It's been an ongoing issue, but it was an open question until Cal football coach Jeff Tedford answered it Tuesday:
Barring any unanticipated developments (injury, a blowout win or loss, the release of incriminating photos), Kevin Riley will pitch a complete game against Washington State on Saturday.
"Kevin's going to play," Tedford said at Cal's weekly football luncheon. "He earned it last week."
This is both a departure from, and the result of, last Saturday's season-opening win over Michigan State. Tedford's plan entering that game was to start Riley, who had outplayed Nate Longshore during an offseason quarterback competition, but find time for Longshore, who had entered the three previous seasons as Cal's unquestioned starter.
It was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser, given that quarterback job-shares almost never work out to anybody's satisfaction. Either one quarterback outplays the other, which typically leaves the underperformer feeling like he didn't get a fair shake. Or they both struggle, which creates the impression that neither is up to handling the scrutiny. Or they both play so well that neither can understand why he isn't playing more.
Given that Tedford always seems to have 17 really good reasons for everything he does, it seemed like a highly imperfect compromise. That said, the first part of the plan went well enough. Riley completed 5 of 7 passes for 25 yards on his first three drives, after which Cal led 10-0. (It bears noting the touchdown came on a return of a blocked punt.)
Then came Longshore's turn. The first thing he did was whip a laser to tight end Cameron Morrah for a 50-yard gain. Two more completed passes put Cal on the Michigan State 16-yard line. It looked like scenario No. 3 — two outstanding quarterbacks creating an embarrassment of riches — was about to assert itself.
Then Longshore threw over the middle and was intercepted by Otis Wiley.
"The first interception was a defensive back making a great play," Tedford said.
There was, of course, a second interception. On Cal's next possession, Longshore threw into a four-pack of defenders. Wiley got this one, too, and returned it for a touchdown.
Riley played the rest of the game, finishing with 202 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
"Nate made a very poor decision on the second interception," Tedford said. "But Kevin played well enough to be the guy. I'm not a huge fan of going back and forth."
So why do it in the first game? Tedford said he was still evaluating the situation.
"Our plan was to play both quarterbacks," he said. "We were going to put Nate in for a few series in the second quarter. We were playing it by ear. Unfortunately there were a couple big plays that weren't positive for Nate. If the roles had been reversed, we may have changed our thinking."
Which leaves Tedford with scenario No. 1 — one quarterback does well at the other's expense. This makes Tedford one lucky coach, given that everything we've learned about Longshore over the past three-plus years suggests he will take his role as a backup just as seriously as he took his role as a starter.
"I think Nate did an awesome job in the second half (against Michigan State), staying involved, suggesting plays," Tedford said. "He's such a team-above-self guy."
As exhibit A, Tedford recalled the day he informed Longshore that Riley would start the opening game. Not only did Longshore take the news stoically, he went out for team stretching and called out commands as he usually does.
Apparently there's more than one way to be a senior leader.
So something good came out of a seeming no-win situation. It doesn't appear to have broken Longshore's spirit, and it hasn't polarized the team. This is a good thing for two reasons.
One, a happy team is better than the alternative, as Cal found out last season. And two, this is tackle football, as Longshore found out three years ago when his season ended with a broken ankle after 11 pass attempts.
That created a true quarterback quandary for Tedford and the Bears, given that Longshore had no experienced backup. This one? A piece of cake by comparison. And it's all settled. As we speak.
Contact Gary Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.