Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck showed up Tuesday at the Pac-12's preseason media session looking a lot like the anonymous guy on the couch as you staggered off to class back in college, having grown the respectable Lincoln pelt he flashed earlier this year out to its logical, Mountaineer-like conclusion over the first half of the summer. Behind the mike, though, Luck confirmed what everyone already assumed: By this time next year, he'll be a millionaire a couple dozen times over.
Luck told reporters he's approaching the 2011 season as his last at Stanford before entering the feeding frenzy of the NFL draft next spring — though he'll have a fifth and final year of eligibility in 2012 if he wants it. He certainly won't need it: Luck was the undisputed favorite to go with the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft before he decided to return to school to finish his degree in architectural engineering, and barring an on-field collapse of unprecedented magnitude this season, he'll be off the board with the No. 1 overall pick next April.
Even an injury won't necessarily hurt his stock: When a shoulder injury sidelined Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford after he passed on a chance to be the No. 1 pick in 2009, he focused on his recovery and still emerged as the top pick a year later despite missing nearly the entire season. The last two quarterbacks before Bradford who passed on the top of the draft for one more year in school, Peyton and Eli Manning, both wound up going No. 1 the following year, too, and Luck has a similar pedigree. (Though even Peyton has to resort to the props department to approach Luck's hirsute talents above the neck.)
It also confirms the pressure on Stanford this fall to make the upcoming season count. With Luck in the fold on the heels of a 12-1, top-five finish — easily the Cardinal's best season since World War II — 2011 may be Stanford's only realistic chance at a Pac-12 championship in the foreseeable future, and a run at a national crown isn't out of the picture. If beards were touchdowns, the trophies would already be in the bag.
- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.