Less than one week before Cal football opens its season against North Carolina, Cal head coach Justin Wilcox has named his starting quarterback. Redshirt sophomore Ross Bowers will be the signal caller after beating out redshirt junior Chase Forrest in a lengthy positional battle.
“All the guys did a really good job. (Bowers) just over the camp earned the right,” Wilcox said. “It wasn’t one day, or one game or one practice, it was the body of work. But (Bowers) has got to continue to improve, and he knows that. …(Bowers) is our starter, and we’re excited to get him out there and let him compete.”
Forrest was the first quarterback to get time in Cal’s Spring Game back in April, in what was the first glimpse into new head coach Wilcox’s mind on the matter. But while both candidates ended with similar completion rates and yard totals, Forrest had one touchdown and two interceptions while Bowers put up three scores and no turnovers — in hindsight, a bad omen for Forrest’s chances going forward.
Transfer Brandon McIlwain, who was not listed on the depth chart, was also getting a healthy workload in camp despite the fact that most transfers must sit a year at their new program before being eligible to play, as per NCAA rules. But the constant reps, and Wilcox’s familiar refrain of “He’s not eligible right now,” seemed to allow for the possibility that McIlwain could contribute this season. Wilcox’s tune didn’t change on the matter, but not featuring anywhere on the depth chart seems to diminish any possibility of his playing in the 2017 season.
Neither Bowers nor Forrest has much playing experience in the NCAA. Both have appeared in games, but Forrest is the only one to have attempted a pass. Bowers jumped Forrest on the 2016 depth chart to become the backup to Davis Webb, but with a much more important role on the line, the younger competitor was not going to be gifted anything.
“I’ve always believed in myself and tried to put myself in this position,” Bowers said. “I’ve been dreaming about this and trying to prepare myself the best I can. One mission is complete, now on to the next one. (I’m) very excited, though.”
Wilcox, and to a certain extent Bowers and Forrest, has tried to downplay the importance of naming a quarterback and all the prestige and media attention that generally comes along with it. He’s been upfront about preferring not to treat the naming of a quarterback as something holy, already a stark difference from Sonny Dykes’ offense, in which the passing attack, and therefore the quarterback, was everything.
“I know (reporters) want there to be a press conference or something, but it’s just like any other position,” Wilcox said. “There are starting defensive ends, and outside linebackers and all those other positions too. We’re really pleased with the progress (Bowers) has made … but we didn’t make it a big deal.”
If quarterback is being treated like any other position, that should also mean Bowers’ job isn’t safe from competition as the season goes along. It would hardly be a surprise if Forrest or even freshman Chase Garbers got playing time this season, and Bowers certainly seems aware of that fact.
“They’re breathing down my neck, still wanting my job, and I’ve got to earn it every single day,” Bowers said. “I haven’t forgotten that, either.”