- - Tuesday, November 29, 2011

If the Andrew Luck hype machine shifted into overdrive, it was not his foot on the gas. If the Heisman talk got out of control, his lips weren’t moving.

If it was his play on the field that has made Luck into the most touted quarterback prospect in a decade, well, yeah, that one is on him.

Luck, who closed his Stanford career Nov. 26 with a 28-14 win over Notre Dame — setting school records for career passing touchdowns in the process — almost surely won’t still be on the NFL draft board when the Redskins are on the clock.

It has been conventional wisdom for months that Luck will be the No. 1 pick come April, some lucky, lowly NFL team selecting the player who will change the future of its franchise. Heck, Luck probably would have been the No. 1 pick last year had he decided to come out instead of returning to Stanford because he wanted to finish school.

How much of the Legend of Andrew Luck is actually legend? How much of his circumstances can be attributed to good luck rather than Andrew Luck being that good? Not that much.

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound quarterback has the tools, a package of skill, size, arm strength, accuracy and mobility. But it’s the combination of toughness, judgment, leadership, intelligence, poise and character that makes him seem too good to be true. And he’s cemented it by playing a level that is equally so.

Luck has thrown for 80 touchdowns in his college career, surpassing John Elway’s school record. He threw 35 of those this season, eclipsing his single-season record from last season. He has thrown for 9,083 yards in three seasons and has completed better than 70 percent of his passes in the past two seasons.

His statistics are far beyond solid, but often far from gaudy. The Cardinal have been a run-first operation since Toby Gerhart was the big man on campus three years ago. But Luck is the fuel source for the entire Stanford engine.

Luck is 31-7 as a starting quarterback (23-2 over the past two seasons) with arguably the toughest admission requirements in Division I college football.

Former coach Jim Harbaugh, now with the San Francisco 49ers, has compared Luck to chess legend Bobby Fischer in the way that he anticipates the game.

“His mind is a wonderful place,” Harbaugh told Stanford Magazine. “He thinks through everything without appearing to think through everything.”

His current coach believes he is simply beyond compare in the college game.

“There is nobody, doesn’t matter who you talk about, there is nobody as good as this kid,” David Shaw said last week before the Cardinal closed out the regular-season against the Irish.

Shaw admittedly, is more than a little biased. But Shaw has worked on a handful of NFL staffs, and he knows what an NFL quarterback looks like.

“If I felt like showing you guys our play-call sheet I would, but I don’t,” Shaw said. “But what it has on there is every single play call. If we have 70 plays in a game, I would say about 68 of them have at least three options on them. Very rarely do we call one play and run it. Very rarely do we on the sidelines wait for them to show us a look and have him look to the sidelines and wait for a call.

“We give him three or four plays at a time and the guy gets us through that play. There are guys at the next level that aren’t doing that.”

Luck has become something of a YouTube sensation, from the 2010 highlights of his post-fumble tackle of USC’s Shareece Wright to a scramble against Cal in which he flattened defensive back Sean Catthouse.

And then there was this season’s one-handed 13-yard pass reception vs. UCLA.

Yet it is his humility, his uncanny ability to sincerely shrug at the whole thing, that has been even more impressive.

He stayed at Stanford mostly because he wanted to finish his degree, but partially because he truly liked being just another student, being the guy who blended on a campus where the brainiacs are a dime a dozen and star athletes aren’t quite treated like royalty.

He defers and demurs all compliments.

Just last week he characterized his college career as “decent.”

“I’ll have more time after the season to think about it, I guess,” Luck said.

He’ll put off the thinking until early January. The Cardinal are in line for a second straight BCS bowl berth, most likely the Fiesta Bowl after a loss to Oregon this month took Stanford out of the running for the national championship.

But Shaw isn’t waiting to put Luck’s college career, or his ability to succeed at the next level, into context.

“This is guy is one of a kind. At this stage of his college career, I’ve never seen anybody do this,” Shaw said. “In all my years in the NFL, evaluating all the top quarterbacks that have all come out, I’ve never heard of any of them doing what Andrew’s doing.”



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