With Luck down, Pritchard will lead Stanford vs. Sooners

A day after Stanford beat Notre Dame to finish its best season since 2001 at 8-4, quarterback Andrew Luck called Tavita Pritchard. The redshirt freshman sensation, who had displaced Pritchard from the starting lineup, handed the ball off over the phone line.

Luck had broken the index finger of his throwing hand against Notre Dame and needed surgery to fix it. That meant Pritchard would start against Oklahoma in the Brut Sun Bowl on Thursday.

"It speaks volumes about Andrew," Pritchard said. "He called me and said, 'I just wanted to be the one to tell you.'"

Luck might still play against the Sooners' top-rated defense. Coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters that Luck had the pins removed from his finger Monday. Luck will try to throw this week and his availability figures to be a game-time decision.

Still, the likelihood is the Cardinal's chances depend on Pritchard being able to take heat off running back Toby Gerhart. If the Sooners, who rank seventh in the nation in run defense -- 88.6 yards per game -- don't respect the Stanford passing game, it could be a long afternoon in El Paso.

Pritchard, a senior, is best-known for two things, one good, the other not so good.

The good thing: In his first career start in 2007, he led Stanford, a 41-point underdog, to a 24-23 victory over then-No. 2 USC, one of the biggest upsets in college football history.

The not so good thing: In 19 career starts, Pritchard went 7-12 and threw 22 interceptions with just 15 touchdowns.

Harbaugh nearly pulled Luck's redshirt in 2008 when Pritchard was struggling. While Pritchard generally played well during spring practices, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Luck would take over in 2009.

And he did with impressive results. Luck ranked second in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency, throwing for 2,575 yards with 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

Meanwhile, Pritchard completed only two passes all season, meaning he had only one more completion than Gerhart -- and one fewer touchdown pass.

Pritchard would have played the good soldier in any event -- he's been universally praised by his teammates and coaches for how he handled the demotion -- but he and Luck have become friends. It also was fairly obvious Luck was a special talent.

"We were winning," Pritchard said, "and that is definitely what matters."

After talking to Luck, Pritchard got the official word of his elevation back to the starting job from Harbaugh.

"He was kind of funny about, 'Well, back in the saddle. Keys to the car again.' Stuff like that. He was fun about it," Pritchard said.

Said Harbaugh, "I think they'll rally around [Pritchard] like they always have."

While he's not thrilled how it happened, it's clear Pritchard is excited about getting another opportunity to play. He said his teammates have expressed their confidence in him and, perhaps more importantly, he said he's confident he can get the job done.

But he's as aware as anyone else that winning is what matters. And going out with a bowl victory over the mighty Sooners is a heck of a way to cap a career.

"If we go down there and beat them, it will be a great bookend to my career," he said.