PUSHING LUCK

The Stanford quarterback's subpar game against Oregon opened the Heisman door, but should it have?
November 21, 2011

Stanford's 53--30 loss to No. 6 Oregon last Saturday killed the Cardinal's BCS title game chances and made the Ducks the favorite to represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl. It also raised a possibility unimaginable for most of 2011: Could someone other than Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck win the Heisman Trophy?

A victory by the Cardinal would have been a coronation. But Luck, who had three turnovers that led to Oregon touchdowns, said that given the result, it was his "worst game of the year."

It was not a total debacle—Luck did throw for 271 yards and three touchdowns—but it was enough of a dud that some voters could give other candidates the once-over.

So, if not Luck, then who? Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, second on most handicappers' lists going into last weekend, saw his candidacy implode along with the Broncos' BCS hopes in a 36--35 loss to TCU. The Oklahoma State duo of quarterback Brandon Weeden (423 yards, five touchdowns passing) and receiver Justin Blackmon (six catches, 103 yards, two scores) were excellent in a 66--6 rout of Texas Tech, but they will steal votes from one another. Alabama running back Trent Richardson rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown in a 24--7 victory at Mississippi State, but it was the first time in the last three games that he's broken the century mark.

That leaves Houston quarterback Case Keenum as perhaps the last best hope to unseat Luck. Last Saturday against Tulane, Keenum was stellar yet again (22 of 29 for 325 yards and three touchdowns) in a 73--17 rout as the Cougars improved to 10--0; he has at least 300 yards passing in every game this season. His profile should also receive a boost when ESPN's College GameDay visits Houston for the team's matchup with SMU on Saturday.

But, will Heisman voters really pick another Houston quarterback buoyed by gaudy stats (à la Andre Ware in 1989) accumulated in a bombs-away offense designed to inflate the passing ledger? Will those voters look past Keenum's pillow-soft schedule (the Cougars' 10 wins have come against teams that are a combined 37--64)?

When Luck called Saturday's game his worst of the season, he tagged "I guess" onto the end of his sentence—an important qualifier. Stanford faced Oregon without receiver Chris Owusu and tight end Zach Ertz, the Cardinal's second- and third-leading pass catchers, respectively. Too many times Luck had the time to throw, but his receiver simply could not get open; Luck was sacked three times by the Ducks after being sacked only four times total entering the game.

"They were fast on film and fast on the field, and they forced me into some bad decisions," Luck says.

Two of his turnovers, a first-quarter interception and a third-quarter fumble, were on him, but a fourth-quarter interception that linebacker Boseko Lokombo returned for a touchdown went through the arms of freshman receiver Ty Montgomery. It was not Luck's finest hour, but given the quality of the opponent, it was also not the kind of performance that should torpedo his candidacy.

The biggest advantage Luck may have over Keenum is that he'll get one final spotlight game before Heisman ballots are due on Dec. 5. Notre Dame visits Stanford Stadium on Nov. 26, a nationally televised game in prime time that Luck can use to leave one final impression on voters.

"We've still got football left, and for that I am grateful," Luck says. "There are still goals left for us."

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To watch an interview with Oregon running back LaMichael James, go to SI.com/justaskin or scan this bar code with your smartphone.

PHOTOPhotograph by JOHN W. MCDONOUGHDUCK SOUP With no breakaway-receiver threat to fear, Tony Washington (91) and the Oregon D hounded Luck all night, sacking him three times. PHOTO

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