Andrew Luck leads Stanford over Notre Dame, falls back in Heisman race
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck entered tonight’s nationally televised game against Notre Dame with an opportunity to add another signature performance to his amazing season and put a stranglehold on this year’s Heisman trophy race. After all, there would be plenty of eyes on this particular contest; Notre Dame is one of college football’s biggest draws, and there was the thought that this would be a close game as the Irish had been showing signs of improvement in Coach Brian Kelly’s 2nd year at the helm.
Luck and the Cardinal quickly dispelled this notion, and after his three touchdown passes in the 1st half it appeared Luck was well on his way to having another memorable night. He ended up having a solid game with four touchdowns in his team’s 28-7 triumph, but with the exception of late touchdown pass to Coby Fleener his play in the 2nd half was largely pedestrian – he was off target on a number of throws and the run-oriented Stanford offense seemed content to run out the clock. Notre Dame was done in by three early turnovers and an ineffective showing by quarterback Tommy Rees, who was benched in favor Andrew Hendrix. Although the Irish played valiantly in the 2nd half, their early miscues and the relentless Stanford defense were too much for them to overcome.
While Luck still might go on to win college football’s most prestigious individual honor, his outing pales in comparison to Alabama running back Trent Richardson’s performance in the Iron Bowl earlier today. In a game against their bitter rival, Alabama scored a 42-14 win over Auburn as Richardson powered his way to 203 yards and put his team on the verge of gaining a berth in the BCS National Championship Game. Richardson’s stellar game might put him ahead of Luck in the eyes of some Heisman voters, and it is remarkable to think how much has changed in just a few short weeks.
Going into their highly anticipated showdown against Oregon two weeks ago, Luck and the Cardinal had all of their goals clearly within reach – the game was in front of their home crowd, they had a realistic shot of advancing to the national title game if they won out, and Luck winning the Heisman seemed like a foregone conclusion. In what was considered a mild upset at the time, Oregon steamrolled Stanford 53-30, a loss that effectively knocked the Cardinal out of title game picture. Granted the perfect opportunity to make a statement, Luck had a disastrous showing on the big stage, throwing two interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown) and losing a fumble. His subpar performance breathed new life into what had been a stale Heisman race, as the frontrunner returned to the pack for the first time this year. Including Luck and Richardson, Houston’s Case Keenum, Baylor’s Robert Griffin, and Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley will all likely receive consideration for the award.
It’s difficult to predict how Heisman voters will react to Luck when it is time for them to cast their ballots, but I see it coming down to him and Richardson. They both have outstanding numbers, but the fact that Richardson plays for Alabama in the SEC might impact the final decision. With schools in their conference consistently winning BCS National Championships and its players taking home Heisman Trophies, the SEC and their players typically receive the benefit of the doubt if things are close. Although Luck’s Cardinal has the same record as Richardson’s Crimson Tide, if voters base their decision on level of competition Richardson has the slight edge.
On the flip side, despite enduring an unprecedented level of exposure and scrutiny for a college quarterback, Luck managed to set the Stanford record for most career touchdown passes in leading his team to an 11-1 record. Thanks in large part to his immense talent (and the work of former coach Jim Harbaugh), the Cardinal have developed into a force in the three years he has been under center. The Heisman runner-up in 2010, voters should take into account what Luck has done in helping to resurrect the Stanford football program in addition to his gaudy statistics. His critics bash his performance against Oregon, but Richardson didn’t exactly light it up in his team’s loss to LSU (89 yards on 23 carries). Luck will soon be the most coveted QB prospect entering the NFL draft since fellow Stanford alum John Elway, and though his college career won’t end with a national title, I believe he is deserving of the Heisman.