The first thing you're going to have to do is get used to the idea that Andrew Luck is no longer playing quarterback for the Cardinal. Luck graduated in June with a degree in architecture and more than a handful of Stanford passing records, most notably a 67% completion rate, a passing efficiency of 162.8, and 82 touchdowns.
As untouchable as those records are, those who watched closely know that they don't begin to tell the story of Andrew Luck. Quite simply, he eliminated mistakes, and not just the obvious ones, like interceptions and fumbles. His greatest talent was his peerless understanding of the game and unmatched ability to put his team in a position of strength on every play. Those of us in the stands would marvel at his 300-yard games or four-touchdown performances, but Luck often spoke of the 65-21 thrashing of Washington during his senior year as one of his greatest games. It was something of a Matrix Moment for Luck, as he looked at what you and I would've seen as green and black confusion and saw only wide open gaps. He stood at the line before each snap, and seemed to make the correct call on every play. His personal numbers were pedestrian on that night, but the offense was unstoppable.
We won't see quarterback play like that this season in Palo Alto, but neither will fans in any college town in America. Here's the good news, though. It'll be okay.
There isn't a lot of game history for Nunes (he completed one pass for seven yards in mop-up duty against Wake Forest in 2010, and had an incompletion against Cal two months later; that's it), but we've been hearing an awful lot about him during his four-month battle with Brett Nottingham.
The story has always been that while Nottingham possessed more physical skills, Nunes's advantage was a superior grasp of the playbook which translated into a greater ability to perform what David Shaw has repeatedly said is a quarterback's most important responsibility: to check his team out of a bad play and into a good one.
In recent weeks Shaw has said that Nottingham's knowledge of the system is no longer a concern, but Nunes still seemed to be leading the way. Observers reported that Nunes was getting more reps with the first team during practices, and last Sunday's open scrimmage was no different. Nottingham made more big plays, but Nunes took more snaps.
For much of the spring and summer I had been hoping that Nottingham would win the job, simply because he still has three seasons of eligibility left as compared to Nunes's two. The talent that's gathered in the Stanford locker room over the past two years should coelesce into an elite team in 2014, and Nottingham will almost certainly be the quarterback. My thought was that he would be vastly better with two years experience under his belt.
The problem is that coaches can't make decisions like that. David Shaw has a responsibility to put the best possible team on the field each Saturday afternoon, and apparently Josh Nunes will be the quarterback of that team. Senior Stepfan Taylor, for example, needs to win this year, not in 2014.
But back to Nunes. One thing should be clear. More important than the obvious fact that he cannot be Andrew Luck is the simple truth that he doesn't have to be. Even when Luck was at the peak of his powers in 2010 and '11, the Stanford offense still revolved around the run game, and this year should be no different.
So while Nunes can't hope to pick up where Luck left off, he can definitely try to start where Luck began, if that makes sense. If we look at Luck's debut season of 2009, we see that he wasn't spectacular. Coach Jim Harbaugh used him cautiously, allowing him to grow slowly into the position (though he regrettably threw that caution to the wind in the closing seconds against Cal). Luck threw twenty passes or fewer in five of his twelve games that year, and he leaned heavily on Toby Gerhart, just as Nunes will rely on Stepfan Taylor and what promises to be a typically dominant Stanford running game.
There will certainly be times this fall when Nunes fails. He will overthrow an open wide receiver, fumble after taking a bad sack, or have the defense fool him into an interception. In those moments, Mighty Card Nation will turn it's lonely eyes towards Andrew Luck. Hopefully, though, fans will retain the proper perspective.
Luck's final numbers for 2009 were impressive for a first-year starter, but they were hardly Heisman-like: 2,575 yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. I don't think it's a stretch to expect Nunes to duplicate that production. If he does, the Cardinal offense will be fine.
[Photo Credit: Kelley L. Cox/US Presswire]