the preseason, USC's Matt Barkley and Washington's Keith Price looked like the sure first- and second-team All-Pac-12 quarterbacks. Not so much any more.

While Barkley is 11th in the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown 30 TD passes -- eight more than any other conference quarterback -- few would describe the preseason Heisman front-runner's season as successful.

Price has thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9).

When quarterbacks have been the story this year, it's often been about benchings.

Stanford-Oregon State is a critical showdown of North Division teams, but the Cardinal just replaced Josh Nunes with Kevin Hogan, and Cody Vaz will make his fourth start but just his second as the Beavers' No. 1 quarterback over Sean Mannion. (Vaz started two games after Mannion suffered a knee injury.)

Experience at quarterback is typically viewed as critical for success. That has not proved true this year. Mannion, Price, Cal's Zach Maynard, Colorado's Jordan Webb, Utah's Jordan Wynn and Jon Hays and Washington State's Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday each owned significant experience entering the season. And each has been underwhelming.

Whereas, when you toss Arizona State sophomore Taylor Kelly into the mix, it's mostly the young, first-year starters out front. You might even include Arizona's fifth-year senior Matt Scott in that pool as a first-year starter.

There's still plenty of football to be played. Barkley still might end up first-team All-Pac-12.

But the first 10 weeks in the "Conference of Quarterbacks" has taught us two things: 1) There are no sure things; 2) If you don't like your quarterback, wait a week. Things might change.

OSU-Stanford an intriguing QB matchup

November, 7, 2012
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When asked, neither Oregon State coach Mike Riley nor Stanford coach David Shaw could remember an instance when two top-15 teams were squaring off this late in the season -- with so much at stake -- with both facing turnover at the most important position in the sport.

At Oregon State, Cody Vaz stepped in and won both games for the Beavers with Sean Mannion on the mend for two weeks following minor knee surgery. Mannion returned, only to throw four interceptions against Washington, and Vaz was called in again to replace him last week as the starter against Arizona State. Vaz is now 3-0 as a starter and has completed 55.9 percent of his throws with seven touchdowns to one interception.

At Stanford, Josh Nunes has battled inconsistency since being named the starter in the preseason. Slowly, Shaw started injecting Kevin Hogan into the lineup before giving him an extended tryout last week in a blowout win over Colorado. Hogan flourished and will start his first career game on Saturday when the No. 14 Cardinal host No. 11 Oregon State.

[+] EnlargeCody Vaz
George Frey/Getty ImagesCody Vaz has won three straight starts for Oregon State.
"That's an interesting point," Shaw said when asked if he could remember a situation like this, with two highly ranked teams. "Usually, you're in these positions because your quarterback is playing well. But I think both teams, also, have to do what's necessary to help their teams win."

Hogan has attempted 24 total passes in his career, 23 of them coming last week against Colorado, when he was 18-of-23 for 184 yards with two touchdowns. He also brings an option element, which is how he got on the field earlier this season.

"Early on in spring and early training camp, he was not involved in our quarterback battle, but he showed such athletic ability and such arm strength that he played his way into that competition," Shaw said. "As we got closer to the season, I don't think he had the majority of all of our concepts and protections and run checks completely locked in mentally. It just takes a while. But throughout the beginning of the season, whether it was scout team or getting a few reps with the starters, it showed that it started to sink in. That he understood what was going on and he could anticipate and make good decisions."

Speaking of decisions, Riley said it's a tough one when you have to bench a quarterback. Prior to his injury, Mannion had done a much better job of taking care of the football in his sophomore campaign. Leading up to the Washington State game in early October -- the game during which he got hurt, but played through the injury -- he had six touchdowns with one interception. But he tossed three picks against the Cougars, then missed the two weeks before the ill-fated, four-interception journey to Seattle.

"We had an unusual situation in that Sean got hurt and Cody Vaz, who I always thought competed well to be the starter, got the opportunity and took advantage of it," Riley said. "It's a difficult thing to be in, trying to choose between two good guys and two good players. I think both guys can win for our team and we're thankful for the situation. But it's difficult for the guy obviously that isn't getting to play."

The guys that are going to play know what's at stake. Both the Beavers and Cardinal are still very much in the hunt for the Pac-12 North title. The winner likely gets a nice boost in the rankings and emerges as Oregon's top threat for the divisional crown. More important, should the Ducks run the table and advance to the national championship game, the winner of this game could be the next up to fill Oregon's spot in the Rose Bowl.

Both quarterbacks will be tested by outstanding defenses. Stanford and Oregon State rank first and second, respectively, in the Pac-12 in scoring defense with the Cardinal allowing 16.6 points per game and Oregon State yielding just 18.1. They also boast the top two rushing defenses in the league. Stanford is first nationally, allowing just 55.6 yards per game and Oregon State allows 91.8. They are the only two Pac-12 teams holding opposing teams to fewer than 100 yards per game.

And just for a little added pressure, Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer and Stanford safety Ed Reynolds share the conference lead with five interceptions apiece.

"It's impressive to watch if you weren't playing them," Riley said of Stanford's defense. "They are very, very talented. They play hard and they are well-coached and they've done an outstanding job. That's why they are leading our league in defense and ranked nationally where they are. It's a tough chore to play against this team."

The Cardinal offensive line -- and Hogan -- will also have to contend with OSU pass-rusher extraordinaire Scott Crichton, who is second in the league with nine sacks.

"They don't give up a ton of big plays," Shaw said of the Beavers' defense. "They play extremely hard. You can't take a play off or they'll hit your quarterback. You can't take a play off blocking somebody because they'll beat you because they don't ever stop coming."

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