Last fall, after Kevin Riley had his first extended action against Oregon State, I wrote that Riley could be the next great Cal quarterback. Saturday, in the season opener against Michigan State, he has his chance to start proving that point.
Though Nate Longshore is behind him, he won’t be looking over his shoulder. Riley is a very confident young man, as good quarterbacks must be. He was determined to win the starting job this summer and he did, with very strong, consistent play. Longshore went in with an edge because he had been the starter for two years, but Riley passed him with his play in practice.
When Jeff Tedford was asked to evaluate his quarterbacks at a media lunch earlier this month, he said that Longshore was more patient and would work through all the options on a pass play, even to No. 5. Riley was more likely to take the ball down and try to make a play with his feet if the first two options weren’t there. But, he added, “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If a quarterback waits too long, he can get sacked.”
He said he would not try to restrict Riley’s game in any way.
Last year, Tedford did not have confidence in Riley because he did not always practice hard. Coaches always say, “You play like you practice,” and that’s almost always true. But in both spring drills and summer camp, Riley has removed any question marks with his dedication to practice discipline.
Longshore won’t cause problems as a backup. He is a quality person. He has never made excuses, never blamed a receiver for running the wrong route, never complained about media criticism. Though he’s very competitive, he said this week that he was confident he would have a good life, whether or not it included a pro football career.
And if Riley should get hurt, Longshore would be ready to play.Longshore will get some opportunities to play in the early games, though Tedford hasn’t announced exactly how the rotation will go.
But barring injury, Riley is the starter to stay. He is superior physically, a more accurate passer and definitely a better runner, and as he plays, the edge Longshore has had in experience will go away.
Riley’s emergence is the key to a Cal team that will surprise many people this year. Last year’s collapse made people forget that Tedford has built a solid base for success. The biggest question is at wide receiver, because the top three from last fall are gone, but there’s significant talent among the young receivers.
There’s also a great talent in the backfield in Jahvid Best, who has made some national lists as a potential “breakthrough” player. Best excites his teammates in practice with his moves — and Shane Vereen isn’t far behind. Tedford has always had strong runners at Cal, and he has another excellent pair this year.
So, there is reason for optimism at Berkeley, especially with Riley installed as the starting QB.