There will be no hiding from Andrew Luck’s legacy this season.
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Every time Josh Nunes walks into the Stanford football offices he will see the trophies Luck helped win. When he runs through the Stanford Stadium tunnel for the first time as the starting quarterback, No. 12 jerseys will be littered throughout the crowd. And if he reads the record books, there’s one name dominating the top.
”It’s the biggest shoes I think you could have to follow,” Nunes said.
Cardinal coach David Shaw announced Tuesday that the junior quarterback beat out sophomore Brett Nottingham, ending a lengthy and close competition to replace Luck, the NFL’s No. 1 overall pick and two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up. Shaw informed both in his office before the morning practice.
”Over time, Josh has been the most consistent,” Shaw said. ”Make no mistake. This is not about wild plays, it’s not about doing something outside the framework of the offense. This is about consistency. This is about executing the plays that were called. It’s not about who hasn’t played well. All of our quarterbacks have competed. All of our quarterbacks have approached this with a workmanlike attitude. But Josh has been the most consistent over this time.”
Experience is still a major concern.
No. 21 Stanford will open the regular season against San Jose State on Aug. 31 with a quarterback who has thrown all of two passes and completed only one – for all of 7 yards – in his college career. Both also came two years ago.
Nunes (pronounced Noon-es) also will have little time to transition. After playing Duke the following week, a monumental matchup looms against top-ranked Southern California at Stanford Stadium on Sept. 15.
”The great thing is the path has been laid for how to be a successful quarterback here at Stanford,” Nunes said, referring to Luck’s career. ”So, really, it’s just following that pattern and emulating the kind of player that he was and the kind of person that he was here. I also got to realize I’m not Andrew Luck, and by no means am I trying to be exactly him. I’m trying to come out here and run this high-powered offense that we got and get it to the playmakers that we got.”
Luck left Stanford as the school’s leader in touchdown passes (82), completion percentage (.670), passing efficiency (162.8) and total offense (10,411) – among other marks – despite playing only three seasons. A year after rolling past Virginia Tech 40-12 in the Orange Bowl, Luck didn’t quite have the finish he had hoped. Stanford lost 41-38 in overtime to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2.
Replacing Luck is a task even Shaw had to address the first day of spring practice.
”I told them all flat out: Don’t try to be Andrew Luck because you can’t. It’s impossible,” Shaw said. ”I don’t know there’s a guy in the nation right now, young or old, that’s where Andrew was when he left here. So for us it’s about managing the game.”
While Luck is replacing four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts, Nunes is facing a task equally daunting in the college ranks.
Nunes missed most of last year with a right turf toe injury and never saw game action. The native of Upland in Southern California played in four games in 2010. He worked with the first-team offense in Stanford’s spring game and started last Sunday’s scrimmage, and coaches believe his knowledge of the playbook and game management top Nottingham’s strong arm.
Nottingham replaced Luck in six games last year, finishing 5 of 8 passing for 78 yards. The quarterback, who played at Monte Vista High School in San Francisco’s East Bay, was not made available by Stanford to speak to reporters. A message left at his parents’ house seeking comment also was not returned.
Shaw wouldn’t commit to Nottingham being the backup, insisting redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan will continue to challenge for the spot. But he said the months-long competition made each quarterback and the team better.
”It’s a very good thing,” Shaw said. ”If I had to make this decision the first week that would have meant that we didn’t have competition. We had a serious competition.”
Former Stanford tight end Coby Fleener and wide receiver Griff Whalen, both rookies along with Luck in Indianapolis, said they had just one preference for the next starter.
”Whoever wins us games,” said Fleener, drafted 34th overall. ”They’re not throwing me balls, so it’s whoever wins games. I’m a Stanford fan forever.”
Whalen also recognizes the parallels for Luck and Nunes as they try to replace such standouts at quarterback.
”It’s going to be tough because, whoever it is, is going to be in a similar situation to what Andrew has here,” Whalen said before the official announcement. ”The important thing is to go one day at a time and focus on the things you can control.”
While there is no bigger hole to fill than replacing Luck, Stanford has built depth over the last two seasons – both of which ended at BCS bowls – and Shaw refuses to call this a rebuilding year.
Stanford has a talented mix of tight ends and running backs, including back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher Stepfan Taylor, one of the Pac-12’s top defenses and the league’s Coach of the Year. The program also has a proven record recently of overcoming key losses, including 2009 Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart and coach Jim Harbaugh before last season.
If Nunes can be a steady hand at quarterback, perhaps there’s no reason Stanford should slip.
”Being behind Andrew Luck was pretty much the biggest blessing I think you could ever ask for,” Nunes said. ”I learned a lot from him and I feel like I’m ready to lead this team.”