DURHAM, N.C. (CBS/AP) — Andrew Luck and No. 6 Stanford will spend a huge chunk of the weekend on an airplane. They want nothing more than a happy flight home.
The Cardinal (1-0) visit Duke (0-1) on Saturday, and the toughest obstacle they’ll face might not be the Blue Devils themselves but jetlag.
The trip to Durham marks just the fifth regular-season cross-country trip since 1997 for Stanford, which is 1-3 in its previous four non-bowl games in the East. That includes a 24-17 loss two years ago at Wake Forest in the first road start of Luck’s career.
“There’s still a sour taste in my mouth from that,” Luck said. “I’d like to personally sort of right that ship in terms of the East Coast.”
That might not be too much of a challenge in this one. Some 2,400 miles away from their Bay Area home, the Cardinal are a three-touchdown favorite in this intersectional matchup of private schools with similarly rigid academic requirements but vastly different results on the field.
With Luck under center, Stanford is in the midst of one of the best stretches in school history.
The Cardinal opened their season by methodically routing San Jose State 57-3 for their ninth straight win, a streak that includes a rout of Atlantic Coast Conference champion Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl in January and is their longest since 1951.
A victory over Duke would bring them within three wins of the school record of 13 set in 1905 and matched in 1941. Stanford is 21-5 when starting Luck, the 2010 Heisman Trophy runner-up who could have been the Carolina Panthers’ No. 1 draft pick had he left school early.
“It all revolves around Andrew Luck,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who knows something about evaluating quarterbacks, having mentored Peyton and Eli Manning when they were in college.
“People ask me, ‘Well, why is he good?’ He is some kind of physical specimen,” Cutcliffe added. “He’s a big, strong athlete. He’s got great feet, great, quick hands, and he has just an uncanny sense of poise and ability to buy a little time. He just stays out of panic.”
Stanford has provided a model for Duke to follow as it continues to claw its way to respectability. The Blue Devils may have taken a step backward with their opening loss to Richmond—their third loss to the Spiders of the FCS since 2006 — but an upset of Stanford would go a long way toward making up for that embarrassing defeat.
They’re certainly used to playing host to marquee opponents, welcoming defending national champion Alabama to Wallace Wade Stadium last year, but beating them has been a different story.
Duke hasn’t defeated a ranked team since 1994, hasn’t knocked off a team in the top 10 since Steve Spurrier was its coach in 1989 and hasn’t beaten a ranked nonconference opponent since edging Stanford in 1971.
“There’s no way that you can prepare for an Alabama-type team during the week without actually having seen them before,” Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “So coming in this week, we know what a top-10, top-five school’s going to look like, and we’re ready for it, and we’re, I guess, more settled in our attitude.”
For Stanford, the value of this trip goes well beyond what—on paper, at least—shapes up as a winnable game against a BCS conference team.
It also provides exposure to Eastern recruits and to the valuable East Coast media markets.
“We’re one of the few, true national recruiters, and for us to play an East Coast game is really big because we get to send some coaches out on the road and recruit the night before,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “Guys within driving distance can come and watch us play, which is exciting. We can’t have contact with them— let them all know that, don’t come by the locker room.
“But at the same it’s nice for them to say, ‘Hey, if Stanford can travel and they’ll come out here,”’ he added. “Hopefully, we’ll give them something fun to watch.”
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