On Friday morning, a figurative white smoke billowed from Memorial Stadium. The message was clear: Cal football had found a new starting quarterback.
True freshman Jared Goff from Marin Catholic High School was picked as head coach Sonny Dykes’ man under center. The new kid on the block leapfrogged older quarterbacks like redshirt freshman Zach Kline and junior Austin Hinder, ending one of the most memorable quarterback races in recent years.
The three-way race was a topsy-turvy ride from the get-go. The gravity of whom Dykes was going to choose as his first quarterback at Cal couldn’t be overstated, considering that Dykes was staking his future at Cal on a true freshman.
Dykes’ air raid offense, a high-powered offense aimed at moving the ball as quickly as possible, relies heavily on the quarterback to manufacture the points. Like Colby Cameron, Dykes’ quarterback protege at Louisiana Tech, the new quarterback at Cal needed great mechanics, a quick throw and good movement in and out of the pocket.
But most importantly, Cal needed someone with the ability to keep the rapidly moving offense in rhythm.
And that’s where Goff had the edge.
The three candidates each stood out in their own ways. Hinder made the early run in fall practices for the starting job with his speed and agility. But Hinder soon petered off.
Kline had the arm. Bombarding the field in Memorial Stadium with his slingshot of an arm, Kline left a huge impression. But compared to Goff, he was inconsistent in his timing and accuracy.
Goff had the steadiness of hand. He looked the part of a quarterback that ran a similar offensive system to Dykes’ at Marin Catholic. His transition to the air-raid offense was smoother than that of Kline or Hinder, both of whom were initially groomed under Tedford’s pro-style offense.
All in all, Goff presented the best set of skills to fit Dykes’ needs. But the true freshman label deterred many from seriously considering Goff as the next new face of Cal football.
Could Dykes truly name a true freshman as the starting quarterback? It seemed too risky for a new head coach to make.
But on the flip side of that argument, Dykes selecting a true freshman as the quarterback in his first year made sense. Dykes is a man seeking to leave his mark at Cal. He wants to be here for the long haul. And what better way to announce his intention than selecting a quarterback who’ll be here for at least three years?
What does he have to lose exactly? After a 3-9 season, there’s very little room for Dykes’ team to go but up. Dykes promised us change from the old regime when he arrived last December, and on Friday, change is what we got.
With Goff at center, Dykes lays the foundation for what is going to be at least a four-year project. Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin will continue to groom Goff to become the quarterback that can fluently run the air raid offense.
It will be a marathon for Cal football, likely pockmarked by losses and under duress by its own growing pains. But the Bears just came off a 3-9 season. It’s not as if losing is an unfamiliar concept.
At least, if they do lose a lot for the first few years, there is a tinge of optimism that will carry Cal on.
Fifteen days from now, Goff and the new-look Bears will step into Memorial Stadium to open the season against Northwestern. What happens in between for Goff’s progress as the starting quarterback is anybody’s guess.
But it still pales to spending summer days waiting for the new starting quarterback. At least we won’t have to look over to Memorial Stadium every morning, impatiently looking for a sign from above.