Cal quarterback Jared Goff (16) and his teammates celebrate after the Bears defeated Air Force 55-36 in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 29 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Ron Jenkins/AP)

Cal quarterback Jared Goff (16) and his teammates celebrate after the Bears defeated Air Force 55-36 in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 29 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Ron Jenkins/AP)

Goff declares, 49ers next?

BERKELEY — As the season progressed and records kept falling, Jared Goff became more convinced he was ready to leave California early to enter the NFL draft.

Goff made the decision official on Thursday that he would skip his senior season to become one of the top quarterbacks entering the draft.

“The game really started to slow down for me,” he said. “I was able to take things in quicker and learn a lot of stuff this year. I felt like at the college level I had done a lot and it was time to take the next step mentally and physically. You just kind of know when you’re ready.”

While the decision was expected and a long time coming, it still was emotional for Goff, who had been a Golden Bear since birth. His parents both went to school at Cal — dad Jerry starred at baseball and went on to a major league career — and Jared grew up going to games at Memorial Stadium.

Goff said he would miss the camaraderie with his teammates, the relationships with his coaches and the experience of being part of the Cal community. But he is pleased that he helped turn the Bears around from a team that won one game his freshman year to one coming off an eight-win season and bowl victory this season.

“That’s kind of what I wanted to accomplish when I came here to get Cal back to where it was,” he said. “Hopefully in the right direction. I think we’ve done that. Going from 1-11 to being one game away from a bowl game last year and then this year winning eight games and finishing with a bowl victory is huge. We’re back in the right direction and back to where we want to be. Hopefully they can continue to do that and keep it on the upslope.”

Goff is widely considered to be one of the top two quarterbacks eligible for the draft and is projected as a high first-round pick. He is the first Cal quarterback to leave early for the NFL since Aaron Rodgers following the 2004 season.

Goff is Cal’s career leader in just about every significant statistic for quarterbacks. He broke Marcus Mariota’s Pac-12 season record for touchdown passes by throwing six in a 55-36 win over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl on Tuesday to give him 43 in his career — one more than Mariota.

Coach Sonny Dykes said he began talking with Goff about the possibility of turning pro early back in June and supports the decision. Dykes called it a “bittersweet day” as he is excited about Goff’s NFL future but will miss coaching him.

“It’s hard to lose those guys, especially having gone through what we’ve gone through as a program and a team,” Dykes said. “I think he has a really bright future. It will be fun for us to have an opportunity to watch it and be a part of it.”

Since enrolling early at Cal in January 2013, Goff has been on a path to the NFL. He became the only true freshman in school history to start the season opener. He holds school records for yards passing (12,200), completions (977) and touchdown passes (96). He improved every season and finished this past year with career highs of 4,719 yards passing, 43 touchdown passes, 64.5 percent completion rate and a 161.3 passer rating.

Goff lost all 12 games he played against Stanford, Oregon, Southern California and UCLA and threw five interceptions in a loss at Utah in October.

Those performances and questions about his adjustment to the pro game will be scrutinized before the draft. But Goff has shown a strong, accurate arm and taken more responsibility of the offense this season, changing plays and protections at the line.

Goff said he was graded as a first- or second-round pick by the NFL’s advisory board.

Dykes said the biggest adjustment will be dealing the expectations and money that go with being a high draft pick.

“There’s really no way to get ready for that other than to go through and experience it,” Dykes said. “I think he’s about as ready as anybody can be just going through what he has gone through at Cal. It hasn’t all been easy. That’s a big part of growing up, becoming a man, becoming an NFL quarterback.”

His departure leaves a gaping hole at quarterback. Backup Chase Forest threw just 18 passes as a redshirt freshman this season and is the leading contender to become the starter. Freshman Ross Bowers and Luke Rubenzer, who played quarterback as a freshman and safety last season, will also be in the mix.

Aaron RodgersAlex SmithCalCollege SportsGolden BearsJared GoffNFL DraftSan Francisco 49ers

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