MIAMI – Andrew Luck threw seven interceptions and 97 incompletions during the regular season. His knowledge of the NFL is less than encyclopedic – more on that shortly – and he settled for a B in the most difficult class he has taken at Stanford, a course on mechanics called Engineering 14.
Yet coach Jim Harbaugh is disinclined to find fault.
“Andrew is the real deal,” Harbaugh says. “He is the best player I’ve ever been around, and he’s even a finer young man. There’s nothing about him where I say I wish he could do this, or I wish he didn’t do this. He is just like my wife: He is perfect. You wouldn’t change a thing about him.”
Stanford’s passing paragon will take the national stage tonight in the Orange Bowl, when No. 5 Stanford (11-1) faces No. 12 Virginia Tech (11-2). It could be Luck’s final college game – although only a sophomore, he’s touted as the likely No. 1 overall draft pick in April if he turns pro.
The BCS game matches two teams climbing in the polls since early in the season. Virginia Tech opened with losses to Boise State and lower-tier James Madison, then regrouped and went undefeated in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Stanford, which has a chance at its first top-five finish since 1940, lost in October to Oregon, then swept its final seven regular-season games, the latest surge in a remarkable turnaround under Harbaugh after going 1-11 in 2006.
Luck was a high school junior in Houston when Stanford hired Harbaugh, who spent 15 seasons as an NFL quarterback.
“I did not really know his name, to be honest,” Luck says with a sheepish laugh. “Don’t tell him I said that.”
Soon enough, Luck accepted a scholarship offer from Harbaugh, and now the coach and quarterback have led the Cardinal to their first January bowl since 2000. Like Luck, Harbaugh might be bound for the NFL this year.
“He’s got to do what’s best for him,” Luck says, “and I’ve got to do what’s best for me.”
First there’s the matter of beating Virginia Tech, which happens to have a pretty good QB, too. Senior Tyrod Taylor was chosen ACC player of the year, and he’s often compared with one of his predecessors at Tech, Michael Vick.
Taylor seeks his third bowl win in his final college game.
“He’s a stud,” Luck says. “When the play breaks down, he’s making guys miss and making things happen. You hate to go against guys like that, because you’ve always got to be on your toes. You never know when they’re going to score.”
Taylor will leave Blacksburg as the school’s career leader in passing yards, rushing yards by a quarterback and total offense. He’s 34-7 as a starter, and like Luck, he wins raves for his leadership.
When the Hokies were 0-2, Taylor led a seniors-only meeting that stabilized the situation.
“His legacy is that we’ll always be talking about Tyrod Taylor,” offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring says. “That’s probably the best compliment I can give somebody.”