Stanford Football: Why Kevin Hogan Will Keep Team at Top of Pac-12 Next 3 Years

Jeff BellCorrespondent INovember 28, 2012

PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 24:  Quarterback Kevin Hogan #8 of the Stanford Cardinal scrambles with the ball against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on October 13, 2012 in Pasadena, California. Stanford won 35-17.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Nobody will forget the legacy of Andrew Luck anytime soon, but Kevin Hogan has helped Stanford football fans realize that a bright future is in store, despite the fact that the Cardinal lost a once-in-a-generation talent to the NFL draft last spring.

In a conference filled with new-age thinking and spread offenses designed to light up the scoreboard time and time again, Stanford is a bit out of place.

The Cardinal line up with multiple tight ends. A fullback (if you're unfamiliar with this position, watch some old game film) usually sets up in the backfield, ready to clear the way. And then they pound you.

At the head of the offense is freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan, who replaced opening-game starter Josh Nunes partway through the season and hasn't looked back since.

Hogan came off the bench against Colorado and completed 18-of-23 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns.

He's completed 73 percent of his passes on the year. He started his first game against Oregon State, and then he led the Cardinal to victories at Oregon and UCLA. How's that for your first three wins?

Well if you're Hogan, it's just the beginning. And that's the scary part for the rest of the conference.

The best part about being the starting quarterback for Stanford is that you aren't expected to make the highlight reel every week.

Andrew Luck was an amazing college quarterback, but the offense still revolved around the power running game. That won't change with Hogan under center, but he brings an elusiveness to the position that didn't exist before.

Obviously Luck could move around pretty well, but Hogan's ability to make plays on the run and escape pressure has made this Stanford offense more dangerous than ever.

Now, not only is the pressure on the defense to stop the running back or the fullback, but the quarterback is somebody they must also be aware of in the running game.

Of course, Hogan can toss the rock pretty well, too.

He's thrown eight touchdowns with just three interceptions, and his throw to Zach Ertz late in the game against Oregon for the game-tying touchdown was perfect.

Hogan has proven he can win in a tough environment, and the freshman should only continue to get better. He's made a few poor throws, but none that would cause one to worry about his development long-term.

You have to think Stanford is going to duplicate last Saturday's effort against UCLA with another win against the Bruins in the Pac-12 title game. If that's the case, Hogan's team will land in the Rose Bowl where it'll likely be a huge favorite against whatever scrap from the Big 10 makes its way out of the trash heap.

But let's look even further down the road.

Oregon probably won't be going anywhere soon, even if Chip Kelly leaves. In the North Division Oregon State has improved, and Washington has talent, even if it doesn't show on the field. As for the South Division, UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona are all on the rise, and USC will always be a challenge, even though the Trojans went just 7-5 this season.

But for the foreseeable future, the Pac-12 will run through Eugene and Palo Alto. However, the Cardinal actually have the strength to slow down the Ducks, something no other team in the conference even came close to doing this season. They proved that by holding them to just 14 points, a whopping 40 below their season average.

And while recruiting isn't always the most accurate measure of a team's future (see: Texas, Auburn), you can't help but be impressed by Stanford's efforts last season when they landed three offensive linemen in the Top 50 of the ESPN150.

You may also notice Barry Sanders Jr. on that list. Yes, he is the son of THAT Barry Sanders, and he's also a freshman at Stanford, currently redshirting.

The rushing attack should be alive and well for many years to come, and with the program officially moving past the legacies left by Luck and coach Jim Harbaugh, the Cardinal have nowhere to go but up.

And it'll be Kevin Hogan at the forefront of it all.