He hates Stanford but loves its quarterback. Could Brock Mansion, on some level, be conflicted about Saturday's Big Game?
"You hear the crowd, you see half the stadium's white and half the stadium's blue," said Mansion, Cal's junior quarterback, reflecting on his first two Big Game experiences. "I understand. I don't like Stanford. I know a couple guys on the team. One of my best friends' little brother almost went there, so I would have had to give him a whole bunch of crap all week. But he didn't go there."
On the other hand, Andrew Luck did. You may have heard of him -- leads the Pac-10 in passing efficiency rating; third in touchdown passes; dancing at the fringe of the Heisman Trophy conversation; has Stanford on the fringe of the BCS discussion; so good of a redshirt sophomore that Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh considers him ready for the NFL right now.
"Actually I love watching him play," Mansion said after Cal's practice Tuesday morning. "I always watch their games against opponents we have during the Pac-10 season. He's a great player. I'm not going to take anything away from him. He can spin the ball. He's a good guy to watch and learn from."
The two may not have much in common as we speak. Luck is a national name. Mansion is preparing for just his third college start, having taken over for the injured Kevin Riley.
Mansion looks like a guy just getting his feet wet. He completed half his passes for 171 yards and two interceptions in a win at Washington State in his first start. Last Saturday the Bears played top-ranked Oregon tough before falling 15-13, but that was more a function of their stout defense and Shane Vereen's running than Mansion's bottom line (10 of 28, 69 yards).
Now Mansion is being asked to go head-to-head with the kind of impact quarterback he aspires to be.
"When we watch (film), you're just like, 'How did he throw that ball?' " Mansion said of Luck. "There are some balls where he's getting tackled this way, and he throws a strike -- not a looper, he throws a bullet -- back to the (opposite) side and it's just like, wow."
On the other hand, it was just 13 months ago that Luck was preparing for his eighth college start having gone 4-3 in his first seven. P.S.: He is 13-2 since.
Mansion's chances of approximating Luck's quantum improvement? The consensus is, they'll get better with experience.
"He's only played in a couple games," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "It's very important for him to keep his composure and just play within himself and not try to do too much. He's still learning, there's no doubt about it."
And what did he learn against Oregon?
"Just come out and let it rip," Mansion said. "Not think so much. Just go through what you do every day (in practice). I've just got to slow the game down and let it come to me, not rush everything and just go through the keys we go through every week."
Mansion is big on what goes on in practice every week, an ethic he honed during the two-plus years he served as Riley's backup.
"It was a good process for me early on because I had great players to watch," Mansion said. "We watched so much film of Aaron Rodgers and Kyle Boller. Every day was a learning experience, and you just have to make your reps count. That's one of our biggest things in the QB room. You're probably not going to get more reps. Just make them count."
Apparently he has.
"I've been impressed with his preparation," Tedford said, "and his composure going into the game. He's not a guy that gets rattled. He's still getting used to the speed of the game, obviously. But he has a lot of confidence."
So it's official -- Mansion has done everything he can to prepare for his showdown with Luck. Including reminding himself that it really isn't a personal showdown at all.
"It's not that whole one-up mentality," he said. "My job is to go out there and win a football game. If I go out there and throw two interceptions and we win, it's a successful Saturday."
As for any conflicted feelings, no worries, Cal fans.
"Once you experience something of this magnitude," Mansion said, "you just love being a part of it. So I could definitely see myself forever hating Stanford."
Contact Gary Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.