Bay Area buzz changing without Luck
SAN FRANCISCO (AP)
The buzz in the Bay Area is shifting this fall with Andrew Luck long gone.
The first evidence of that came Monday when Stanford, California and San Jose State players and coaches gathered in front of fewer writers and even fewer cameras in downtown San Francisco for the annual Bay Area luncheon. The rest will sink in when fall practices begin later this week and games kick off next month without No. 12 stealing the spotlight.
Stanford has a quarterback competition that could take just that long to resolve. Cal is moving back into remodeled Memorial Stadium - and might need every day left for construction to be completed - after calling the Giants' AT&T Park home last year, and Mike MacIntyre is trying to take the next step in transforming San Jose State from laughingstock into legitimate winner.
''This is the best and worst time for a football coach,'' said Stanford's David Shaw, the reigning Pac-12 Coach of the Year now entering his second season at the helm. ''The best because we all have the same dreams and aspirations of what our teams can accomplish, but then the worst because we can't see them for another few days. It's driving us insane.''
Maybe this season more than most.
A year ago, the Bay Area's college football landscape - always second fiddle in one of the most booming NFL markets - saw a rare spike because of Luck, such a driving force in the sport that he created a frenzy just by showing up at the last media day with his signature scruffy beard shaved off. Now the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up is preparing for the pros after the Indianapolis Colts drafted him No. 1 overall, leaving a gaping hole back in the Bay Area to fill.
Shaw is still no closer to reaching a decision on Luck's replacement. He said he will take the quarterback competition between Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes all the way up until the opener against San Jose State on Aug. 31 if neither creates any separation.
He still wanted to make it clear that the Cardinal are taking aim at a third straight BCS bowl behind a bevy of running backs led by Stepfan Taylor, most starters returning from the league's second-best scoring defense and a more settled coaching staff than a year ago when he took over after Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers.
''There was a lot of hype surrounding a single player last year, which was much deserved,'' Shaw said. ''But at the same time, we feel like we've got some guys coming back who are some pretty good football players. We believe we're going to be the team we've always been up front. We believe we're a physical run team.''
What kind of team Cal is might be the biggest mystery.
Jeff Tedford, entering his 11th season in Berkeley as the Pac-12's most tenured coach, needs a turnaround season after finishing 7-6 and 5-7 in the last two. If nothing else, maybe a change of scenery will do some good.
Construction workers are putting the final touches on a $321 million renovation to historic Memorial Stadium before the Sept. 1 opener against Nevada. After a year of playing home games at San Francisco's waterfront ballpark, which had horrible sightlines and quiet crowds most of last season, the Golden Bears are hoping for a boost in the new digs.
Or, as Tedford put it, ''We get to move home.''
''There's going to be so much anxiety, so much adrenaline, so much going on,'' Cal senior defensive back Josh Hill said. ''We just can't wait. We can't wait till practice. We can't wait for that first game. Can't wait.''
The talent should be there for the Bears.
Keenan Allen headlines an athletic offense he led with 98 catches for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns last season - even admitting Monday he played the final three games with a cracked rib - and should be one of the top receivers in next year's NFL draft. His return should do nothing but help quarterback Zach Maynard, who made strides late last season after transferring from Buffalo.
With games at Ohio State and Southern California in consecutive weeks in September, Cal's schedule will not do the Bears any favors this season. Then again, it also provides an opportunity to return to the national stage - if successful.
''That's why we're doing this,'' Tedford said.
Expectations have certainly changed in the south bay - there actually are expectations now.
After going 1-12 in 2010, MacIntyre and the Spartans are coming off a 5-7 season in which they were in contention for the Western Athletic Conference crown after a thrilling 28-27 victory over Hawaii on national television Oct. 14. While three straight losses followed, San Jose State stayed close in every one, showing real progress in MacIntyre's second season.
How the competition among Dasmen Stewart, Blake Jurich and David Fales at quarterback shakes out will go a long way to determine the Spartans' season. At the very least, they won't be the only program with a new starting quarterback on opening night at Stanford Stadium.
''It will be an interesting dynamic because you really won't know what their strengths are exactly,'' MacIntyre said. ''They lost a phenomenal quarterback, but the guys they have there aren't slouches.''
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