Cam Newton will make his NFL debut with the Carolina Panthers at Arizona Sunday, a day after Stanford and Andrew Luck play Duke in Wallace Wade Stadium.
Under other circumstances, Luck could have been the Panthers' quarterback on Sunday against the Cardinals, who then might have used the No. 5 pick in the 2011 draft to take Newton instead of trading for Philadelphia's Kevin Kolb. And Duke would not have had to worry about Luck.
A redshirt junior, Luck altered both the pro and college landscapes last winter when he announced his intentions to stay in school.
"He would have been first in the draft, everybody knows that," said Duke coach David Cutcliffe. "He's probably on that same path this year, too."
Luck's path will go through Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., when Cutcliffe's defenders hope to avoid the sort of working over Luck put Wake Forest through in 2010 - four touchdown passes in a 68-24 Cardinal win.
At 6 feet 4 and almost 240 pounds, Luck is what Cutcliffe describes as a "rock" and Wake coach Jim Grobe describes as "just plain special."
If Cutcliffe is preparing special defensive schemes, he's keeping it private.
In back-to-games last season, a 52-31 loss at Oregon and a 37-14 win at Notre Dame, Luck was picked off twice. In the Oregon game, he also had two touchdown passes and had 341 yards.
"There's no way to stop him," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "To beat 'em, you just have to be able to score a lot of points."
But for all Luck did in 2010 - 3,338 yards passing, 32 touchdowns and only eight interceptions on 372 attempts - Newton was better in leading Auburn to the Bowl Championship Series title.
Newton won the Heisman Trophy, and Luck was second in the voting after playing for a 12-1 team that routed Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl but watched Pacific-10 (now Pacific-12) cohort Oregon face Newton and Auburn in the title game.
With the No. 1 draft pick at the end of a 2-14 NFL season, the Panthers carefully sized up both quarterbacks as the potential franchise centerpiece.
Luck put an end to either-or speculation among Panthers fans quickly, and while the decision to return to school has been second-guessed by fans and pundits since, it was apparently an agony-free option. His plan all along was to play four years of college ball and enjoy the campus experience before moving to the NFL.
In a recent report by The Los Angeles Times, Luck said he made the decision fully understanding that "all actions have consequences."
Should a serious injury end his football career Saturday at Duke - or at any other point before he signs a multimillion dollar NFL contract - Luck said he's prepared to deal with the consequences.
"It will be my fault," Luck said. "I won't have anybody to blame."
Even after his coach, Jim Harbaugh, left following the 2010 season to take a pro job with the San Francisco 49ers and was replaced by assistant David Shaw, Luck didn't retreat.
Another potential negative from the decision to remain in college - an unimpressive 2011 performance - is something almost no one sees as a possibility.
"He understands the game as well as anyone I've seen," Cutcliffe said. "He knows how to do all of the little things - avoiding sacks, avoiding mental errors, those things. He just has great vision, great arm, great poise."
A part of Luck's broad-based vision was another run at the national title the Cardinal missed in 2010.
Now No. 6 in the Associated Press poll after a 57-3 opening win over San Jose State, Stanford should be in the BCS mix all the way. The key game against Oregon (Nov. 12) will be at Stanford, as will be the regular-season finale, Nov. 26 against Notre Dame.
And if Luck and his team go 12-0, the first conference championship game also would be at Stanford.
So on the vision front, it's so far so good for the guy who might have been No. 1 in the draft in 2010.
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