Leinart, Locker and Now Luck: Why an Encore of 2010 Will Be Difficult To Achieve

Rob WeilCorrespondent IJanuary 8, 2011

Andrew Luck made Bud Foster's Virginia Tech defense look silly
Andrew Luck made Bud Foster's Virginia Tech defense look sillyMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The idea sounds great in theory college kids passing up the possibility of a huge NFL contract to return to school and compete as amateur athletes for another year while pursuing their degree.

With the likelihood that they would be the number one pick, we have seen college quarterbacks such as Matt Leinart, Sam Bradford and Jake Locker pass up the opportunity to forgo their college eligibility and enter the NFL Draft.

Unfortunately, this dream college season  never materialized,  and each actually hurt their draft stock by returning to college.

Earlier this week Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who was projected to be selected as the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft,  announced that he planned to return to Stanford for his junior season.

Luck stated;  "I am committed to earning my degree in architectural design from Stanford University and am on track to accomplish this at the completion of the spring quarter of 2012," .

Luck threw for 3,051 yards, 28 touchdowns and only threw seven interceptions this season. cementing his spot as the top overall NFL Draft prospect in Monday Night’s Discover Orange Bowl. The sophomore quarterback threw for 287 passing yards and four touchdowns in Stanford’s 40-12 rout of Virginia Tech.

Immediately after Luck announced that he would return to Stanford,  analysts began projecting him as the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy next season and keep Stanford near the top of the PAC-10 conference.

A closer look at this situation will reveal how difficult it will be for Andrew to have an encore performance of his tremendous 2010 next year.

In December 2006,  Stanford hired Jim Harbaugh as their head football coach. Harbaugh, a former quarterback coach for the Oakland Raiders was tasked with rebuilding the history rich Stanford Cardinal football program. One of Harbaugh’s first orders of business at Stanford was finding his quarterback of the future. Harbaugh did just that when he signed Andrew Luck out of Houston, Texas Stratford high school. Luck was rated as the 68th best prospect in the class of 2008 by Rivals. His commitment was considered a recruiting coup for the floundering Stanford program.

Harbaugh’s pro style offense became the perfect fit for the 6-4 235 lb Luck. Under the former quarterback coachs' tutelage,  Andrew Luck quickly became a quarterback to take notice of.  In 2010,  with a year of Harbaugh’s offense already under his belt, Luck’s numbers exploded and Stanford raced to an 11-1 record and an Orange Bowl victory.

Unfortunately when Andrew returns to Palo Alto for his junior season,  Jim Harbaugh won’t be the coach holding the clipboard. Harbaugh,  who was being courted by Michigan and numerous NFL teams,  decided to pursue a new coaching challenge and opted to make the jump to the NFL.  Harbaugh agreed to become the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Much like Stanford,  the 49ers have a rich tradition and are seeking to return to their winning ways. Harbaugh will attempt to pull off another renovation job.

It’s unclear how big of an adjustment the coaching change will be for Luck and the Cardinals, but there will definitely be a transitional period. Will the new coach continue to run Harbaugh’s pro style offense and can the chemistry that Luck and Jim Harbaugh had be matched by the new coach? These are just a few of the questions that will have to be answered.

In addition to the departure of Jim Harbaugh, Andrew Luck will also have to break in a mostly brand new wide receiving core. Luck’s top three receiving options, Doug Baldwin, Ryan Whalen and Coby Fleener, all seniors, won’t return for his junior season. Expect players further down the depth chart such as Chris Owusu, Griff Whalen and Zach Ertz to accept bigger roles next season and attempt to make the transition and become Andrew Luck’s main receiving targets. The onus will be on Luck to develop chemistry with these wide outs and guide these receivers along as they expand their role in the offense.

Finally, Andrew Luck will have to deal with a huge target that will be on his back every week of the 2011 college football season. In 2009, Andrew Luck was a redshirt freshman. For the most part,  his duties included handing the ball off to Heisman Trophy finalist Toby Gerhart,  and managing the offense. Coming into this season,  all the buzz was about quarterbacks such as Terrell Pryor, Ryan Mallet and Jake Locker. Luck may have been garnering some hype amongst the Stanford fan base, but for the most part he was off the national media’s radar.

All of that will change in 2011 as Andrew Luck will be one of the premier faces of college football and will have to deal with intense media and fan scrutiny. This scrutiny will be an added challenge.  Luck seemed very poised when answering questions about his future after the Orange Bowl showing that he can handle the bright lights.

Andrew Luck is an immensely talented quarterback and deserves all the accolades and praise that he has received. He will have a new set of obstacles in Palo Alto this fall.