By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Members of the media who cover Stanford football on a regular basis had some time on their hands recently -- it is a bye week after all -- and talk turned to Andrew Luck.
It was a few days after he had engineered the game-winning drive last Saturday in Stanford's thrilling 37-35 Pac-10 victory over USC, in which he drove the Cardinal 62 yards in seven plays in just over a minute to set up Nate Whitaker's 30-yard field goal as time expired.
One reporter suggested that Luck could step in, right now, this season, and help several NFL teams. Another one thought he would need at least a week to digest the team's playbook. No one questioned his ability to do so in any way.
So maybe the secret is out: even the most hardened of cynics have a healthy respect for Luck's ability as a quarterback.
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, who spent 15 years of his life as a quarterback in the NFL, calls Luck "the finest football player I've ever been around and he's one of the finest people I've ever been around."
Added former Stanford quarterback Guy Benjamin: "He sure could be the best Stanford ever had. He seems to be very, very developed in his play. He seems to be at a junior or senior class level."
That's high praise, considering that former Stanford quarterback Jim Plunkett (who was in attendance at the USC game) did win the Heisman Trophy.
Luck, a redshirt sophomore, has been preparing for this most of his life without even realizing it. Yes, his father, Oliver Luck, was also a quarterback in the NFL so there is some heredity involved.
Yes, he's a terrific student and devours information in much the same way Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young did with Bill Walsh's complicated system with the San Francisco 49ers.
Perhaps Luck's strength is how quick he can adapt and turn classroom knowledge into production on the gridiron.
Young possesses a photographic memory and had a knack for processing information with the speed and accuracy of a computer chip. Luck, it has been suggested, is known for memorizing information as it's written on the chalkboard.
There's a story circulating that as Harbaugh begins to explain his game plan for the week, Luck humors his coach by writing everything down.
In reality, he's already churning the new information around in his head and seems to grasp Harbaugh's concepts before the coach has finished explaining them.
Luck also has a tendency to accept too much blame for when things go wrong. That's probably because he thinks he gets too much credit for when things go right. The young man is a fierce competitor and a loyal teammate.
He stood up for the running backs who had to endure comparisons to Stanford's record-breaking back Toby Gerhart early in the season. He's talked up his offensive line and wide receivers. He constantly points out how important every tedious practice in summer and spring workouts have helped shaped Stanford's success to date.
The regular season hit its midway point with the USC game and third-place Stanford (2-1, 5-1) seems poised to improve its record from last season.
Under Harbaugh, the Cardinal has gone 2-4, 3-3, 4-2, and now 5-1 over its first six games. Stanford went 2-4, 2-4 and 4-2 over its last six games (not including last year's Sun Bowl, which Luck missed due to injury) in each of the previous three seasons.
Luck threw 13 touchdown passes all of last year. He has 16 already this season. His completion percentage is better and his passing yardage (1,538) is up. Luck ranks 10th nationally in passing efficiency (166.9), 16th nationally in total offense (296.7) and is 13-5 in 18 career starts.
Stanford's rushing attack, with Stepfan Taylor and Luck at the forefront, has been solid too. The Cardinal averaged 218.2 yards on the ground last year. That figure has 'fallen' all the way to 210.5 yards a game this season.
As a team last season the Cardinal averaged 209.4 passing yards a game. This year: 260.5. Stanford also ranks No. 5 nationally with 43.3 points per game.
What does it all mean for the rest of the season?
There's no easy path but Stanford could be looking at a major bowl game come the postseason.
After this weekend, every team will have played at least three conference games and it's just as likely there will be a five-way tie for second place behind undefeated and second-ranked Oregon, which is in contention for a spot in the national championship game.
Should the Ducks play in the national title game, a berth in the Rose Bowl becomes wide open, and Stanford hasn't qualified for over 10 years.
But, the Cardinal does have Luck on its side.