Cal coach Jeff Tedford doesn’t like a two-quarterback system, but he may be forced into it this season, at least for the early games. He had hoped to name a starter by midweek, as the Bears start to game-plan for their Aug. 30 opener against Michigan State, but a clear No. 1 quarterback has not emerged.
The good news for Cal supporters is that both Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley have looked good in spring practice and summer camp. They’ve also eliminated the negatives from last season.
Longshore had a fine sophomore season in 2006, when he threw for 24 touchdowns and had just 13 interceptions. He was rated the fifth-best quarterback in the country by The Sporting News, and ESPN’s Mel Kuiper Jr. rated him the No. 3 quarterback entering his junior season.
Last year, he played well early, but then suffered a foot injury that kept him out of one game and handicapped him the rest of the season. Though he never used this as an excuse, he was also victimized by receivers running the wrong patterns. The No. 1 example: DeSean Jackson ran the wrong route in the fourth quarter against UCLA, and the ensuing interception was returned 76 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
Longshore is healthy again and looking more like the quarterback he was expected to be going into last fall.
Though Tedford will not say this directly, it is clear that he had no faith in Riley’s decision-making last fall. Riley did not always practice well, and he made a terrible decision on the last play of the loss to Oregon State. He played very well in the Bears’ come-from-behind win in the Armed Forces Bowl, and Tedford is quite confident now that he can do the job.
Whichever quarterback is in there, much of the pressure will be taken off him by sophomore running back Jahvid Best, who is the closest thing to the collegiate Reggie Bush that Cal has seen. Like Bush at USC, Best is a big-play back, with the speed (he was the state 100-meter champion in high school while at Salesian in Richmond) to slash off tackle or sprint around end for big gains, and he has also become an effective receiving target for outlet passes.
Behind him, Shane Vereen, a redshirt freshman, is a similar back with the ability to also catch passes downfield. The presence of Best and Vereen (and sophomore Tracy Slocum) was the reason for what seemed a puzzling transfer by James Montgomery; he knew he’d be no more than the No. 3 back in the rotation.
Three star receivers have left — Jackson, Robert Jordan and Lavelle Hawkins, the most reliable route runner of the three — so there has been a spirited competition among receivers for starting roles.
The most explosive receivers are probably Florida transfer Nyan Boateng and redshirt freshman Michael Calvin, of San Leandro. Senior LaReylle Cunningham doesn’t have the speed of either Boateng or Calvin, but in practice, he always seems to get open and he catches everything.
The quarterbacks will also have the advantage of a stronger defense, with a change to the 3-4 to take advantage of a great group of linebackers.
Last year, the Bears were an unhappy surprise. This year, I think they’ll also surprise, but this time, it will be because they’re better than expected, no matter who’s playing quarterback.
A glance at each contender’s statistics in 2007:
- Games: 4
- Completions: 36
- Attempts: 56
- Yards: 563
- Touchdowns: 5
- Interceptions: 1
- Rating: 174.63
- Games: 12
- Completions: 230
- Attempts: 384
- Yards: 2,580
- Touchdowns: 16
- Interceptions: 13
- Rating: 123.31