Oregon Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas surprised the CFB world with his decision to enter the NFL draft.
The Ducks, who had already lost running back LaMichael James via early exit for the NFL, suddenly look a little less invincible in the Pac-12 North Division.
And guess who benefits the most from the departure of Thomas, who led Oregon to the 2011 National Championship Game and to its first Rose Bowl victory ever, and accounted for over 6,600 career total yards and 75 total touchdowns?
That would be Stanford. The Cardinal are coming off a seventh-ranked 11-2 season, two straight BCS bowls and three straight Heisman Trophy runner-ups, and have many reasons for optimism.
But, while Stanford has fared well against the rest of the Pac-12 North in the past few years, it has had some trouble with Thomas and the Ducks.
Oregon is now in the same boat as Stanford, as both teams must debut a new starting QB this coming fall.
The Ducks have QBs Bryan Bennett and the lanky Hawaiian, Marcus Mariota waiting in the wings. Bennett showed well against Wazzu and Colorado in 2011, ran the spread offense in high school and has been clocked at 4.5 in the 40.
While that resume sounds promising, Thomas was a proven quantity; a disruptive and dynamic talent with a skill set unmatched in the Pac-12 that aligned perfectly in the Ducks' frantic and flashy attack.
In contrast, Stanford's presumptive 2012 QB Brett Nottingham has a style of play similar in many ways to Andrew Luck. He is well suited to step right into the Cardinal's power running/play action offense.
If Nottingham indeed emerges as Stanford's QB, he'll have a familiar target in sure-handed 6'6" TE Zach Ertz. The two were high school teammates at Monte Vista High School in Danville, CA, where Nottingham connected with Ertz for 12 touchdowns back in 2008.
Ertz will be joined at TE by a fellow returning starter, the vertically-endowed 6'8" Levine Toilolo. Ty Montgomery, who starred in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State, will be one of the starting WRs.
Another advantage for Nottingham and the Cardinal will be the power running game. All-American OL David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin will be in the NFL in 2012, but Stanford has shown an uncanny ability to reload on the offensive line in recent years.
And unlike Oregon, which loses the electrifying James, the Cardinal backfield returns intact, with starting RB Stepfan Taylor and his two leading backups, Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson. Not to mention Barry J. Sanders, the high school phenom who has announced his plans to play on The Farm.
All of which bodes well for the Cardinal. Their game at Eugene on November 17 could well be for the Pac-12 North title and the right to play for the conference championship. Luckily for Stanford, on that day Darron Thomas will likely be far from Autzen Stadium, poring over an NFL playbook.