Stanford vs. Sacramento State, Sept. 4, 3:30pm, Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto.

“He’ll make a play once—throwing off a back foot, throwing a strike that’ll just make your jaw drop. Then you’ll see him in the locker room talking to the freshman walk-ons, just giving advice. And that’s a special type of person who leads not because he’s good, but because people are attracted to him.”

Conor McFadden, a walk-on freshman offensive lineman for the Stanford Cardinal, is talking about Andrew Luck. Premier football intangibles, a great work ethic and a charismatic personality have made Luck the face of this Cardinal team.

With the loss of Toby Gerhart, last season’s Cardinal starting running back and Heisman Trophy runner-up (now playing in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings), the team’s heavy running offense from last year is expected to revert to the pass-heavy style that had the school being called “Quarterback U” in its prime.

It’s never easy to replace a player who accounts for over 2,000 all-purpose yards and more than half of his team’s offensive touchdowns, but that is the task laid before Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh. It all starts with the improved play of their humble star quarterback Andrew Luck. Harbaugh says Luck is the best he’s ever been around, pro or college football.  That’s truly a stunning statement, considering the Harbaugh family’s illustrious history with the sport. “He’s a great player, you know, he’s got all the talent in the world,” says junior offensive tackle Derek Hall. “All we gotta do is just give him some time back there and we know he’s gonna do great things this year.”

Luck, a 21-year-old sophomore from Houston, Texas, comes into the year already being hailed as one of college football’s top quarterbacks. He is on the 30-player preseason watch list for the 2010 Walter Camp Foundation Player of the Year Award, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious individual college football accolades.

After posting 2,575 yards passing and 13 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman, Luck has continued to mature. Gridiron analysts are so optimistic about his ability to improve the Cardinal offense—already the highest-scoring in the school’s history—many have named Stanford as a favorite to come away with the PAC-10 championship. While Luck performed well above the expectations of Coach Harbaugh last season, he will have to do even better this season to help make up for the absence of Gerhart. His talent as a leader is one of the main reasons his teammates believe in him. “He’s such a good guy,” Hall says. “We like him so much that it just makes you fight that much harder to give him time back there and let him make plays.”