How good were the redshirt freshmen quarterbacks in college football last year?
Well, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M captured the Heisman and upset No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Oregon's Marcus Mariota threw 32 touchdowns and finished seventh nationally in passing efficiency. Brett Hundley of UCLA shattered his school's total offense and passing yardage marks.
And Kevin Hogan?
The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder did his best Andrew Luck impression, finishing 5-0 as a late-season starter while beating three ranked teams along the way and leading Stanford to its first Rose Bowl victory since 1972.
With his second spring practice drawing to a close, the Virginia-bred Hogan is no longer a green-behind-the-ears-backup-turned-starter. He's now leading a team that is, by most accounts, a legitimate national title contender. Last week, I listed him as one of 10 potential breakout stars for 2013. This week, I caught up with him over the phone for this brief Q & A:
Compare this year's spring practice with your experience last year...
"It's like night and day. Last spring I was kind of lost trying to find my way in the offense. I was just trying to learn the playbook as much as I could. I was mostly focused on the offense, on getting up to the line and running the play, instead of focusing on what the defense was doing. This year I feel much more comfortable with my knowledge of the playbook, and now I can control more of what goes on with the opposing defense."
Just how big is that Stanford playbook?
"I don't have much to compare it to, but our coaches tell us that there are few NFL teams that are running the complexity of our offense. We carry over 300 plays going into each game. Granted, some of it changes with each game plan, based on our opponent, but it's really demanding. It's a very mental thing. But we have some smart guys on our team and the coaches are comfortable with our ability to learn the plays."
Were you in a similar type of offense in high school?
"It was completely different. In high school, our plays were out of a no-huddle offense. Our plays were three words and those three words told everyone what to do. Now the play calls are up to as much as 25 words. Each element of the play call is something different. We have to know where everything is and where everything is supposed to be, and the checks are based on what the defense is doing. It took me a long time to get used to just calling the play in the huddle. I feel very comfortable with it now. That's another difference from last fall. Back then, I found myself going up to the line and thinking about the play rather than everything else that was going on. Now I feel comfortable knowing each check, like it's second nature, and that allows me to play fast."
Stanford is obviously a draw as an academic institution and the football team has had success in recent years, but what did you know about the quarterback tradition before you arrived?
"Coming out of high school, I really didn't know much about Stanford at all. The season before Stanford won the Orange Bowl; that's the year I committed. Back then, the coaches told me about Andrew Luck, but I really didn't know too much else. Then I got a chance to see him and the team break out and it was really exciting. When I got here, I learned about guys like Plunkett and Elway. It's almost like a quarterback university here. But there's no pressure. Those guys are some of the all-time greats, and I'm just here to do what the coaches tell me to do."
Like Luck, you also have a fair amount of mobility. Last year, you rushed for 263 yards in just five games. Do you like the run-heavy emphasis in the offense or would you rather pass more?
"I love running the ball. You need to run it to open up the pass. If I could hand off the ball every play, I'd definitely do that. Whatever it takes to get first downs. We're a run-first offense and always will be."
The top five receivers on the team are gone from last year. Who has stepped it up this spring in that department?
"Ty Montgomery. Everyone knew he was stud, but he's been playing unbelievably this spring. And not just catching the ball, but blocking, too. Kodi Whitfield is running great routes. Michael Rector is stretching out the defense with his speed. Luke Kaumatule has been great. We lost a couple of great tight ends in Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, but he has really improved. He's gaining a lot of knowledge of the offense. All four of these guys have have really stepped up."
Stanford has relied so much recently on its tight ends, but you guys aren't quite as deep there this year. Does that change the approach on offense?
"That's up to the coaches. I can't say for sure. We still have all our personnel and packages, but I do think we'll utilize our speed more with guys like Kelsey Young and Montgomery."
Last year at this time, you were just a backup quarterback. Now you're the starting quarterback for a Rose Bowl-winning team. How has your life changed?
"That's one of the great things about this university. People can stay themselves here. There are so many great things going on academically and athletically, so people are used to this. People are used to doing great things on this campus. It motivates you to continue to work hard and be included in that. So, my life really hasn't changed that much."
Are you now a West Coaster?
"I'm still an East Coast guy. We always have little arguments on the team between the East and West Coast guys. It's all in fun. But I couldn't pass up Stanford University. I love it out here and I love California. Maybe one day I'll be a West Coast guy ... but not yet."
If you hadn't gone to Stanford, where would you be?
"My second choice was Virginia. I'm from the state, and I had a good relationship with the coaches there during recruiting. It's hard to say now, though. I can only picture myself here."
Team success aside, what are you hoping to accomplish as a quarterback next season?
"I want to improve my deep ball. We really need to add that aspect to our offense. I missed on a few last year that I would've liked to have back. I want to work on my footwork and on moving in the pocket. I want to gain more yards on the ground. And, above all, I want to master the offense and get in the head of the opposing defensive coordinator, to try to anticipate what coverages they're going to show. I really don't care about stats as long as we win."