How Did Stanford Football Get Better After Andrew Luck Left?

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How Did Stanford Football Get Better After Andrew Luck Left?
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Stanford football does not have a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2013 as it did in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons. None of the current Cardinal are regarded as once-in-a-generation talents. 

Two years removed from the departure of quarterback and NFL draft No. 1 overall selection Andrew Luck, Stanford has actually improved. 

That's no slight against Luck, arguably the greatest quarterback in program history—and that's an illustrious history, considering Jim Plunkett and John Elway also donned Stanford's cardinal-and-white.  

Rather, the Cardinal's current role as defending Pac-12 Conference champions and BCS Championship contenders is a testament to what Luck helped build. 

Talking to Andrew Luck, [he was] staying up all night when we played Oregon, head coach David Shaw said at July's Pac-12 media day. These guys are playing NFL games the next day, and they're staying up late to watch [the game against] Oregon, they're staying up late to watch the [USC] game. They take so much pride, when they leave they want to make sure the young guys understand what it takes...not just to build a program, but to advance it.   

Shaw has added to the foundation predecessor Jim Harbaugh set with his teams. Those include the 2009 and 2010 teams with Luck at quarterback, just prior to Harbaugh leaving for the NFL.

There is no Andrew Luck on this roster. Sophomore Kevin Hogan is a capable quarterback who gives the Cardinal both a passing and running look, much like Luck. 

However, Hogan doesn't garner the same adulation as Luck. 

Running back Tyler Gaffney is on a 1,000-yard rushing pace, but he's not 2009 Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart. 

The Cardinal may not be stars in the traditional sense, but they are stocked with great players at every position.

Crediting the Cardinal’s sustained run to intelligent, team-first players shortchanges their abilities.

There’s plenty of NFL-caliber talent on the roster.

All-American Ed Reynolds, a star of Stanford's Week 6 win over Washington, ranks No. 2 on CBSSports.com's list of pro free safety prospects for the 2015 draft. Trent Murphy is second among defensive ends for the upcoming class, and Shayne Skov is No. 4 at inside linebacker. 

More than simply having a few standouts as pillars, Shaw has built a roster with depth at every position.  

Take the wide receiver corps. Stanford relied heavily on its tight ends in 2012, but the receivers have responded resoundingly to the departure of reliable targets Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo this season.

Ty Montgomery is having one of the best seasons of any wideout in college football, but Shaw gushed about the performance of all of his receivers on last week’s Pac-12 coaches teleconference call.

“We feel like we've had these guys that are ready to impact games, and it's fun to see their hard work pay off and be viable options for us,” he said.  

Stanford’s depth at receiver is just one example of success begetting more success.

Shaw has parlayed the attention players like Gerhart and Luck brought onto the program into recruiting victories. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

Stanford's foundation has also been the building block for the rest of the Pac-12, and that has forced the Cardinal to stay ahead of the curve.

Contenders such as Washington have elevated the level of their programs in pursuit of the success the Cardinal have experienced since finishing at the bottom of the conference just seven years ago. 

Harry How/Getty Images

The Cardinal overcame Washington's challenge Saturday by capitalizing on every window of opportunity the Huskies opened.

That’s where the Stanford smarts come into play. The Cardinal are an opportunistic bunch

"I don't know if there's anything we haven't seen," Shaw said in his postgame press conference, per GoStanford.com. "But I do know with the older guys on this team especially...we've been through this. It's not a beauty contest. It's a football game." 

Another upstart promises to test the Cardinal again later this month, when UCLA visits the Farm. The Bruins are on the cusp of the Top 10 and looking to avenge their two losses to Stanford last November.

UCLA may leave with a win; Jim Mora's team is playing at a high level and will give the Cardinal its best shot.

But opponents like Washington and UCLA having to throw all they have at Stanford is a testament to how far the program has come since its last-place finish, and a credit to the sustained success its enjoyed despite losing rare talent.

 

 Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.

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