Ask a college football fan about Stanford, and if they even mention the defense you might hear names like Chase Thomas or the injured Shayne Skov. In the likelier event that the offense receives the focus, you'd probably hear names like Stepfan Taylor, Coby Fleener and, of course, Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck. But if one takes a closer look at the 2011 Cardinal offense, a group that puts up nearly 50 points per game, it'd be a drastic mistake to overlook Stanford's offensive line. While the entire group is as big, strong and effective as any unit in college football, the line's leader is undoubtedly Jonathan "Moose" Martin.Stanford's left tackle might not be as well known among casual fans, but NFL scouts know all about Moose. According to Walter Football's 2012 NFL Mock Draft, Martin is currently slated to be chosen at No. 12 overall. Scott Wright's Draft Countdown has Martin going off the board at No. 10. FF Toolbox has Martin as a top-5 selection.With all the hype surrounding the supremely talented Luck, one could argue that Martin might be the safest bet on Stanford's entire roster to be an NFL starter for 10 years.After Martin made first team All-Pac-10 last year, he was a first team Playboy preseason All-America pick before the 2011 season. To say he's lived up to that billing would be an understatement. The 6-6, 304-pound Martin has protected Luck's blind side and opened up holes for Taylor and the rest of Stanford's deep running back corps to such a degree that he was recently named one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award, annually given to the nation's top lineman or linebacker. Thanks to Martin and the rest of Stanford's huge, powerful offensive line, Luck has completed over 70 of his passes this season and has only been sacked four times in nine games. Martin like most offensive linemen prefers run blocking to pass protection, and Cardinal runners average 5.7 yards per carry, 7th in the nation (Oregon leads the country at 7.0 yards per rush, incidentally). Beyond statistics, Martin is the leader of a group that sets the tone for Stanford. The Cardinal, unlike most that spread the field and live outside the hash marks, mixes complicated schemes (Stanford by all accounts makes their offensive players memorize more plays than any other team in the country) with old-school physicality.Martin, who originally committed to UCLA before the chance to play on The Farm changed his mind, is ranked so highly among potential pro prospects in large part due to his athleticism. His long arms and flexibility, paired with outstanding technique and intelligence (several members of Martin's family have attended Harvard) have made him invaluable to Luck and Stanford coach David Shaw.When Shaw moved up from offensive coordinator after Jim Harbaugh left to coach the San Francisco 49ers, it appeared Stanford would have a great chance at a successful season, especially with Luck returning. However, Martin was one of only two returning offensive linemen along with right guard David DeCastro, who in his own right is projected to be taken low in the first round or in the early second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The way that Martin and DeCastro have anchored Stanford's o-line and integrated new starters David Yankey, Sam Schwartzstein and Cameron Fleming has been invaluable to the No. 4 team in the BCS standings.Many believe Luck's chances to clinch the Heisman Trophy ride largely on how he does in Saturday's much-anticipated matchup against Oregon. If that indeed comes to pass, a large reason why will surely be the way Martin protects Luck's blindside when he drops back to do so.
Steve Berman is the Bay Area Sports Guy and a contributor to CSNBayArea.com. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter @BASportsGuy