Higher expectations in Maynard’s last year

Is Maynard quite possibly one of the better quarterbacks in the conference? Time, coupled with performances such as Saturday's, will tell.
Anna Vignet/File
Is Maynard quite possibly one of the better quarterbacks in the conference? Time, coupled with performances such as Saturday's, will tell.

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If you were to ask a Cal football fan to vent their utmost frustrations in the first half of last season, the first two words out of their mouth would’ve likely been “Zach Maynard.”

Save for a warmup game against patsy Presbyterian, Maynard didn’t finish a game with a completion percentage better than 54 percent until the sixth game of the season, making him by far the least accurate quarterback in the conference.

But Maynard made some adjustments down the stretch and showed some noticeable improvement in terms of accuracy and awareness. He stopped forcing passes to future NFLer Keenan Allen and began to spread the field, changing his identity as a quarterback from inaccurate deep bomber to competent game manager.

Maynard even played relatively well down the stretch, keeping Cal closer than expected in a Big Game showdown against the Second Coming Andrew Luck, completing more than 68 percent of his passes in the last three Pac-12 games.

His late-season showing gave Cal fans a glimmer of hope and some encouragement that Maynard could come into the 2012 season as an above-average quarterback, provided he made some further strides in the offseason. With the offense in his back pocket and an offseason to digest his mistakes, it’s not unfair to believe the senior could be a positive contributor in his second season.

Reports out of spring camp seemed positive, with coach Jeff Tedford noting that the difference between Maynard’s first spring and second spring was “night and day.” He seemed to be settling into his role and making the strides Tedford expected of him.

Observing his play in fall practice supported the spring practice reports. In footwork drills, Maynard looked quick and dynamic, displaying clear superiority when juxtaposed with the five other quarterback competitors.

In offense-only run-throughs, Maynard’s deep ball looked as accurate as ever, as he easily bombed 40-yard strike after 40-yard strike to Allen streaking down the sideline.

Maynard certainly is a different quarterback than the nervous pass forcer Cal fans once ridiculed him as. The barometer of how good Cal can actually be weighs heavily on the exact extent of Maynard’s improvement.

If Maynard can develop into a top-of-the-conference talent on the level of UW’s Keith Price, then the Bears may have the offensive wherewithal to make a name for itself in the upcoming year. Stanford looks overrated and save for Oregon, the rest of the Pac-12 North is beatable. If Maynard throws for, say, 3,500 yards and completes 60 percent of his passes, Cal is a legitimate contender for second place in the North and to possibly earn a trip to the conference championship if it can upset the Ducks.

However, if Maynard displays minimal improvement or performs even worse than last year, then Tedford may be looking for another job at year’s end. Another disappointing 7-5 or 6-6 finish would not bode well with the fans expecting Cal to belong to the top-tier of Pac-12 squads.

Much rests on the left shoulder of the second-year Buffalo transfer. Only time will tell if the excessive pressure will fuel the fire or explode spectacularly. Either way, it’ll be interesting.

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  • I_h8_disqus

    The best thing about Cal football this year will be sitting in the stands with good friends and cold drinks. I wish it would be about football, but Tedford seems to be getting worse every year. At least, he used to be able to recruit, but sports writers don’t even have Cal ranked in the top 50 recruiting classes this year.

    • discouraged bear

      We had great recruiting with Lupoi but we all know how that went… I really don’t know how Tedford still has a job.

      • I_h8_disqus

        I can only think of two things. 1) Expectations for football are so low that Sandy thinks a winning record of any kind is wonderful. 2) Nobody wants to rock the boat while the new stadium was being built.

  • sadbearfan

    Going to be tough year to be a Bears football fan.

  • Realistic Alum

    Time will tell but the recent experience of Tedford-groomed QB’s is not encouraging. As to Maynard’s improvement, much of that was due to the quality of the teams he played in the last half of the season and the major clue was the bowl, where he appeared to resume his first-half form.

    This has happened so often — Ayoob, Longshore, Riley and now Maynard — that the blame isn’t on the player, it is on Tedford’s program.

    Good or bad, though, Tedford will stick with Maynard to the bitter end and it doesn’t matter that we may or may not have the 2nd coming of AR sitting on the bench.Those surprised to learn that Tedford has a 3 – 16 record against current coaching in the Northern Pac-12 — and is winless against 4 of those 5 coaches — should look to this as a reason.

    The fact is that as long as Tedford remains the head coach, Cal football is not something to get excited about. That’s kind of a sad statement about a man who has received more than $20 million for his time here, isn’t it?