STANFORD, Calif. — About the biggest change on the field during Stanford's first fall practice was the man delivering the message.
New coach David Shaw isn't switching up much else.
With Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck back at quarterback, the Cardinal opened practice Monday with a glare of familiarity that was outshined only by the heightened expectations.
"It's like Christmas," said Luck, with his recently shaved beard already growing some new scruff. "It's fun to get away from life and focus on football."
This season will certainly be different on The Farm.
The dozen reporters who gathered for the first practice — tame by major college football standards — were as much anybody could ever remember for the opener at the academics-first university, and the attention surrounding Luck already was at a fever pitch. That will be a theme all season for the Cardinal, and they welcome the challenges ahead in the post-Jim Harbaugh Era.
"The message to the team was we have high expectations for how we practice," said Shaw, the former offensive coordinator. "We're not going to worry about playing games right now. We're not going to worry about anybody else. We're going to worry about us and how we practice and how hard we can run."
One worry Shaw didn't have on Day 1 was at quarterback.
Luck, the Heisman Trophy-runner up to Auburn's Cam Newton last year, returns after putting off being the NFL draft's likely No. 1 pick. Several starters also are back from a 12-1 team that finished fourth in the final AP poll, the school's best ranking since the unbeaten 1940 team finished second.
The Cardinal will likely be a preseason Top 10 pick in the AP poll — they were No. 6 in the coaches' poll that came out last week — and are the heavy favorite to challenge Oregon in the North Division for a spot in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game. Doing so won't come easily.
The major concern for the Cardinal is the coaching turnover. Shaw takes over for Harbaugh, who brought some of his staff along with him to the San Francisco 49ers, leaving the new coach with the burden of making sure Stanford doesn't slip.
Among the other glaring spots to fill are receiver, offensive lineman and kicker. All-America center Chase Beeler is gone. So are leading receivers Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen and reliable kicker Nate Whitaker.
Shaw expects Luck to alleviate some of the transition, especially at receiver. Chris Owusu ranks as Stanford's most experienced wideout with 67 career receptions for 1,158 yards and eight touchdowns, the leader of an otherwise unproven receiver corps that is out to show the team can still contend for a conference title without Harbaugh.
"Everybody understands we lost some key guys," Owusu said. "There's also a lot of guys back and you can see all the attention. It's cool to get recognized, but we have to go out and prove everything all over again."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: http://www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP
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