They’re still trying to split the atom at Cal, as Jared Goff likes to joke, aware that his fellow Berkeley students generally are too busy saving humankind to follow football. But even the world’s budding global scientists must be noticing what’s happening on Saturdays. Because if they ever went to their labs and tried to piece together a quarterbacking creation …
“It would look a lot like Jared,” said his coach/whisperer, Sonny Dykes.
Blessed with a 6-4 body, throwing accuracy, arm strength, expert footwork, advanced mechanics, pocket savvy beyond his 20 years and an offense that would maximize a stoner dude off the intramural field, Goff is becoming a major conversation piece in the college game. With every stirring performance, he is reinforcing projections from insiders both credible (pro personnel people) and dubious (Mel Kiper Jr.) that he might be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. The Golden Bears haven’t been to a Rose Bowl since 1958 and still are best known for using a marching band as interference to beat Stanford and John Elway a generation ago. The Pasadena drought likely will continue, thanks to a soft defense, but from a counterintuitive view, it also means Cal will keep engaging in wild shootouts that pad Goff’s already gaudy numbers.
Hearing me? What better way to convince some asleep-by-10-p.m. media guy in the South or back East — your typical Heisman Trophy voter — than by piling up irrefutable statistical data in Dykes’ Bear Raid passing onslaught?
The Heisman candidacy of Goff officially launched last weekend in a party town, Austin, where Cal won the kind of game it used to lose because its star seized the night. Yes, the defense blew a lead and needed Texas to miss an extra point, with 1:11 left, to salvage a 45-44 win. But the takeaway was the emergence of Goff on a mass-eyeballs stage. This was his most impressive performance to date, digging his team from a 24-14 hole with 31 unanswered points. With three more scoring passes and his usual absence of interceptions, Goff now has thrown for 25 career TDs without a pick in the red zone.
He was stunned, like everyone else, by the missed extra point. And he was honored to hear that he’d become the leading passer in Cal history, breaking records for total yardage and completions. “Uh, with a win, it’s exciting,” Goff said. “With a loss, it wouldn’t have been that great. It’s cool to etch my name in Cal history. But I’m 100 times more excited about the win.”
His most interesting reaction, though, concerned the late Texas comeback. “I think we played ourselves into that one-point win,” he said. “If we had played as well as we should have, it should have been a 21-point win.” Consider it a sizable motivational breakthrough. In his previous two years as starting QB, Goff was reluctant to show outward confidence and speak his mind. Now, his leadership abilities are emerging as a junior, one more reason the praise and next-level chatter are rolling in.
“Jared’s future is incredibly bright, both for us and professionally,” said Dykes, whose own profile is rising concurrently. “He’s one of those unique players where he’s extremely talented and works extremely hard, and because of that, the game just looks so easy for him.”
Said Washington coach Chris Petersen, who’ll try to slow the 3-0 Goff train Saturday in Seattle with the Pac-12’s top statistical defense: “I mean, he’s really, really good. He gets it out really fast. He’ll hang in the pocket and sit on his back foot. That guy can throw it down the field 40 yards on his back foot, I mean, on a line. He can make all the throws. And he had two really, really big runs, scrambles in the Texas game. He’s not a guy that can’t get out of the rush’s way. I think that’s why the NFL guys are so excited about him, because he’s big and athletic, but he’s a guy that hangs in there and throws it all over.”
But the biggest kudos came from Texas’ vanquished defensive coordinator, Vance Bedford, who dropped the most glittering name in Cal’s recent football past. “He’s one of the best quarterbacks I’ve ever faced in college football … this is Aaron Rodgers,” he said.
You knew THAT was coming, the inevitable Cal-happy linkup of the college game’s best quarterback to the pro game’s best quarterback. Ten years ago, Rodgers left Berkeley and was forced to sit in a green room much too long before the Green Bay Packers drafted him with the 25th pick, a slight he used as motivation to force out Brett Favre and fashion his own Super Bowl-winning, future Hall of Fame career. When Cal fired Jeff Tedford after the 2012 season, Rodgers wasn’t pleased and repelled a bit from the program. Hopefully, when the Packers are here to play the 49ers on Oct. 4, he’ll have time to stop by Strawberry Canyon the day before and watch Goff versus Washington State. There can be no better endorsement for a Goff campaign than Rodgers’ words.
Not that Goff wants to talk about the Heisman, the NFL, his monster outputs or anything but the next game. “It’s a 20-year thing,” he said. “I’ll think about it in 20 years. Tell my grandkids about it someday.” He’s eyeing current prizes, such as contending in the Pac-12 North, which didn’t seem possible in an Oregon-and-Stanford sphere until both lost early games and now are dealing with banged-up quarterbacks. It’s possible the Bears will be 5-0 and nationally ranked when five litmus tests hit them in a seven-week stretch: at Utah, at UCLA on a Thursday night, at home against USC, at Oregon, at Stanford.
Realistically, they should be thrilled with three wins in that gauntlet. But with Goff, who is completing 73.1 percent of his passes and averging 9.7 yards per attempt this year, they can be competitive in those games. And as long as he’s productive as the nation watches, Goff will stay on the Heisman radar even if Cal loses a few. The voters prefer a combination of variables: an outstanding player leading his team to the College Football Playoff, which Marcus Mariota did last season in earning the Heisman. Barring a miracle, Goff won’t be matching the Mariota perfecta.
Yet an early Heisman-race peek shows plenty of wiggle room. At present, the cognoscenti like two bullet running backs from the Southeastern Conference, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb, and the Ohio State streak, Ezekiel Elliott. Quarterbacks? TCU’s Trevone Boykin, Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly and Oklahoma’s Taylor Mayfield are making impressions. But guess whose name showed up Tuesday on the top 10 Heisman lists of ESPN.com and USA Today?
“I’m not thinking about any of that stuff,” Goff said. “I just want to win games.”
That’s Jared, by all accounts a good, humble kid who hasn’t shown any Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston leanings. Dykes, who will win attention for Goff via quoteability alone, took a shot at Winston when he said of his guy, per Sports Illustrated: “Other than [being skinny], there’s not one negative thing you can say about [Goff]. He’s humble, he’s hard-working and loves football. There’s not one single skeleton in his closet. He’s all the stuff that you want. He’s never stolen crab legs, any kind of that stuff.”
He does like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, a social crime. But paying for his takeout food more than compensates.
For seven straight years, players from the South won the Heisman. Mariota broke the streak last year, luring the collective national gaze to the West Coast. Until further notice, Jared Goff is best in the West.
And if he doesn’t win the ‘ol bronze stiff-arm in December, maybe he’ll be the first to shake the NFL commissioner’s hand come May. It’s not splitting the atom, but it’s way more lucrative.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.CalfootballHeisman TrophyJared GoffSonny Dykes