Luck’s return to Stanford adds another highlight to 2011 slate

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If Notre Dame has BCS aspirations in 2011, the news of Andrew Luck returning to Stanford means they’ll need to get by some awfully talented quarterbacks next season. Even with coaching chaos at Michigan (we’re getting to that later today), the Irish will face a schedule chalked full of veteran, talented quarterbacks.

Between Denard Robinson, Matt Barkley, and — incredibly — Stanford’s Luck, the Irish will have two quarterbacks that have been pegged as first rounders since early 2009 on the schedule and another that was every bit as dangerous as Cam Newton in the early part of the year before the Wolverines had another late season swoon that cost Rich Rodriguez his job

(Again, this is the fun time of year where we wonder openly if Denard Robinson has played his last snap at Michigan, as reports earlier in the week claimed that the Michigan quarterback would exit Ann Arbor if Rodriguez was relieved of his position.)

If this year’s season finale in The Coliseum was must-see, next year’s date at The Farm could be just as intriguing. The Irish finish next season with six straight weekends against legit competition — Southern Cal and Navy at Home, at Wake Forest, Maryland at FedEx Field, Boston College at home and then off to Stanford for the season’s finale. That battle with Stanford could determine whether or not the Irish are BCS bound, and if both teams play up to their potential, the late-November showdown will be one of the week’s most high-profile match-ups.

Just a quick perusal of next season’s schedule gets the blood flowing. The Irish open against Skip Holtz’s South Florida squad, an eight-win team that beat Miami in OT, lost to “BCS” caliber UConn on a 52-yard field goal, and then beat Clemson in a New Years Eve bowl game. Next is the always dangerous two-pack of Michigan and Michigan State, with the Irish traveling to Ann Arbor and getting the Spartans at home. Dates with a coach-less Pitt team, a Robert Marve led Purdue squad and a nine-win Air Force team that won the Commander-In-Chief trophy lead up to the Irish’s much deserved off week.

While it’s all but decided that Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh is leaving for the NFL, his star quarterback has decided to stay in school for his senior year, giving whatever coach that runs the Cardinal football program a rock to stabilize a team that’ll finish ranked no lower than No. 4 in 2010, and will stay highly ranked throughout the offseason thanks to Luck’s return.

Say what you want about Luck’s decision to return to school, but I’m all for it. If you’re a high-end collegiate athlete, your family doesn’t need the support, and you believe in your athletic ability, there’s no reason to think that the money won’t be waiting for you next year. Moreover, there’s no year less certain than this one for NFL rookies, who will likely be kept from any team activities until a CBA is reached.

Irish fans have flocked to Southern California on Thanksgiving weekend to watch the Irish battle the Trojans for years. With Luck back at Stanford, a Thanksgiving trip up the coast might be in order.