There is a word for quarterbacks like Stanford’s Kevin Hogan: polarizing.
His career should speak for itself: two Rose Bowl appearances; a 32-9 record as a starter; a 13-6 mark against ranked teams; and more wins than former Cardinal quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Steve Stenstrom and Jim Plunkett. No active quarterback in the FBS has won more games. Hogan should be Stanford royalty. But he’s not.
“Before you talk about his legacy, I think you have to preface it by saying he stepped to the plate with two strikes against him,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “Strike 1 is you’re the quarterback after Andrew Luck, arguably the best quarterback to come out of college since John Elway.
“No. 2, with all of these spread offenses and everyone being stat freaks, it doesn’t matter how good they are. It doesn’t matter how strong their arms are. It doesn’t matter if they are good at reading coverages right or how accurate they are. If they can throw for a ton of yards, they get a lot of press.”
Hogan’s critics will argue he has done just enough with the Stanford offense to keep the Cardinal in games. That those lofty career numbers are the byproduct of outstanding running backs and defenses. Maybe they’re right.
His teammates and coaches counterpunch with the notion that it is Hogan’s leadership, grit and cerebral style of play that put his running backs in the right plays to be successful. That you don’t win 32 games with mediocrity. That’s fair, too.
“I don’t understand how you don’t appreciate his warrior mindset,” said Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren. “What happened [this year] against USC, his ankle was falling off and he said, ‘I’m going to stay in here and fight with you guys.’ He can’t put any pressure on it, but on a crucial third-and-6 when a screen breaks down, he gimps his way for a first down. He wills his way to a first down. Can you imagine what that did for the guys on this team? Anything that hurts on your body, watching him go through that, it doesn’t hurt anymore.”
On Saturday, Hogan will play his final game against Oregon -- the opponent that elevated him in 2012 from Josh Nunes’ replacement to Luck’s true successor. It was just his second career start and his first on the road. Yet the Cardinal shocked the No. 1 Ducks at Autzen Stadium with a 17-14 victory in overtime. Ask many Stanford fans and they’ll say it was Stanford’s defense and Jordan Williamson’s 37-yard field goal in overtime that won the game. Or it was Zach Ertz’s controversial catch and De’Anthony Thomas’ missed block that were the difference. Yes, Hogan did just enough for the Cardinal not to lose. Or so say his critics.
“That to me is the sad part about where Kevin is at,” Shaw said. “He doesn’t get a lot of the credit, but he gets a lot of the blame. He and I are linked together in a lot of that.”
During his 3½ years as Stanford’s starter, Hogan hasn’t put up the same sort of numbers as Sean Mannion, Luke Falk or Jared Goff. And yet he has bested Matt Barkley, Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota. The only time the word Heisman gets mentioned around him is when folks talk about Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck not winning one. And yet he’ll go down as one of the most successful quarterbacks in Pac-12 history.
“Quarterbacks at different schools are asked to do different things,” Hogan said. “No one is the same. Everyone has different responsibilities and different roles. So whatever names people want to compare me with, that’s fine. I’m just extremely blessed with my fortune and the success we’ve had as a team.”
Statistically speaking, Hogan hasn’t exactly been a bust. He has attempted exactly 1,000 passes in his career. Only 27 of those have been picked off, while 64 have gone for touchdowns. His career completion percentage is 65.4 percent, and he has rushed for 12 touchdowns and more yards than any quarterback in Stanford history.
“He’s underrated and underappreciated in my opinion,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. “He’s a really great quarterback, and he’s won a lot of football games. I think what Stanford does offensively is one of the most innovative offenses, and he makes everything work for them.”
And therein lies one of the biggest problems of playing quarterback for Stanford. Hogan might put the Cardinal in the correct play 95 percent of the time, resulting in 250 rushing yards and three touchdowns. But much of what he does isn’t quantifiable on a stat sheet. “Warrior plays” aren’t listed next to completion percentage.
“I’m a huge fan,” said UCLA coach Jim Mora, whose Bruins are 0-5 against Hogan in his career. “I told him so the last time we played him. Obviously, he’s extremely intelligent. He has a tremendous grasp of what they are trying to do offensively. He’s an excellent game manager.
“When I say game manager, I mean that as a real compliment to him. He knows how to control the clock and get them in and out of a bad play. It’s all the little things he does that helps his team to be successful that I really admire. He knows how to play the game.”
Hogan enters the week ranked fourth nationally in ESPN’s adjusted QBR metrics. His passing yards are significantly lower than the guys ahead of him -- TCU's Trevone Boykin, Baylor's (injured) Seth Russell and Clemson's Deshaun Watson. So are his touchdown passes. Hogan plays a different game than those three. It’s the same game that Luck played at Stanford; in some cases, Hogan is doing it better and cleaner than the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft.
“Andrew left a huge wake,” Shaw said. “It’s been four years and the water is still rippling. Kevin gets overlooked for how efficient he’s been in his career. High completion percentage, doesn’t turn the ball over a lot, effective as a runner. A dual-threat guy like that in any other era at any other time or place -- even here, just not following Andrew -- there would be a ticker-tape parade. But he’s not Andrew. Nobody is. But when all is said and done, his name is all over the record books.”
During his career, Hogan has knocked off every Pac-12 school except for Utah. And he might get one more shot at the Utes if both teams advance to the Pac-12 championship game. He is 24-6 against the Pac-12 and, depending on how many more games Stanford plays, he could match or pass Marcus Mariota’s 36 wins as a starter. USC’s Matt Leinart won 37, though some were vacated.
After opening his career with 10 straight victories, Hogan did his best to deflect the inevitable Luck comparisons. They were there, obviously. But he never considered himself of Luck’s mold. Neither did the coaches. But he had so much success early on that any hiccup was met with harsh scrutiny.
“Maybe he set the bar too damn high,” Bloomgren said. “All he did was win at Oregon, win at UCLA, win the Pac-12 championship. Win a Rose Bowl. People thought he’d never lose a freaking game.”
He has. But not many.
“I think early on I was just trying to manage the games and not get too far ahead of myself and just stick to what the coaches told me,” Hogan said. “The things we do don’t garner a lot of stats or highlights. But that’s not something I’ve ever been too worried about. It’s kind of like remaining in the underdog role your entire career. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
The Cardinal enter Week 11 as one of two Pac-12 teams vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff. So the bloom is probably off the underdog rose by this point. All eyes will be on the Cardinal when they try to knock off the Ducks for the third time in four years. If they can, chances are Hogan will play a huge role. You just won’t see it on the stat sheet.
“He’s won games the way we need him to win games,” Bloomgren said. “He’s all about the W’s. That’s the only stat that should ever define him.”