Cardinal has Luck going into Big Game showdown

Though he’s just a redshirt freshman, Andrew Luck already merits comparison to the best in Stanford’s quarterback-rich history.
“I’d put him with John Elway and Jim Plunkett,” said Gary Cavalli, executive director of the Emerald Bowl, who was sports information director for Stanford in the 1970s and has been watching Stanford football closely for 40 years. “I mean, I loved Guy Benjamin, Turk Schonert and Steve Dils [all national passing champions], but Luck is better.”

Of that group, Elway was the most physically talented. He threw the ball so hard in practice that receivers developed the “Elway cross,” bruises from being hit in the chest with passes before getting their hands up.

One Elway play that sticks in my memory was a game against USC in which he scrambled to buy time and then launched a rocket far downfield to Ken Margerum in the end zone, behind Ronnie Lott, who didn’t believe Elway could throw the ball over his head.

Plunkett was more disciplined than Elway, who would sometimes stop Stanford drives by getting trapped for huge losses on scrambles. Plunkett could be a bruising runner when he had to scramble, but mostly he stayed in the pocket and picked teams apart, en route to a Heisman Trophy award and upset win against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

Luck is in the Elway/Plunkett category as a passer and he’s a deceptively good runner because he’s a long strider. He’s run 51 times for 288 yards, a 5.6 average.

It was, in fact, Luck’s overall athletic ability that struck Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh when he recruited the quarterback from Stratford High in Houston, the first recruiting stop he made in 2007, Harbaugh’s first year at Stanford.

“You see kids who are just great athletes growing up,” Harbaugh said. “They’re just born with that ability. They can do anything, and often they become quarterbacks.”

Luck also is very smart, the valedictorian of his graduating class.

“In meetings, he takes notes, but that’s just to placate me,” Harbaugh said. “He memorizes everything. As a quarterback, that translates into memorizing plays and formations. He never has to stop to think. He just does it.”

Combined with a strong and accurate arm, that has made Luck probably the best quarterback in the Pac-10 already; his passing efficiency stats have topped the conference for weeks.

Though Toby Gerhart gets most of the publicity, Luck is the biggest difference between this Stanford team, which is a Big Game favorite Saturday, and last year’s team, which lost to the Bears 37-16.

Plunkett and Elway were both the first players taken in the NFL draft after their Stanford careers. Luck is already projected as a possible

No. 1 pick when he comes out, probably in another two years.

That could bring up an interesting scenario. The way the Raiders are headed downhill, they could have the league’s worst record in 2011, but they’ve traded away their first round pick to the New England Patriots for one year of Richard Seymour.

Luck’s name could be very appropriate.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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