Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, passing under pressure from Virginia… (Jonathan Brownfield / US…)
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck has decided to stay in college to get his degree instead of immediately cashing in on the riches of being the likely No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.
Luck announced his decision Thursday, more than a week before the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft. Luck, who sat out his first season as a redshirt, has two years of eligibility remaining but is on track to graduate next spring.
"I am committed to earning my degree in architectural design from Stanford University and am on track to accomplish this at the completion of the spring quarter of 2012," Luck said in a statement issued through the school. Stanford said Luck was not available for further comment.
Luck's decision to stay at Stanford comes as Coach Jim Harbaugh is being wooed by NFL teams for a possible job. Harbaugh met Wednesday with the San Francisco 49ers and was set to meet with Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross on Thursday in the Bay Area, two people with knowledge of the situation said. Both spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the meeting was to remain confidential.
New Denver Broncos chief football executive John Elway has said he hopes to interview Harbaugh for his team's job.
It's unclear whether Luck's decision to stay in school will affect Harbaugh's decision. If Harbaugh does leave Stanford, the opportunity to coach Luck next season will likely make Stanford a plum assignment.
Luck was the runner-up this season to Auburn's Cam Newton for the Heisman Trophy and will now be one of the favorites for next season's award.
Luck was widely considered the top draft prospect after two spectacular years at Stanford. His decision will be a blow to the Carolina Panthers, who have the No. 1 pick in April's draft and are looking for a quarterback.
Luck capped this season by completing 18 of 23 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns in the fifth-ranked Cardinal's 40-12 victory over No. 12 Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl on Monday night.
That helped Stanford (12-1) extend its school record for wins in a season and has the Cardinal poised to finish in the top five of the AP poll for the first time since the unbeaten 1940 team finished No. 2.
Luck, the son of former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, is a major reason why Stanford has gone from a one-win team in 2006, before Harbaugh arrived, to one of the top teams in the country. He has led Stanford to a 20-5 record in his 25 career starts, only missing last season's Sun Bowl loss to Oklahoma with a broken right index finger.
"This is a win-win for him," Oliver Luck said. "He gets to spend another year at Stanford, be part of a team that will be highly ranked again next year, finish his degree and enjoy Palo Alto.
"It's not like the NFL is going anywhere, it's one of the best run leagues in the world. It will still be there when he graduates."
Luck's father, the athletic director at West Virginia, said the possibility of an NFL lockout or being selected by the Panthers did not influence his son's decision.
"Call him old school," Oliver Luck said. "He comes from a faction of people who believe you go to college to pursue your degree."
One of Luck's teammates who won't be back is linebacker Thomas Keiser, who told the Cardinal he intends to forgo his final year of eligibility to enter the draft. He started all 13 games this season and finished with 38 tackles and nine sacks.
Luck has completed 64.4% of his passes for 5,913 yards, 45 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his career. He has also rushed for 807 yards and five scores. That athleticism, along with his strong, accurate arm and on-field poise, has had NFL scouts salivating at his potential as a pro.
Harbaugh, a former star quarterback at Michigan and in the NFL, has called Luck the greatest player he has ever been around.
Luck set school records for touchdown passes (32), completion percentage (70.7%) and passing efficiency (170.2) this season. He is already being mentioned alongside Elway, Jim Plunkett, John Brodie and Frankie Albert as one of Stanford's great quarterbacks.
Wisconsin's Watt going pro
Defensive end J.J. Watt will leave Wisconsin early to enter the NFL draft.
In a letter to Badgers fans posted on a school website, Watt said the decision to forgo his final year of eligibility was one of the most difficult of his life — but his dream is to play in the NFL.
"I will be a Wisconsin Badger for life and am forever grateful for all of the love and support that the fans, administration and community have shown to my family and I during my time in Madison," Watt said. "I could not have asked for better coaches to play for, better teammates to play alongside, or a better fan base to represent throughout my collegiate career."
Watt had 21 tackles for a loss this season and played a leading role for a team that made it to the Rose Bowl, where the Badgers lost to Texas Christian.
Coach Bret Bielema said Watt would be missed.
"I talked with multiple people connected with NFL teams on J.J.'s behalf to make sure he had the best information to make an informed decision and one that he was comfortable with," Bielema said in a statement. "He is a terrific example of what we want our student-athletes to be, both on and off the field, and he will be missed."
Virginia Tech tailback Darren Evans, who sat out his sophomore season while recovering from knee surgery, will skip his senior season of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. He led the Hokies this season with 854 yards rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. … Mississippi State promoted Chris Wilson to defensive coordinator, one day after Manny Diaz left the position to take the same job at Texas. Wilson, 41, joined Mississippi State last season as co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. … Delaware will face Eastern Washington in the Football Championship Subdivision championship game Friday night at Frisco, Texas.