By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — During one of the most uncomfortable comparisons ever lobbied by a head football coach, Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh spent about 60 seconds last Tuesday morning explaining why quarterback Andrew Luck reminded him of his own wife.
“Two people in my life, my wife (Sarah) and our quarterback, Andrew Luck, have a lot in common in that they’re just perfect,” he said during the opening segment of last week’s Pac-10 Conference call. “… They’re just perfect the way they are. For a football coach, that’s pretty great — to have a great wife and a great quarterback.”
A lot of football coaches might feel the same way, although few would say it. But when it comes to perfection — or, rather, imperfection — the true judges will be the ones holding stopwatches and carrying clipboards at the NFL combine.
And in the eyes of NFL scouts, the closest thing college football has to a perfect quarterback these days will be playing at Husky Stadium on Saturday.
Some think it’s Luck. Others, Washington quarterback Jake Locker.
“This is the game,” said Rob Rang, senior analyst for CBS Sports’ coverage of the NFL draft. “In my opinion, these are unquestionably the two top quarterback prospects.”
The ESPN big board put together by Scouts, Inc. lists Luck, a third-year sophomore, as the No. 1 overall prospect in the upcoming draft. Locker is ranked fifth. Only one other quarterback — Arkansas’s Ryan Mallett, at No. 13 — is listed among the top 32 first-round prospects.
CBS Sports has Locker as the top quarterback prospect in the Class of 2011 and Luck as the No. 1 passer among the ‘13 class. Rang projects Luck as the No. 1 overall pick and Locker as No. 8. His colleague, Chad Reuter, has Luck first and Locker 21st.
From the December day when Locker decided to return for his senior year, right up until sometime around halftime of the Nebraska game, he was widely regarded as the top prospect in the 2011 draft. Thanks in equal parts to his own struggles and Luck’s emergence, the designation of top quarterback prospect heading into this year’s draft has changed hands.
“He’s the player that he was last year,” Rang said of Locker, “and that’s a problem. People anticipated huge gains in his second season in (coach Steve) Sarkisian’s offense, and he hasn’t done that. Andrew Luck, on the other hand, has progressed in his second year under Harbaugh — and that was not anticipated.”
Harbaugh, who played 14 seasons in the NFL, believes Luck has the goods to make it at the next level — whenever he decides to turn pro.
“I think he’s definitely physically ready in that way,” said Harbaugh, who will bring Luck and the Cardinal to Husky Stadium for a game against UW on Saturday. “He’s talented, very mature, has all the tangibles. There are no red flags with him. He has all the ability.”
The 6-foot-4 Luck has yet to announce whether he will return to the Cardinal next year. He entered this season as only a fringe NFL prospect, mainly because he was playing in the shadow of Heisman Trophy runner-up and former Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart last season.
But Luck has become the focal point of the offense and had a breakout year. His passer rating of 165.43 ranks seventh in the nation, and he’s led the Cardinal to a 5-1 record.
“His accuracy is so much better than anyone I’ve seen this season,” Rang said. “There have only been a couple quarterbacks in the 10 to 12 years I’ve been doing this who are consistently as accurate as he is. And I’m talking about watching guys like Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan, and then there’s no one else.”
Locker’s senior year hasn’t had nearly the success, or the consistency. Injuries and illness have affected his play in each of the past two games, and he’ll bring bruised ribs into Saturday’s matchup with the 13th-ranked Cardinal.
“Obviously, there are the injuries,” Rang said of Locker’s season. “But injuries weren’t a concern (in the season-opening loss at) BYU.”
Rang added that he has virtually no chance of catching Luck.
“I don’t know that he can overtake Luck unless Luck drops off dramatically,” Rang said. “But he could certainly improve his stock. People are wavering about whether Locker is a top-5 pick now.”
ESPN NFL writer John Clayton said Tuesday on his daily KIRO radio show that he’s had scouts tell him Locker has dropped into the second or third round of the April draft.
It’s likely that Locker’s physical skills will shine at the February combine, but for now he’s taken a backseat to Luck.
“We all know the talent’s there,” Rang said of Locker. “He’s just scratching the surface, and he needs to show more consistency.”
To Locker, the hype of a matchup between the top two quarterback prospects doesn’t mean that much.
“The draft is not what I’m worried about,” said Locker, who got to know Luck during a Pac-10 Conference media tour this summer. “I’m worried about winning games and being part of this football team. I think (Luck) would tell me the same thing.”
But when it comes to facing a premier quarterback, Locker won’t be shying away from the competition.
“Definitely,” he said when asked about the competitive juices that will be flowing when Luck’s in the same stadium this Saturday afternoon. “Anyone you’re playing against, there is going to be a sense of competition, and you’re obviously going to want to outdo the guy across from you.”
Whatever happens Saturday afternoon, Stanford’s coach won’t be filing divorce papers when it comes to his “perfect” quarterback.
Locker sat out most of the team portion of Tuesday’s practice to rest his sore ribs, but all indications are that he’ll start Saturday afternoon. … Defensive coordinator Nick Holt said that freshman defensive tackle Sione Poto’ae is likely to start Saturday’s game while Everette Thompson moves outside to play end. Poto’ae would be the seventh true freshman, and fourth on defense, to start a game this season. … True freshmen Colin Porter and Erik Kohler continued to work alongside each other on the starting offensive line Tuesday, paving the way for what could be the first o-line in UW history to have two true freshmen starting together. … Among the players not participating in Tuesday’s practice were defensive lineman Cameron Elisara, who is doubtful for the Stanford game because of a stinger, and safety Will Shamburger, who suffered a concussion in the loss to Arizona on Saturday night.