CAL'S TRAINING CAMP begins today, and it's downright disappointing that Kevin Riley still has to win the starting quarterback job.
Or, better put, Nate Longshore still has to lose it.
Seven months ago, Riley relieved Longshore in the Bears' bowl game and promptly saved some face for Cal's season, which threatened to go down as the biggest collapse in college football history.
The biggest collapse? Sure, because how often does a team start 5-0, come within minutes of a No. 1 national ranking and then lose six of its final seven regular-season games?
Riley rescued Cal in its Armed Forces Bowl win over Air Force on New Year's Eve. He was 16-of-19 for 269 yards and three touchdowns. He earned MVP honors. He gave Cal fans hope for 2008, for a happier new year.
Now comes training camp, and coach Jeff Tedford still seems too loyal to Longshore, a maddening element that factored into last year's tumble.
Tedford insists the Bears are in a "great position" to have two quality quarterbacks, plus a promising third in Brock Mansion. Depth is always an asset, so he's correct on that front.
But there's not much great about this quarterback competition. It should be Riley's job. It should be the dawn of a new era at Cal, which it is anyhow because the Bears are desperate to distance themselves from 2007.
If the Bears really want to forget about last year's faceplant, they need Riley to supplant Longshore.
There's a sneaking suspicion it won't happen, that Longshore will remain entrenched as the starter until "... what, more fourth-quarter interceptions that cost the Bears a victory?
Longshore had 11 passes intercepted in the final six games of the regular season, including rally killers against UCLA, Arizona State and USC. He valiantly played on a bad ankle, only to play bad in the clutch.
His troubles stood out among the myriad problems that wiped out last season's dreamy start. He surely wasn't the lone culprit (please notice that touted receiver DeSean Jackson didn't win one team award).
By the nature of his position as quarterback, Longshore endured the critics' harshest wrath. But his teammates didn't call for his head, at least according to Tedford's descriptions of last season's exit interviews, which instead revealed team-wide chemistry and trust issues.
"I don't think our players had an issue with so much the quarterback. Everybody needs to be accountable," Tedford said last week at a press conference. "We were not playing well as a team.
"... It became just too easy to blame the quarterback for everything," Tedford continued. "Sure there were times where Nate did not play perfect. But against Washington "... "
And then, without skipping a beat, Tedford reminded everyone how porous Cal's defense was in a 37-23 defeat in chilly Seattle on Nov. 17.
Tedford covets Longshore's "experience and knowledge" of the system (and Tedford later predicted that the Pac-10 frontrunners will be those with experienced quarterbacks). But shouldn't Cal be wary that Longshore's experience included a horrifying second-half freefall?
As for Riley, Tedford described how the redshirt sophomore moves faster through things, that he'll only check his first two options before going on the move, which Tedford added isn't a bad thing.
"Kevin can be better with more experience," Tedford said, "and Nate can be better with making something happen."
At season's end, Riley sure made something happened in Fort Worth, turning a 21-0 deficit into a 42-36 win. He also made a riveting case to hop over Longshore on this year's depth chart. A new wide receiver corps, a new starting running back (Jahvid Best) and a new play caller (first-year offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti) make this a big transition year for whomever plays quarterback.
Tedford said his team is confident in both Longshore and Riley, that "it may take both to get us where we need to go."
A platoon? Oh please no. Then the Bears really won't know which quarterback to rally behind when they face adversity again. If they are forced to choose sides, they'll be in for way too much adversity.
Choose one side: The quarterback who reigns as the Armed Forces Bowl's MVP.
Contact Cam Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.