Stanford has a secret: 2010 wasn't only about Andrew Luck. And, if things go according to plan, 2011 won't be either.
It's not that Stanford doesn't recognize the benefit of having the best quarterback in the nation. It does. But the program's transformation from also-ran to BCS bowl winner was more about attitude than Luck.
That attitude -- play with "character and cruelty" --started up front under former coach Jim Harbaugh, and that attitude will remain in place under new coach David Shaw, at least according to offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, whom Shaw promoted from receivers coach.
"We are a power running team," Hamilton said. "We are going to get off the bus running power. We're going to establish and control the line of scrimmage. We want to out-physical our opponent."
Of course, when you're beating a defense up at the line of scrimmage, it makes it a lot easier for any quarterback. And when your quarterback likely would have been the top pick in this spring's NFL draft, well, you're in pretty good shape when the goal is to keep a defense guessing and off-balance.
Just consider the numbers from the 40-12 beatdown of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Sure, Luck got lots of attention for throwing four pretty touchdown passes. But the Cardinal rushed for 247 yards and two scores, and averaged eight yards a carry.
There, however, is work to be done this spring. The Cardinal needs to replace three starters from its 2010 line, including All-American center Chase Beeler. So it's not unreasonable to wonder if the offensive line will continue to be -- to use Hamilton's phrase -- "big, tough guys who enjoy imposing their will on their opponent."
Hamilton thinks so, in large part because of the two coming back: left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David DeCastro, who both earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors.
"Their personalities, their physical mentalities will permeate amongst the rest of the offensive line group," he said.
Khalil Wilkes and Sam Schwartzstein are battling to replace Beeler. Kevin Danser has been running with the first unit at left guard, while Tyler Mabry is the right tackle. Cameron Flemming and David Yankey also could play their way into the mix.
Still, the Cardinal might take a step back at the line of scrimmage, at least early in the season. Last year's unit welcomed back four starters, and it was widely hailed in the preseason as perhaps the best unit in the Pac-10 after it had paved the way for Toby Gerhart's runner-up finish in the 2009 Heisman Trophy race. As good as Martin and DeCastro are, and as intriguing as the new talent is, it often takes lines time to mesh.
That's where Luck comes in. As a third-year starter, he should be able to carry the load at times in the passing game. An outstanding athlete, he's fully capable of making plays outside of the pocket or with his feet if protection breaks down. But he's also adapting to change with the departure of his two leading receivers, Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen.
"He has some new wide receivers, so he has to work to develop some continuity with those guys," Hamilton said.
Hamilton doesn't envision Luck's role changing this year, even with his national celebrity as the leading Heisman Trophy candidate. He certainly doesn't want Luck to feel like he needs to transform into an alpha dog in the locker room. That would mean Luck isn't being himself.
"His personality is something that teammates gravitate towards. They all want to reach his level of success. He has field credibility in our locker room," Hamilton said. "He says the right thing at the right times. I don't see that changing."
The offense will try to retain the identity from the "Harbaugh Transformation," but there will be some tweaks to schemes, without question. Said Hamilton, "It's premature to say we've established our offensive identity."
As for life post-Harbaugh, Hamilton said he doesn't expect things to be any less emotional or edgy in the locker room. Sure, Shaw is smoother and less eccentric than Harbaugh. But that doesn't mean he lacks intensity.
"Coach Shaw brings a lot of emotion as well," said Hamilton, who also coached with Shaw when both were with the Baltimore Ravens. "When he's in front of the cameras, he gives a perception that he's laid back. But he's a fiery guy. He's as competitive as any other coach in college football, or in the NFL for that matter."
And if he is successful in 2011, it won't all be about Luck.