There are no questions as to who will start under center for the Bears in 2020. After going 7-0 in games he started and finished last season, Chase Garbers is the starting quarterback in Strawberry Canyon until further notice. With the arrival of a new offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, in 2020, expectations are high.
In October of any other year, we would already know if those expectations were realized. Garbers and the Cal offense would have played a handful of games and had opportunities to turn in key performances against multiple defenses.
Instead, the blue and gold have had an opportunity to play just one defense this season — their own. If buzz from camp is anything to go on, however, Garbers is already settling in.
“Chase is just continuing to be the leader of that offense, continuing to be steady, showing his ability to make good throws, continuing to move around the pocket,” said veteran linebacker Kuony Deng. “He’s been rolling out a lot in practice and making us all work.”
The hype is real after Garbers improved tremendously in his second season. In 2019, Garbers threw for 1,506 yards and 14 touchdowns. Last year, he had 16 fewer completions and two fewer games, but threw for 1,772 yards and once again tossed 14 scores. His completion percentage barely changed while his yards per pass climbed by more than two yards and he threw seven fewer interceptions — he tossed only three — in 2020.
Yet the 6’2” passer from Newport Beach was still 12th in the conference in total passing yards and 11th in passing touchdowns. While Garbers showed marked improvement, he is not yet among the Pac-12’s best.
If Cal’s new offense is going to be great, it will need Garbers to make the jump. In 2019, he showed greater pocket awareness, was smarter with the ball and created a deep threat. Entering this season, Cal is healthy and experienced on the offensive side of the ball. The Bears have depth on the offensive line, a diverse receiving room and a legion of talented backs.
“We’re going to try to compete and win every game and ultimately to win the North, win the Pac-12 and win whatever game we’re put in,” said Garbers in an interview earlier in October. “We have a lot of experience on both sides of the ball coming back, and I’m really looking forward to this season and showing what we can do as a team.”
Garbers’ practices thus far have been promising, but depth at the quarterback position could still be more important than ever in 2020. An abbreviated camp and a more complex playbook will make it that much more difficult for the backup signal caller to establish themselves. Amid a pandemic and after a 2019 that saw Garbers injured not once but twice, it’s possible that second- or third-string players could be called to contribute in key situations.
Fortunately for Cal fans, the blue and gold have an experienced arm in redshirt senior Devon Modster as the second-string quarterback. Modster was inconsistent last season, with rough outings against Oregon and Oregon State preceding a phenomenal game against Washington State where he racked up 230 yards and three touchdowns. Modster is, at the very least, no stranger to the college game, having played in junior college and at UCLA.
Spencer Brasch would likely be the next man up should calamity befall the Bears. The redshirt freshman had a difficult introduction to college football last season, going 9 of 25 for 71 yards and an interception in his two appearances last season. But it’s safe to say Brasch has been training through the offseason. The 6’4” quarterback added 20 pounds over the summer and has worked extensively to develop his game. While his presence on the field at any point this season would likely be indicative of some disaster further up the depth chart, he could be a future starter.
Cal’s quarterbacks are rounded out by a redshirt sophomore walk-on and two true freshmen from its 2020 recruiting class.
Robby Rowell is entering his third year in the program after walking on from Acalanes High School in 2018. Wilcox and his staff typically like to reward players who work hard and improve over time, but do not ignore Jaden Casey or Zach Johnson, the new additions to the position group.
Casey, in particular, could be promising. The freshman received offers from multiple Power Five programs — including Alabama and Iowa State — and could be important to the Bears’ future.
In a year that has been, to put it mildly, chaotic and that could have more pandemonium in store, Cal has both quantity and quality at the quarterback position. The blue and gold have experience aplenty across the depth chart, and while inconsistency and a new offensive scheme will be challenges to contend with, the Memorial Stadium faithful should expect a quality passing game in 2020.
Jasper Kenzo Sundeen covers football and is the deputy special issues editor. Contact him at [email protected].