SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Brandon Weeden and Andrew Luck spent the past two summers at the Manning Passing Academy, palling around while serving as camp counselors, forming a friendship that continued after they left.
Both quarterbacks passed up chances at the NFL for another college season and ended up in the desert, where Weeden will lead Oklahoma State against Luck-led Stanford in what’s expected to be a fantastic Fiesta Bowl.
“You never know how it’s going to turn out,” Weeden said. “This is about as good as it gets right here. I’m pretty sure everybody around the country will be watching.”
It will be hard for college football fans not to watch this one.
Outside of the BCS championship game, the Fiesta Bowl is perhaps the most anticipated of the 35 bowls — and the arms and minds of Weeden and Luck are big reasons.
Luck was the Heisman Trophy runner-up to Cam Newton last season and could have been the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Instead, he opted to return for his senior season to take another run at the Heisman Trophy and a second straight BCS bowl at Stanford.
Luck didn’t get his Heisman — he was runner-up to Baylor’s Robert Griffin III — but did just about everything else.
The son of former Houston Oilers quarterback and current West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, he led Stanford to consecutive 11-win seasons for the first time in school history. The Cardinal missed their chance at a national title with a loss to eventual Pac-12 champion Oregon, but Luck had a stellar season, throwing for 3,170 yards and a school-record 35 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
Luck had enough of a grasp of Stanford’s offense that first-year coach David Shaw allowed him to occasionally call his own plays and showed off his athleticism with a one-handed catch along the sideline against UCLA on a trick play.
Luck will leave Stanford as the school’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (80), completion percentage (.664), passing efficiency (161.7) and total offense (10,043) — among other marks.
“He is a patient guy. Obviously he is a very, very intelligent guy. He is the total package,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young said. “That’s why he is predicted to be the first guy in the draft. Great player.”
While he may not have the draft cachet of Luck, Weeden has some of the same attributes.
Not as physically imposing as Luck, Weeden is right there with him maturity-wise, in part because he’s 28 and played five years of minor league baseball, but also because he’s a pretty sharp guy like his counterpart.
The senior also has a big right arm — he was a pitcher in the Yankees’ and Dodgers’ systems — that allows him to make every possible throw.
Weeden had a breakout season as a junior, throwing for over 4,200 yards and a school-record 34 touchdowns. He was even better this season, setting single-season school records for passing yards, total offense and four other categories.
Weeden also had the top three passing games in Oklahoma State history — a school-record 502 against Kansas State — as a senior and will leave Stillwater with at least 19 team marks.
“He knows how to find his weapons,” Shaw said. “He throws a catchable ball, but he also throws a ball where guys can run after the catch, which is huge for the type of offense that they run.”
Luck has been projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft since he was a junior, and for good reason.
At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, he’s pretty much the prototypical size for an NFL quarterback and he has a sharp football mind, honed by his father, former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and Shaw, who added to his development by allowing him to call his own plays.
Luck has a strong arm — Shaw says he’s seen him throw a ball 70 yards — and is a good pocket passer, yet is deceptively agile for someone his size.
He is pretty much everything a team could want in a quarterback and will be a nice prize for the franchise that gets the top pick.
“Wherever I land it will be great,” Luck said. “I am not rooting for one team to win or lose or whatever. So I’m not going to say I don’t care about it because I do care about football. Wherever I end up, I’m sure it will be the best spot for me.”
Weeden’s NFL future isn’t so clear.
Though he has excelled in the Cowboys’ uptempo offense, there are concerns about his age.
Because he played baseball, Weeden is older than Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and San Francisco’s Alex Smith, two established NFL quarterbacks, and will be five years older than the average rookie when he starts his career.
The upside is that Weeden will be more mature than most rookies and has already lived the life of a professional athlete.
“The reality is he’s an awfully good football player,” said Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken, a former assistant with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. “If you look at previous drafts and quarterbacks that have gone in the first and second rounds, and they don’t consider him in that group, I don’t see that.”
Befitting their maturity, Luck and Weeden haven’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about where they’ll go in the draft or what team might take them. They’ve stayed focused on whatever game is coming up next, which, in the case of the Fiesta Bowl, could be a doozy with those two guys under center for the final time in college.