Stanford coach David Shaw drew laughs at the Cardinal's first 2012 team meeting by acknowledging the obvious. "The quarterback position is going to get a lot of attention," he said, "but it's not going to be because of anybody in this room." With two-time Heisman runner-up and presumed No. 1 NFL draft pick Andrew Luck now training for a likely job with the Colts, five Stanford QBs from last year's 11--2 team took to the practice field last week to compete for Luck's old job. No player in the country will draw more scrutiny from the time of his first start. "Some people think it's not very enviable to be the guy who replaces him," says Brett Nottingham, Luck's top backup last season, who will be a third-year sophomore in the fall. "At the same time, he set a standard here, and the way I look at it is, Who better to follow?"
The 6'4", 210-pound Nottingham and 6'4", 211-pound junior-to-be Josh Nunes shared most of the first-team reps during Stanford's first week of spring practice, but Shaw planned to get rising junior Robbie Picazzo and redshirt freshmen Evan Crower and Kevin Hogan more opportunities. Of the two perceived leaders, Nottingham, Rivals.com's fourth-ranked quarterback in the class of 2010, has the stronger arm, a better touch on the deep ball and a slightly quicker release, while Nunes is a tad more advanced in reading and anticipating defenses. As physically impressive as Luck was, his mastery at the line of scrimmage—changing protections and checking the offense in and out of running plays—played an important role in Stanford's consecutive BCS bowl berths. Shaw is looking for much the same in his next starter. "The guy who makes the best decisions is the guy who's going to play," says the second-year coach.
Whoever wins the job has the luxury of commanding a balanced attack. According to Football Outsiders's research, Luck accounted for 57.6% of Stanford's offense last season, significantly less than that of other departed standouts like Baylor's Robert Griffin IIII (65.4%) and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden (64.7%). The Cardinal will lean heavily on a trio of talented tailbacks—Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney (who's with the baseball team this spring) and Anthony Wilkerson—provided it can find capable replacements for projected first-round linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro. "Our pressure is going to go on our running game, our offensive line and our two tight ends [Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz], who we think are the best group in the country," says Shaw, whose team is picked to start behind fellow Pac-12 teams USC and Oregon in early Top 25 projections. "Those guys have to pick up for Andrew, not the next quarterback."
Shaw won't decide on a starter until at least mid-August. In the meantime Nottingham, a Bay Area native whose father, Paul, was a walk-on quarterback at Cal, is focused more on his own improvement. "It's a little bit like golf," he says. "I'm just trying to compete against myself." In reality, he's competing against four other quarterbacks and the long shadow of another.