With Jared Goff on his way to the NFL, Sonny Dykes expects a much cleaner quarterback competition this year then the last time around
In 2013, Dykes's first year on the job, true freshman Goff and redshirt freshman Zach Kline were trying to adjust to a new system and a totally different offense from the one they were recruited to play in. This time around, at least three of the Golden Bear quarterbacks expected to be in the mix will have one to multiple years in the system, and the true stud freshman coming in has known for at least a year what offense he'll be playing in.
Let's run through each candidate quickly.
Chase Forrest: Forrest has to be the favorite entering spring. Even though he hasn't really thrown the football since Grambling State, he looked pretty solid in that one stint (10-17, 58.8% completion rate, 9.5 yards per attempt).
Forrest impressed Dykes so much last spring that he was comfortable moving the previous year's backup quarterback Luke Rubenzer to safety. So for the most part Cal only had two real quarterbacks they brought to every football game--Goff and Forrest. Forrest was responsible for getting in signals and playcalls as well to Goff, which has to give him an extra edge.
"The biggest thing he had to get better with was being able to be comfortable in the pocket, being able to find throwing lanes, to avoid the rush without running, to avoid the rush without bringing his feet together, and to keep his eyes downfield," Franklin says. "He's improved dramatically at that, so I think that he has a chance to be really good. I think this year helped him a lot with his confidence, and knowing that he's good enough to play, good enough to win this job, and he can be a really good player.
I doubt Dykes will name Forrest the starter in the spring--he'll want to keep the competition going into the fall--but everything is groomed for Chase to take this job barring massive setbacks.
Luke Rubenzer: Rubenzer showed some flashes in 2014 as a change-up quarterback that could be a run threat and pick up a few occasional first downs to move the offense and ignite a still developing run attack. But his throwing ability was scattershot, throwing three interceptions in only 21 attempts. After spending last year admirably filling in at safety, Rubenzer could possibly fill in that dual-threat role this season if he moves back, but depending on how the competition goes I might actually prefer to keep Luke at safety.
"He was the most accurate passer in the history of high school football when he graduated," Franklin says. "I think Jake Browning beat his accuracy record the next year for a career, but Luke is incredibly accurate, and he's a really competitive kid, and he's a good runner. He's not an average runner; he's a good runner. He can make plays with his feet. He's got a natural ability to run the ball and make people miss, make plays in space, to avoid the rush, to be that dynamic guy that you kind of get excited when he gets pressured, because he's probably going to make them miss."
Ross Bowers: Bowers is a bit of a mystery. After redshirting last season, this might be his best chance to make a move for playing time before the next group of quarterbacks moves in on the position. Right now Bowers will hope to make that second year leap that Forrest made, but at this moment I have no read at all as to what type of quarterback Bowers could be. One thing Bowers has going is his mobility, which could give him an edge if Cal's offensive line is shaky.
"I think Ross'll surprise you," says Franklin. "I think he's got a little bit of moxie about him to where he'll be a decent runner, kind of like Jared. Jared would make plays when nobody thought he could make a play running. He'd feel pressure, pull the ball down, pick up 12 yards and out-run two D-linemen that he shouldn't outrun. I think Ross'll be similar to that, but he does have a good, live arm, and he's got a really good skill set, and he's a tough kid. That's the one thing about all those kids -- they're all tough kids."
Max Gilliam: Could a true freshman win the quarterback competition again? I'd guess Gilliam will be in the fray, but his inexperience might weigh against him if he doesn't blow the doors off the other three experienced guys. I'd guess Gilliam is likely to redshirt so he can condition himself into Division 1 shape. As promising as Goff was his freshman season, he still looked like he was fresh out of high school.
I haven't seen him against college competition. Max is a good-looking kid, and he runs well, and he's got a good, live arm and all that. I don't know, and I've got no clue, until he shows up, and gets out there with good competition and live bullets. It would be incredibly difficult to make any judgement from watching his high school film. We signed him, he's a good athlete and he's got good size and he runs well, but I've seen too many of those deals where it takes them a year or two or three. it just depends. I don't know. I could coach him a week, and I won't know, then."
Keep an eye on Max though; it feels like he has the highest upside of this entire group. Given a year or two, I'd imagine he's the most likely among the bunch to be a multi-year starter.