CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

The Big Picture: Luck doing nothing to diminish legend

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Andrew Luck is the center of attention after Stanford's win over Southern California. (Getty Images)  
Andrew Luck is the center of attention after Stanford's win over Southern California. (Getty Images)  

You were expecting it, right?

You were pretty sure he was going to come through, right?

Down 34-27 with a few minutes remaining. ... A packed stadium of almost 100,000 roaring fans. ... Truth be told, Andrew Luck was built for this stuff. Wired for it in fact. Luck calmly engineered a 10-play, 76-yard touchdown drive in less than three minutes to bring Stanford back in a hostile environment at the Coliseum just when it seemed like USC was going to win another one of those games like they'd won so many times in the past decade. The Trojans had just victimized the great Cardinal QB when USC cornerback Nickell Robey jumped in front of a Stanford receiver and took an interception back for a go-ahead score.

Luck stewed, but only for about 45 seconds according to coach David Shaw. And then the anger of his mistake faded. He had a game to win. This is what great players do. Great players carry teams, and few have shouldered a load the way Luck has this year with Stanford.

"I was very disappointed in myself," Luck said. "There were a couple of seconds there when I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself in it. But the guys believed in me. I was happy there was still some time on the clock to go down there again."

It's far too soon to say whether Luck's performance in crunch time of Stanford's 56-48 triple-overtime win in the Coliseum would lock up the Heisman. After all, there is a big game in Tuscaloosa on Saturday that will have the whole country's attention when LSU visits Alabama and its Heisman contender, Trent Richardson. But Luck just provided more evidence why he is as polished a quarterback as we've seen in college football in years, probably going as far back to Peyton Manning.

Cam Newton might have been more spectacular, but Luck means every bit as much to his team, if not more. In reality, this whole season feels like Luck's "Heisman Moment." The guy has, in some ways sheepishly, put an entire program on his broad shoulders after indefatigable Jim Harbaugh jumped to the NFL. Luck is carrying it through the coaching transition and seems to have the Cardinal rolling toward a BCS title game berth.

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Stanford, a program that had won 10 games in the previous three seasons before Luck took the field, is now an eye-popping 7-1 in its past eight games against Top 25 opponents. The Cardinal are 8-0 for the first time in 60 years and have beaten USC three years in a row.

USC never stopped Stanford again. Luck was 8 for 10 after throwing the pick-six and finished 29 for 40 for 330 yards and three passes for TDs while running for a fourth.

"Outside of the one interception, he was fantastic," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "The stats aren't going to show the plays he made, but he's a really special pocket passer and makes plays with his feet. It's why he'll be the first pick in the draft."

USC linebacker coach Joe Barry, a former longtime NFL assistant, spoke with a hint of awe in his voice when asked about Luck.

"He is a phenomenal player," Barry said, shaking his head. "He just keeps coming and coming and coming. He's just one of those rare players who comes around every 15 years or so.

"There are always first-round quarterbacks, but this guy is just special."

He really is.

One last note about Luck and Stanford, about toughness and grit: The Cardinal lead the nation in fourth-down conversions: 10 for 10. The last time a team made it through a season 100 percent on fourth downs was in the 2005, when Penn State (6-6) did it.

Random Stuff

 My Heisman top five: Luck, Trent Richardson, Case Keenum, Kellen Moore and ... I was struggling coming up with a fifth guy. I'll say Brandon Weeden, who in the past five games -- three on the road -- has a 14-1 TD-INT ratio.

 Speaking of fourth-down percentages, LSU has an uncanny knack for succeeding. The Tigers have been first or tied for first three times in the past seven seasons; two other times they finished in the top six. Overall over that period, they are 58 for 89 (65 percent).

 Mizzou RB Henry Josey continues to be one of the great surprises of the 2011 season. The Texas native was fantastic in helping the Tigers win at Texas A&M, thanks to his 162 rushing yards. He is fourth in the nation in rushing with 1,017 yards and an 8.6-yard average, tops in the country. Only one other RB in the top 30 is averaging even more than 7 yards per carry (LaMichael James at 8.4). Gary Pinkel's program has done wonders with unheralded recruits, and Josey more than fits that M.O.; he was a two-star recruit by both ESPN and Scout.com. Rivals had him as a three-star guy and the 39th best athlete in the Class of 2010.

 There is no way around this now: Texas A&M is one of the country's more underachieving teams. The Aggies' penchant for blowing double-digit second-half leads has to be maddening for their fans. In a little over the past month, the Aggies have wasted a 17-point lead at home against Oklahoma State, lost an 18-point lead to Arkansas and on Saturday lost a 14-point lead at home against Mizzou. As loaded as the Aggies are on offense, this team actually can finish 6-6 -- they still have games at OU and K-State and finish with a visit from Texas. At this point, it'd be hard to expect more than 7-5. Not good for Mike Sherman as this program braces to move into the SEC.

 Only in college football ... do you get Clemson, perennially on "Upset Alert," heading into a game having scored 114 points in its previous two games, and then lose to a Georgia Tech squad that had lost two in a row and was coming off its worst offensive output in years.

