For weeks I had looked at the lull between the Notre Dame game and the Heisman Trophy ceremony in much the same way that David Shaw did -- that would be the time when I would use this space to hammer home my belief that Andrew Luck deserved to win the Heisman.
Sure, his numbers weren't as prolific as pass-happy quarterbacks Case Keenum and Matt Barkley, his overall game wasn't as electric as Robert Griffin III, and he didn't play in the SEC like Trent Richardson, but he was more than all of that. All season long it seemed clear that the voters would see that. They'd understand that Andrew Luck was the greatest football player in America, and the votes would fall to him in a landslide.
But then his statistics took a dip in the second half of the season, just as America was falling in love with RG3. Even so, Luck still led in all the relevant polls, and most experts predicted that he would wrap up the Heisman with a quality performance in a Stanford win over Oregon on November 12. Luck fumbled the ball once, threw two interceptions (though one was meaningless and not his fault), and the Cardinal lost by twenty-three points. The Heisman was lost.
It would've been great for the program and the University if Luck had won the Heisman on Saturday night. It would've been the perfect ending to a perfect story. A young high school football player in Texas develops into one of the most coveted quarterbacks in America while somehow finding time to excel in the classroom, graduating with co-valedictorian honors. This quarterback could've played anywhere, but he committed to Stanford University, a school whose football team had finished a 1-11 season only seven months earlier.
If the story had played out the way it should have, it would have ended four and a half years later with that quarterback standing on a stage to accept the sport's highest honor, the Heisman Trophy.
We know now that it didn't end that way, that Andrew Luck didn't win the trophy that he arguably deserved, but we're left with a question. Does it matter?
A college football program is only as healthy as its next recruiting class, and it definitely would've raised the program's profile if Luck's name had been called instead of RG3's. (As it is, this will still help out. When the coaching staff is talking with prospective recruits this winter, how often do you think they'll mention that Stanford has had a Heisman finalist three years in a row?) It would've been nice to see Luck standing shoulder to shoulder with 1971 winner Jim Plunkett, posing in front of the trophy, but would that really have made that much of a difference in a given recruit's decision?
There are probably only a handful of quarterback and running back recruits across the country who are realistically thinking about the Heisman during their senior years of high school, and the past three years have demonstrated without question that a Stanford player can rise to that level. (I think we know that Toby Gerhart should've won in '09, just as Luck should've won this year.)
What most recruits will look at, though, is wins and losses, and this is where we see the true value of Andrew Luck. Much has been made of the team's success during Luck's three years as a starter. Stanford has gone 31-6 during his three years (not counting the '09 Sun Bowl loss in which Luck didn't play) and earned bowl invitations all three years. The last two years have been even better, as the Cardinal has gone 23-2 and has consistently been ranked near the top of the polls.
Historically, most Heisman finalists have been able to make similar claims. Great players usually elevate their teams to greatness. But Luck's impact can't be truly appreciated until you look at what was going on before he claimed the starting job. Remember, his three-year record stands at 31-6 with three bowl games. In the previous three years the team was 10-26 with zero bowl games. In the seven years before Luck, Stanford's record was an abysmal 25-55, still with no bowl appearances. So Luck won more games in three years than the team did in the seven before he took over.
This is the legacy of Andrew Luck. He won games in a place where few believed winning football was possible. Jim Harbaugh, Toby Gerhart, David Shaw, and a host of other people certainly had a lot to do with that transformation, but Luck has been the face of Stanford football for two years, and in many respects he's been the face of college football in general.
He might not have won the Heisman, but he did more to change the course of his school's football program than any college player in recent memory. They don't have a trophy for that, but maybe they should.