Higher expectations in Maynard’s last year

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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.