The Resurgence of Cal Football Is Led by Star Quarterback Jared Goff
The Cal Golden Bears have a 4-0 record and are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 football poll for the first time since 2009. The poll, released this week, ranks the Berkeley squad 24th nationally.
Only two years ago, Cal finished 1-11 and was the laughingstock of the college football world.
Now, as a junior in college, Goff has emerged as a star. Last year, he threw more touchdowns (35) and for way more yards (3,973) than current Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers (19/2,903) when he was a sophomore at Cal. This year Goff is set to easily beat Rodgers’ numbers as a junior as well.
That doesn’t mean Goff, who is listed at 6 feet 4 inches and 215 pounds, will become successful in the NFL, when he likely leaves a year early after this season to turn pro.
“I think the one question about him for pro potential is just his size,” said Dave Woods, co-host of the Pac-12-focused Podcast of Champions and writer for Scout.com’s Bruin Report Online. “He hasn’t put on a ton of weight, and they like for quarterbacks to be able to take a hit.”
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has released his latest rankings of college players most ready for the next level. He has Goff listed as the third overall player and the only quarterback in the top 10.
Dane Brugler of CBS Sports’ NFLDraftScout.com predicts that Goff will go second in the entire draft next year. Brugler writes Goff “might not have elite physical tools, but he's off-the-charts above the neck.”
In a May ESPN column called the Way-too-early 2016 NFL mock draft, Todd McShay predicted that Goff would be taken in the top 10 of the first round. He points to Goff’s great sophomore numbers and says he has “a big arm and is a naturally accurate passer.”
But we’re probably jumping the gun a little with the NFL chatter, so let's focus on the run Goff and his Golden Bears are making right now. The team’s latest win came on the road in Seattle against an up-and-coming Washington Huskies team.
Goff threw for two touchdowns and more than 300 yards, including some top-notch passes. Mixed in with a solid performance from the defense and a consistent running attack, Goff’s performance was enough to win the game, 30-24.
Goff and the running game may be the stable force allowing the team to win games, if the defense can do its part against some very good teams. The Golden Bears have a chance to win the conference’s North division this year. That would mean the squad would play the winner of the South division for the Pac-12 Championship, Dec. 5 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
“I think Cal’s got a real chance to be really good this year,” said Woods. “The real limiting factor is the schedule.”
Cal’s strength of schedule is ranked 31st out of 128 teams by teamrankings.com. After this week against a 2-1 -- but very beatable -- Washington State team during Homecoming Week, Cal starts a brutal Pac-12 stretch: at No. 10 Utah, at No. 7 UCLA, at home against No. 17 USC and at a down-but-not-out Oregon team.
Goff will have to play extraordinary football for the team to be in consideration after those four games. And so will the defense. The Cal defense is ranked a mediocre 68th out of 128 in the NCAA, giving up 383 yards per game.
Nevertheless, that's an improvement from last year. Statistically, Cal had one of the worst defenses in the nation, ranking 123rd out of 128, giving up 512 yards per game. And still, the team managed to win five games.
“I think it’s completely reasonable to think that the team wins eight or nine games this year,” said Woods.
A successful Cal team could mean that The Big Game against Stanford becomes even bigger. The Golden Bears and Cardinal battle Nov. 21. By then, we will know if either team is in contention to win the Pac-12 North. With more on the line, it makes the rivalry even better. For the record, the last time Cal beat Stanford was 2009.
As the nation starts to discover Jared Goff and comparisons to Rodgers or Boller roll in, what’s most important is not that he has a better completion percentage than Rodgers or more touchdowns than Boller.
What’s most important is that he tops the two quarterbacks’ best seasons. Topping Boller, who led the team to a 7-5 season in 2002, is well within reach. But a really big goal would be besting Rodgers, who led the team to a 10-2 season in 2004.