 Only in college football ... do you get a Texas Tech team that, after going to OU and holding the Sooners to 124 yards rushing, returns home and allows Iowa State, which had lost its four previous games by an average of nearly 23 points, to run for 368 yards in a 41-7 demolition of the Red Raiders. It had been nine years since ISU had beaten a conference opponent by more than 30. ISU also had never won in Lubbock.

 Penn State's defense has proven to be much more than just the great Devon Still. The Nittany Lions big D-lineman was again terrific with 3.5 tackles for loss in PSU's 10-7 win over Illinois, but don't overlook the emergence of tackling machine Gerald Hodges, who piled up 19 to go with a forced fumble and two passes broken up. This performance comes only a week after the LB had a career high with 14 tackles against Northwestern. The 234-pound former high school QB is showing some of that tenacity that helped make him one of the best prep wrestlers in New Jersey, where he went 40-1 in his career.

As I wrote in the mailbag Friday, I'm still skeptical about how far this team can go with its offense. Penn Stare is starting to feel a little like the Big Ten's version of South Carolina: A good team with a terrific D-line and suspect QB play that is scuffling around but still only has one loss.

Know this guy? BC's Rolandan Finch rolls up 243 yards vs. Maryland. (US Presswire)  
Know this guy? BC's Rolandan Finch rolls up 243 yards vs. Maryland. (US Presswire)  
 Ever heard of Rolandan Finch before this weekend? I'll be honest. I hadn't. Finch, a sophomore running back for a Boston College team having a miserable season, was an unheralded recruit who had run for 266 yards in the Eagles first seven games. Then he faced Maryland, a team that had lost five of its previous six games and has been sleepwalking through much of 2011.

Finch almost matched his total for this season Saturday against the dreadful Terps D, running over Maryland for 243 yards as the Eagles finally beat an FBS team.

 Maryland canned Ralph Friedgen for this? The most surprising thing about just how inept the Terps (2-6) have been is that they're eighth in the country in turnover margin, making them the only team with a losing record in the top 10 of that category.

 Even though the Nebraska D has been pretty disappointing in 2011, the young NU O-line has been strong. The latest: The Huskers ran for 190 yards while rolling over Michigan State, which was keeping opponents to under 89 rushing yards per game. And now the defense is starting to come on. They limited MSU to only 187 yards of total offense harassing senior QB Kirk Cousins to an awful performance (11 for 27, 86 yards). He'd come into the weekend completing 67 percent of his passes.

 So much has been made of the dismal completion percentage numbers of some Ohio State QBs. Here is a bigger percentage: 55. That was the number of third downs the Buckeyes converted against in OSU's big win vs. Wisconsin behind Braxton Miller, their stud freshman QB. The Buckeyes were only 35 percent (33 for 93) on third downs going into the game.

 Stat of the Day: Texas outgained Kansas 590-46. The Jayhawks ran only 36 plays and managed three first downs, one via penalty. And offense was supposed to be KU's strong suit. In one game, the Jayhawks dropped from 52nd in the country in total offense all the way down to 87th, while UT's total defense ranking jumped from 30th to 13th.

I know it has only been two years at KU for Turner Gill, but this is ugly. They've lost six in a row by an average margin of 35.

 Stat of the Day, Take II: Oklahoma State had 27 runs against Baylor. Three went for at least 62 yards, and the Cowboys averaged over 12 yards per carry.

 Stat of the Day, Take III: Tennessee is averaging seven points in its past four SEC games and has been beaten by double-digits in four of its five conference games. With the 14-3 loss at home to No. 12 South Carolina, UT coach Derek Dooley is 0-16 all time against top 25 opponents.

 Jaw-dropping number of the week comes courtesy of Neil McCready, the writer who Houston Nutt lashed out at last week. Ole Miss, which has lost 11 consecutive SEC games and 13 of its past 14, has been outscored 93-20 in the second halves of conference games this year.

 We talked about the effort Michigan DC Greg Mattison has made to improve the Wolverines tackling in the Stats That Matter column a few days ago, and it paid off against Purdue. The Boilers came into the game No. 26 in the nation in rushing, averaging 195 yards. Mattison's D held them to 89 yards and generated four sacks.

Then again, for as improved as the Wolverines defense is, Denard Robinson's passing appears to have regressed from 2010. He threw his 11th INT of season, as many as he had all of 2010, but he has only thrown 135 passes to get to that mark. He had 291 attempts last year.

 Not a great way to cool off the hot seat status for N.C. State's Tom O'Brien, losing 34-0 to Florida State. The Pack had only 166 yards of total offense. They're 4-4, which on the surface doesn't look too bad, but keep in mind two of those Ws came against South Alabama and Liberty.

 Hats off to UCLA QB Kevin Prince. Few quarterbacks have been plagued by injuries as badly as this guy. Prince sparked the Bruins -- coming off the abysmal national TV blowout loss at Arizona and missing four wideouts because of suspension -- by rushing for 163 yards in a 31-14 romp over Cal.


Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for CBSSports.com and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.
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