Stanford head coach David Shaw made a bold decision midway through the Cardinal’s first conference championship season since 1999. With the offense sputtering, he pulled the plug on Week 1 starting quarterback Josh Nunes and inserted freshman Kevin Hogan into the starting lineup.
Nunes had the unenviable duty of replacing Andrew Luck, a quarterback who will go down in the annals of college football history — if his name isn’t etched there already. Perhaps Hogan was spared certain growing pains having a transitional player between he and Luck.
Hogan’s style is considerable different from that of Luck, another angle that may alleviate direct comparisons between the two. While Luck certainly had no fear of tucking the ball and rushing for a first down, he was a true pocket passer. NFL scouts weren’t salivating over Luck’s pro potential midway through his freshman campaign for his wheels.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the redshirt sophomore-to-be is spared lofty expectations. Before making his start in a top 25 clash against Oregon State, Ryan Hewitt told the Associated Press Hogan was the Cardinal’s Tim Tebow.
Succeed arguably the most coveted professional prospect ever and draw comparisons to arguably the best college performer ever? No pressure.
Thus far into his young career, Hogan has accomplished a handful of things Luck did not: beat the Oregon Ducks. Win a conference championship. Appear in the Rose Bowl. Win the Rose Bowl.
Now, the 2012 Cardinal was a defensive-minded team. Look no further than those aforementioned victories in Autzen Stadium and the Rose Bowl, wherein Stanford scored a combined 37 points — nearly five fewer than its 2011 per game average.
Kevin Hogan’s individual output was modest: nine touchdown passes to three interceptions and just under 1100 yards. He rushed for 263 yards on 55 carries and scored twice. With a loaded backfield headlined by Stepfan Taylor, and numerous big targets that increased margin for error, Hogan didn’t need to be spectacular for the offense to do enough to back the defense’s efforts.
But Taylor is gone in 2013. The team’s primary rusher could be a running back who spent last season playing baseball.
A hallmark of Stanford teams in the Jim Harbaugh/David Shaw era is tight end play. The Cardinal coaching staff has seemingly generated tight ends out of the earth, like orcs in Sauron’s army, ready to catch passes immediately. But gone are Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, as well as wide receiver Drew Terrell.
Shaw may some new orcs…er, tight ends ready to step in, but Hogan must develop chemistry with an entirely new receiving corps during this off-season.
An interesting part of his game we could see unleashed more often is that rushing ability. At 6-foot-4, Hogan has long, galloping strides akin to fellow Pac-12 quarterback Marcus Mariota. As the Cardinal restructures the running game without Taylor, the quarterback’s ability to move becomes increasingly valuable.
How valuable? Perhaps enough to parlay into a second consecutive conference championship. Stanford hosts contenders Washington and Oregon in the division. One of the nation’s best defenses in 2012 returners key contributors like Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy.