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Backup QBs: The most popular guys on the team

Pop Quiz, hotshot!  You've got 4 QBs and you can choose 2.  Who do you choose?

                       Completion %            Yards/Attempt         QB Rating
QB A               54.7%                          7.46                          128.7
QB B               59.9%                          6.72                           123.3
QB C              55.6%                          5.00                           97.6
QB D               64.3%                         10.05                         174.6

So, who you gonna take?  Check in after the fold to see the answers on who these QBs are.

So, who did you choose?  QB A?  QB C?  Here is the legend:


QB A is 2009 Kevin Riley.

QB B is 2007 Nate Longshore

QB C is 2009 Beau Sweeney

QB D is 2007 Kevin Riley


And here are the stats for the people:

2009 Football Season

Kevin Riley 209 382 2850 54.7 7.46 18 8 128.7
Beau Sweeney 5 9 45 55.6 5.00 0 0 97.6

2007 Football Season

Nate Longshore 230 384 2580 59.9 6.72 16 13 123.3
Kevin Riley 36 56 563 64.3 10.05 5 1 174.6



Let's be clear, this post is not necessarily about who is better, Kevin Riley or Beau Sweeney in 2009.  Nor is it about who was better, Nate Longshore or Kevin Riley in 2007.  It's about one thing and one thing only:

Our own ignorance.

First, for those who have been living under a rock on the moon for the past 3 years, I'll take us over some well worn territory.

In 2007, Nate Longshore started the first 5 games and played remarkably well.  Here is his stat line:

Date Opponent Surface Result Att Comp Pct. Yards Yards/Att Int TD Rating
09/01/07 12 Tennessee Turf W 45-31 28 19 67.9 241 8.6 0 2 163.73
09/08/07 @ Colorado St. Turf W 34-28 29 19 65.5 146 5.0 0 0 107.81
09/15/07 Louisiana Tech Turf W 42-12 36 22 61.1 230 6.4 1 2 127.55
09/22/07 Arizona Turf W 45-27 30 16 53.3 235 7.8 1 1 123.46
09/29/07 @ 23 Oregon Turf W 31-24 43 28 65.1 285 6.6 0 2 136.15


Based on his successful 2006 season, these games all made Cal fans excited about the future.  Then, Longshore got badly injured in the Oregon game and was never ever the same (not even in 2008).  Kevin Riley, an unknown player, came in to start the OSU game:

10/13/07 25 Oregon St. Turf L 28-31 37 20 54.1 294 7.9 1 2 133.23


Those numbers he put up were eerily similar to the entire 2009 season if you compared the averages.  But, no matter.  Despite the horrific ending to that game and despite Nate Longshore's previous success rate, fans started to turn on Longshore.  His numbers over the rest of the season range from not good to "Really, he played that good against Washington?"

10/20/07 @ UCLA Grass L 21-30 34 22 64.7 232 6.8 3 3 133.50
10/27/07 @ 16 Arizona St. Grass L 20-31 36 18 50.0 261 7.3 2 1 108.96
11/03/07 Washington St. Turf W 20-17 39 26 66.7 213 5.5 1 0 107.42
11/10/07 3 Southern California Turf L 17-24 29 13 44.8 199 6.9 2 1 100.06
11/17/07 @ Washington Turf L 23-37 28 20 71.4 236 8.4 1 3 170.45
12/01/07 @ Stanford Grass L 13-20 47 22 46.8 252 5.4 2 1 90.36


The real problem was that even when he played well he seemed to have a poorly timed interception that ended Cal's opportunity to win.  The most painful way to lose is the last minute 4th quarter interception.  It created no fans for Longshore.  Soon, fans were calling for Riley.  It was obvious to all that Longshore was still injured and couldn't play at his previous level.  He was an OK QB now.  Cal fans were pounding Tedford for not putting Riley in.  They were saying things like:

Against UCLA and Arizona State, I can say with certainty that our problems stem from the ineffective, near tragic play of Nate Longshore. Here is my assessment…

We need to bench Longshore. Unless the designed play gets everyone open, Longshore cannot create. 

God has blown in on QB’s since 2005. This year he really illustrated how stubborn and irrational he is. You can add another 5,000 fancy words to your post above if you like, but it will never change the fact that RILEY should have started the last few games. WE could have been a contendah. :-) SHAME ON TEDFORD!!!

It was no longer a situation where people blamed Longshore alone.  Quickly, it turned to blaming Tedford.  And things went downhill fast in that regard

Tedford by all accounts is a very loyal and likeable guy. But a darker more sinister side to him that is little publicized is his sheer vindictivness to whomever does not worship him as a God. Apparently Riley refused to be his lap dog like Longshore and as a result he will probably NEVER start as a Cal quarterback. Levy was the same way. He saw himself as an individual with ideas and input to share, Tedford tanked his entire career as a result. Tedford is no God, he’s not even a very savvy coach. Just look at his play calling and personnel decisions this year. Mediocre coaches can become bad coaches, and I think Tedford is well on his way. Sticking with Longshore has to go down as being one of the stupidest coaching decisions in all of the history of sports.

The most extreme of people felt as if it was a character flaw in Tedford to not start Riley.  It wasn't just a case of Xs and Os.  It wasn't just that an injured Longshore could or might give Cal a better chance to win than Riley.  It was that, independent of other available factors, Tedford was playing Longshore out of spite or vindictiveness or stubbornness.

Yes, that was on the extreme end, but still many Cal fans were pounding their chests for the more basic examples quote above about how Cal needs to bench Longshore, because Riley gives us a better chance to win.  What does this assume?  That us Cal fans know who gives us a better chance to win.

