All eyes on Stanford in Bay Area
SAN FRANCISCO — Andrew Luck can grab the attention of a room these days without muttering a word.
Sporting a buzz cut and a clean-shaven face, Stanford's standout quarterback created the biggest stir during Bay Area media day Monday just by showing up without his scruffy beard.
"It was impulsive," he said. "I just woke up and decided to shave it."
Oh, the landscape sure has changed in the region.
With so much hoopla surrounding the Cardinal and their Heisman hopeful this season, rival California and San Jose State find themselves working to crawl out of their neighbor's shadow. The extra expectations on Stanford are not only adding to the area's intrigue, it's giving players and coaches on the opposite side extra motivation to regain the spotlight.
"It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth whenever you lose to them," Cal senior offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz said. "So you try not to focus too much on them, you try to focus on yourself. But it's in the back of your mind a little. You know what's happening."
What's happening is a Cardinal takeover.
Luck, the Heisman Trophy-runner up to Auburn's Cam Newton last year, returns after putting off being the NFL draft's likely No. 1 pick and several starters are back from a 12-1 team that finished fourth in the final AP poll, the school's best ranking since the unbeaten 1940 team finished second. Stanford also could be a preseason Top 10 pick and the heavy favorite to challenge Oregon in the North Division for a spot in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game.
The major concern for the Cardinal is the coaching turnover. New coach and former offensive coordinator David Shaw takes over for Jim Harbaugh, who brought some of his staff along with him to the San Francisco 49ers, leaving Shaw with the burden of making sure Stanford doesn't slip.
"Last year was great, but every team every year has to build its own momentum," Shaw said.
Stanford's rival across the bay is carrying that philosophy into fall practice.
Coach Jeff Tedford's Golden Bears are in the unusual spot of being overshadowed by the Cardinal. Cal is coming off a disappointing 5-7 season, the program's first losing campaign since a 1-10 showing in 2001 — and it stings even worse with three straight tough losses to end last year, costing them a bowl game.
This is certainly a year of change for the program.
Besides the opener against Fresno State at Candlestick on Sept. 3, Cal will play home games this season across the bay at the San Francisco Giants' home, AT&T Park, while Memorial Stadium is renovated. The team plans to practice some on the campus' baseball field to adjust to the dirt infield.
The annual Big Game will be at the Cardinal on Nov. 19, and already the momentum around it seems to have swung Stanford's way. Tedford believes his Bears are more amped over the fact they were picked to finish fourth in the North Division in the preseason media poll than by any hype around their rivals; Oregon was selected first and Stanford second.
"There have been a lot of years where we're one, two or up at the top," Tedford said. "But I've heard that we're very low, so that can be kind of a motivating factor."
The Bay Area's heavy hitters will each have their chance.
San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre loves the attention on the Cardinal, especially since the Spartans open the season at Stanford on Sept. 3. With the focus on Stanford and its star quarterback growing ever since last season ended, his players have had all summer to think about the chance to make their own headlines.
"I think hearing about them all the time," MacIntyre said, "naturally makes you pumped up."