Josh Nunes has emerged as the victor of a quarterback competition that lasted almost eight months at Stanford.
He knows he's got big shoes to fill in replacing Andrew Luck for the No. 21 Cardinal, who open the season Friday night at home against local rival San Jose State.
There was no competition the last three seasons at quarterback because of Luck, who finished tied for fourth in the country last year with 37 touchdowns as the Heisman Trophy runner-up in leading Stanford to an 11-2 mark before he was selected as the top overall NFL draft pick by Indianapolis this April.
Luck's absence created a three-way battle for the starting job between Nunes, Brett Nottingham and redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan. Second-year coach David Shaw named Nunes the starter Aug. 21.
"Josh has done a great job," Shaw told the Cardinal's official website. "The guy who is going to play quarterback is the guy who can do it all - managing the running game, managing our protections and getting us into the right play. Josh has done that."
The only passes Nunes has thrown for Stanford came in 2010 after he served as Nottingham's backup a year ago. He knows replacing Luck won't be easy.
"Being behind Andrew Luck was pretty much the biggest blessing I think you could ever ask for," Nunes said. "I learned a lot from him, and I feel like I'm ready to lead this team."
Luck isn't the only offensive star Stanford will have to replace. Tight end Coby Fleener, who led the team with 10 touchdown receptions a year ago, was a second-round pick by the Colts while offensive linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin were selected in the first and second rounds, respectively.
Shaw is confident in senior running back Stepfan Taylor, whose 2,467 yards rushing over the last two seasons ranks as the nation's 11th-best total. The Cardinal also have returning starting linemen in right tackle Cameron Fleming, left guard David Yankey and center Sam Schwartzstein.
"We have the most underrated running back in the nation with back-to-back 1,000-yard years and this is going to be a third straight," Shaw said. "I think we have a great front seven, as good as college football has had (this) year."
Seven starters are back on a defense that ranked second in the Pac-12 in scoring (21.9 points per game) and total defense (337.6 yards per game). That includes Shayne Skov, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game of 2011 after leading the Cardinal with 84 tackles the year before.
Skov has been suspended for Friday's contest due to a DUI arrest in February.
Stanford will be heavily favored to win its season opener for the fifth straight season in this matchup dubbed the "Bill Walsh Legacy Game." Walsh was a San Jose State graduate before he became famous for coaching Stanford and the 49ers.
The Cardinal cruised to a 57-3 rout of the Spartans in last season's opener in Shaw's first game taking over as coach for Jim Harbaugh, who left for the 49ers.
That defeat was part of a 5-7 campaign for San Jose State, and it marked a major improvement for a program that went 3-22 over the two previous seasons.
The Spartans also had a quarterback battle heading into this year, and David Fales emerged as the winner.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Fales transferred from Monterey Peninsula College before spring practice. He completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 4,635 yards and 37 touchdowns in two seasons, and beat out Dasmen Stewart and Blake Jurich along with freshmen Joe Gray and Jason Habash after the latter two started practicing in August.
"David Fales is going to be our starter. We're excited about what he brings to the table. He did a good job this spring and a good job this fall," coach Mike MacIntyre said. "He did a real good job working with everything. He runs the offense real well."
Defensive end Travis Johnson, the preseason Western Athletic Conference defensive player of the year, had 9 1/2 sacks a year ago and will be chasing after Nunes on Friday.
"He has a relentless motor, he's got a great knack of being able to get to the quarterback," MacIntyre said.
San Jose State, which will join the Mountain West Conference next season, has been picked to finish third in the WAC.