STANFORD -- Quarterback Kevin Hogan long ago became comfortable with Stanford's intricate offense, which is just as likely to line up with three tight ends as with three wide receivers.

This season, the redshirt junior is attempting to attain mastery of the system. Naturally, he turned to Yoda for advice.

Andrew Luck was happy to help.

"I talked to him a bunch," said Hogan, who will lead No. 13 Stanford against No. 14 USC on Saturday. "We watched film together, and he shared some tidbits."

Like many former Stanford players now in the NFL, Luck returns to campus each spring to train for a month. He sat down with Hogan and offered pointers on timing, footwork, decoding defenses and other nuances of the position.

Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, left, and defensive back Jordan Richard pose for photos at the 2014 Pac-12 NCAA college football media days at Paramount
Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, left, and defensive back Jordan Richard pose for photos at the 2014 Pac-12 NCAA college football media days at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles Thursday, July 24, 2014. (AP Photo)

Luck also urged Hogan to treat every week from April to August like it was game week, to imagine the season riding on every pass he tossed in voluntary workouts.

"We talk about managing expectations and the pressure you put on yourself," Luck said via the Indianapolis Colts publicity department. "Pressure can be a good thing.

"I have a lot of fun watching (Hogan) play, and I'm always rooting for his success. I think they're going to be great this year."

Hogan is 17-3 as a starter and 10-1 against ranked opponents since taking command of the offense late in the 2012 season. Within a few weeks, he had led Stanford to the conference title, then the school's first Rose Bowl victory in four decades.


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"You look at a team that, post-Andrew Luck, was semi-floundering on offense," coach David Shaw said. "And the kid steps in and wins."

Hogan's challenge this season is more daunting than any he has faced. There is no Stepfan Taylor or Tyler Gaffney to carry the running game. The offensive line is young, and the tight ends, while talented, are unproven.

The Cardinal will be more reliant on Hogan to make big plays -- and avoid costly mistakes -- than ever before.

Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) throws a pass during the first practice of fall camp at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. on Monday, Aug. 4,
Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) throws a pass during the first practice of fall camp at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group) ( Gary Reyes )

"The team can be as good as he is," said Todd Husak, the Stanford radio analyst and former quarterback. "If he elevates his level of play, there's no reason Stanford can't have another very successful season.

"The big question is, can he evolve as a game manager? Can he evolve into a prolific passer?"

At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Hogan has the physical tools needed to become an elite quarterback. He's mobile with a strong arm; he throws a first-class deep ball; he's steady in the huddle; he never gets overwhelmed by the moment.

But mastery of the quarterback position in general and Stanford's offense in particular depends on accurate short- and middle-distance passes.

It depends on putting the ball over the proper shoulder, allowing the receiver to generate yards after the catch.

It depends on identifying defenses, not only the alignment as it appears just before snap but also the masked intentions.

It depends on his ability to counteract those intentions, see the big picture and make the right call.

"He been in so many big games -- you look at Oregon games, he made huge plays," Shaw said. "But then you look at Utah and USC (last year), and he could have done better.

"I'm talking about playing at a high level consistently: Play after play, game after game, to point where he's in the upper echelon of the conference."

Hogan spent his offseason studying the playbook -- the opponents' playbook. He worked with offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren and quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard to, in his words, "get inside the head of the defensive coordinators."

Only with an understanding of the opposition can Hogan manipulate Stanford's offense in a manner that generates maximum results.

Only by anticipating the movement of the defense immediately following the snap can Hogan make correct decisions consistently.

Only by making the correct decisions consistently can he approach Luck's level of proficiency.

"He's not quite there yet," Shaw said. "That was mastery of the offense and mastery of the quarterback position. That's when the coach takes the keys to offense out of his pocket and hands them to the guy and says, 'Go.'

"Kevin gets to borrow the keys periodically. We're not giving him the keys just yet."

For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.

Kevin Hogan File

Year: Junior
Hometown: McLean, Virginia
High school: Gonzaga Prep
in Washington, D.C.
Major: Science, technology
and society
Record vs. ranked teams: 10-1
Record as a starter: 17-3
Career stats: Completed
65 percent of his passes for 3,930 yards, with 32 touchdowns and 14 interceptions

SATURDAY'S GAME

USC (1-0) at Stanford (1-0),
12:30 p.m. ABC

When Stanford
quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) wanted
to improve his game this offseason, he turned to the master himself, former Cardinal great Andrew Luck.


Gary Reyes/STAFF