But what did we base that on?  Riley's inconsistent, but, at times, explosive numbers in the OSU game (sound familiar?).  When we tried to show that it wasn't just Longshore's failures that were causing losses and that there were other meltdowns on the team, fans seemed uninterested in those arguments.  They continually pinned the blame on Longshore and Tedford.

Then, the Armed Forces Bowl happened.  I'll spare you most of the details here, but needless to say Kevin Riley played unbelievably well in the game.  What were his numbers?


Riley completed 16 of 19 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns and ran four times for 17 yards and a score.

Unbelievably good numbers.  This only caused Cal fans who were in Riley's favor to dig their heels in.  Cal fans become apoplectic that this QB luminary had been held back the entire season.  Tough to argue with the numbers.  The entire off-season was a never-ending discussion of how foolish Tedford had been.  When Tedford named Riley the starter to start the 2008 season, it was an orgy of Rose Bowl discussion. 

I'm going to skip over the 2008 season, because it doesn't necessarily relate to the specific discussion here of a well-known starting QB with a poorly known QB.  There, both Longshore and Riley started at various times and had voluminous attempts for Cal fans to make judgments regarding their abilities.

Then, 2009!


2009, Riley finally got his chance to start.  No more Longshore to hold him back, right?  Yay!  Finally, we'd see the Kevin Riley we knew was there all along.  And then we got those decent, but unspectacular numbers.  Numbers that caused some of our readers to say the following:

ajay - Any glimmer of hope I had that Riley could eventually be a good qb, is officially gone. That overthrow to Holly is what we are going to get when the game is on the line, every time. You just can't teach that stuff; you can practice it all you want, but at game speed, when it comes time to make that pass, it's gotta be instinct, and Riley's instincts aren't the best.

jaikass - Failure.

Ososdeoro - Cut to the Broadway audition director: "thank you for your time. NEXT!"



Although I'm having trouble finding the links, I've seen people saying similar things about Tedford continuing to play Riley as people did about Tedford continuing to play Longshore.  That Tedford doesn't care about winning, that Tedford is too stubborn.  Things like that.

So, the people who were beating their chest for Riley two years ago are now beating their chest for ABR, Anybody But Riley.  Their arguments are remarkably similar.  "It couldn't be worse than what we have now." 

Could it?  Could it be worse?  The answer to that question is who knows?  Honestly, few do.  And I'm not one of them.  And you, dear reader, aren't either.  Perhaps in 2011 or 2012 we can look back on how certain QBs played and extrapolate backwards to 2009 to see the same way we can look at Riley's numbers now and extrapolate back to what we might have seen had Riley played more in 2007.  Perhaps it will make Tedford look better or perhaps it will make Tedford look worse.  But right now, today, we can't determine that.

Riley's struggles in 2009 lead me to believe that in 2007, it easily *could* have been much worse with Riley.  That the glimpses of the Riley we saw in 2007 were the glimpses of the Good Riley and that we never saw the Bad Riley that seems to crop up from time to time.  This gave us a skewed view of what to truly expect from Riley at that time.

Really, however, that's not really the point.  The point is to illustrate just how quickly Cal fans will slash have turned on their former Golden Boy.  The point is to show how powerful backupQBitis can be.  Of course, as a Niner fan, this is not a new phenomenon.  People were going head to head on Montana v.  Young for most of the late 80s/early 90s (even when they were making the playoffs and winning SuperBowls). Everybody always thinks you have a Steve Young sitting there on the bench.  But the reality is we just don't know.  We never have known and we never will.  Rarely does a team play QBs as Tedford did in 2008, mixing and matching throughout the year.

Nonetheless, it doesn't stop fans from beating their chests about how many mistakes Tedford is/was/will be making in QB starting decisions.  The quintessential year was 2007.  But Riley's struggles in 2009 have made it clear that we, the fans, don't know what's going on.  We get in these Sit/Start discussions that, as I noted in CalBear04's post on potentially benching Riley, are:

This is just a frustrating post about Riley. It’s frustrating to me, because we don’t know enough about Mansion or Sweeney to really pass any judgment on their relative merits. This argument is not really ripe for discussion. We would need more “discovery.”

It’s the same thing we saw in 2007 where fans were trying to make arguments with woeful level of information. I appreciate the fact that Riley’s play has been inconsistent, it’s been frustrating, it’s been, at times, disappointing. That all applies the same way the criticisms of Longshore applied back in 2007.

But the whole “Who should start” thing was tiresome to me back in 2007 and it seems tiresome to me again today. Not necessarily, because the shoe is on the other foot here, but because these questions are:

a)remarkably unanswerable, because of lack of information
b)prone to easy over-generalization, because of lack of information
c)likely to end up with people going around in angry circles since nobody is really able to prove anything more than “I’m dissatisfied with the play of the current starting QB!”


I'm not here to tell you to stop discussing whether Riley should play or not play.  Merely to attempt to curb some of the excesses.  We don't know how good the backups are.  There is limited knowledge about them.  You can criticize Tedford for not playing them more in blowouts, which carp has done here and here.  But even if they had an extra 15 passes or so, it still wouldn't be sufficient to base a real apples to apples 2008-style argument on.  And the more cartoonishly unrealistic your argument is, the higher a chance of looking kinda foolish two years later when your Golden Boy QB doesn't quite pan out as expected.

Believe me, nobody is more frustrated with the 2007 and 2009 seasons than myself.  Nobody wants Cal to win more than me (except for perhaps Coach Tedford).  However, I am not blind to the fact that I don't know shit.  Hopefully, in discussions about the truly frustrating QB play in 2009, other fans can become more self-aware of their own ignorance and avoid a repeat of the 2007 off-season.  GO BEARS!

What is your thought on the devastating power of backupQBitis?