Why Stanford Can Contend in the BCS Without Andrew Luck


September 15, 2012; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor (33) runs with the ball against Southern California Trojans safety T.J. McDonald (7) during the first quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Luck’s got nothing to do with it. At least that’s the word in Palo Alto after Stanford’s incredible upset of No. 2-ranked USC last week. But was that just a fluke win or an indication that the Cardinal are actually a contender for not only the Pac-12 crown, but also a national title?

After getting some growing pains out of the way in week one, squeaking by San Jose State by only three points, the Cardinal looked like a new team only two weeks later when they defeated the Trojans. Going up against arguably the best offense in the nation and a Heisman Trophy front-runner in quarterback Matt Barkley, Stanford’s defense proved itself to be a championship caliber group.

The front seven put pressure on Barkley all night, sacking him four times and forcing two fumbles. Head coach David Shaw did an excellent job of making adjustments on the sideline, repeatedly attacking the one weak spot of a normally impenetrable USC offensive line, as center Khaled Holmes was replaced by freshman Cyrus Hobbi.

But it was the secondary, normally a weak spot on the defense, that has really come alive and showed itself to be a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12 so far this season. The team’s six interceptions already almost match their total from last year (seven).

Going into the game, it seemed that Barkley would have been able to exploit great matchups against Cardinal defensive backs and throw to his elite wide receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Lee all night. However, with a little help from the pass rush, the secondary intercepted two passes, had an astounding nine pass breakups, and held Barkley without a touchdown through the air.

On the offensive side of the ball, Stanford’s run game is as strong as its ever been. Stepfan Taylor is a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy, as he has carried the load on the ground for the Cardinal this year, totaling 338 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 89 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown.

Taylor is helped out by what many thought would be an offensive line that would take a step back in 2012 after losing all-conference players Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro. However, young studs such as David Yankey and Cameron Fleming have stepped up and made their departures painless.

Under center, Josh Nunes hasn’t blown anyone away or made anyone believe that he is the next Andrew Luck, but he has been extremely solid in his first three games as a starter. The numbers may not show exactly how impressive he has been. His 53.8 completion percentage doesn’t cover his poise in the second half of the USC game, where he threw two beautiful touchdown passes and had the vision to scramble for three big first downs.

September 15, 2012; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal cornerback Wayne Lyons (2), linebacker A.J. Tarpley (17), and linebacker Shayne Skov (11) celebrate after the game against the Southern California Trojans at Stanford Stadium. The Cardinal defeated the Trojans 21-14. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

While Nunes still has room for improvement, he has given fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic, especially with the help of his receiving targets. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo form arguably the most dangerous duo at their position in college football. The team’s two leading receivers have totaled 252 yards and two touchdowns between them so far this season, and have shown that the loss of Coby Fleener and Andrew Luck haven’t taken too much away from the Cardinal’s air attack.

After watching Stanford’s steady improvement throughout the first three weeks of the season, culminating in that 21-14 upset of USC, it is safe to say that the Cardinal can contend in the BCS without Andrew Luck. Their coaching, defense, ground attack, receivers, and offensive line are at as good as they’ve been at any point over the last few years, and Nunes will continue to improve with increased confidence after beating USC.

If Stanford can keep up with that pesky Oregon offense, the sky is the limit for this Cardinal team. Remember college football world: Luck’s got nothing to do with it.