Remember how everyone compared Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck because they're so good at football and they call all their plays and they switch it up at the line and they force this tight end to shift to block and this wide receiver to run a stick instead of a post and this fullback needs to go standard to weakside because the blitz is coming from there and wow they're like the same guy but they can't beat Florida or Oregon and they never got that Heisman they probably deserved but they can console themselves by the fact they're both going to be great football players at the next level and win hundreds and hundreds of games in the middle of the Hoosier State. Remember that?
Nah, I don't remember it all that much either. So let's move onto a more interesting topic:
Tennessee lost Manning in 1997 and went onto win a national championship. Can the same parallels hold true for their football teams?
Although the thought of a title in the cards for the Cardinal would be a bit of a pleasant surprise, there's probably a lot of other little things that need to come together.
Let's look at the other players that left with Peyton.
- Leonard Little, one of the most gifted defensive ends of the last decade.
- Trey Teague, an NFL-starting linemen for a good eight years.
- Terry Fair, who was a solid cornerback for a few seasons.
- Bill Duff, a journeyman defensive tackle.
- Marcus Nash, a journeyman wide receiver.
Other than Little, that isn't too bad, and certainly not comparable to the losses up front for Stanford's offensive line and tight end corps that are leaving along with Luck. The Vols certainly had plenty of excellent talent to more than cancel out their losses, even Manning.
- Jamal Lewis was the starting running back to begin the season. When he got injured, Travis Henry picked up the slack, Travis Stephens and Shawn Bryson provided quality depth, and Tee Martin even got to run a bit. Bryson also was the best pass-catcher as well among the group.
- Speaking of which, Peerless Price, Cedrick Wilson and Jermaine Copeland were the top three wideouts. I'd take all of them over about any Stanford wideouts he past four years not named Doug Baldwin. You could make an argument the Cardinal tight ends do a good job filling in their roles, but there isn't quite the downfield vertical passing game Stanford will probably now need with no tried and true signal-caller back there.
- And that defense. Man, that defense. Al Wilson, Raynoch Lewis. Shaun Ellis. Dwayne Goodrich. Darwin Walker. Eric Westmoreland. Deon Grant. Stanford might have great linebackers this year, but the rest of their defense could be stretched a bit thin to match the strength of the Vols at every position on the field that season.
You can see the issues with Stanford trying to pull off what Tennessee did. There are much bigger concerns about the run game than the Vols had, as their two best offensive linemen are gone, replaced by uncertainties and youngsters. Stanford has good runners in Stepfan Taylor and Anthony Wilkerson, but with Tyler Gaffney gone to baseball and Jeremy Stewart graduating, the Cardinal don't even run quite as deep as they used to.
Although the Cardinal have perhaps the best linebacking corps in the country that will keep them in many games, they are not as complete at defensive line or secondary, and that will likely cost them.
On the bright side, Stanford isn't going to be facing overwhelming talent against teams outside Oregon or USC, so they should very much be in the mix in every game they play. But it might be a stretch to consider them national championship contenders the way Tennessee ended up turning out.