Remember the good old days, when the knock on Jeff Tedford was that he couldn't develop a quarterback who excelled in the NFL?
As an assistant coach at Fresno State and Oregon and as a head coach at Cal, he helped mold Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller into first-round draft picks. All failed (or are failing) to live up to their stellar college careers, though Dilfer did ride the Baltimore Ravens defense to a Super Bowl title.
Tedford might have put that perceived shortcoming to rest with Aaron Rodgers, currently acquitting himself surprisingly well behind a porous offensive line at Green Bay. But now Tedford has a new problem:
Developing a quarterback who excels at the college level.
A harsh assessment? No less harsh than the scenario that awaits the Golden Bears in Pasadena on Saturday. There they must rescue yet another season on the brink in a venue where Tedford is 0-3 as Cal's coach, each loss coming in spirit-breaking fashion.
And they must do it with an offense that generated a lone field goal in each of the past two games, which the Bears have lost by a combined score of 72-6. To lose that comprehensively, of course, requires a team effort. But Cal's offensive impotency is a remarkable development, given a) Tedford's knack for moving the football, and b) the quarterbacks he has enlisted to facilitate the moving.
The general rule of thumb during Tedford's time here has been, the more Cal scores, the more Cal wins. His highest-scoring team (the 2004 squad at 36.8 points per game) was his best (10-2). The team that scored the least (2007, 29.3) had the worst record (7-6).
This year's team is averaging 30.3 points, but that included 52 against 2-4 Maryland, and 59 against Division I-AA cupcake Eastern Washington. In their two Pac-10 games, the Bears have barely been able to put one foot in front of the other.
It's not just a quarterback thing, but quarterback is the first place you look when an offense is stuck in park. To watch junior Kevin Riley on a good day, or to look at his numbers without context, you'd think he would be part of the solution and not the problem.
Problem is, he's not quite in Rodgers' class. Rodgers, in his two seasons as starter, had efficiency ratings of 146.57 and 154.34, with completion percentages of 61.6 and 66.1, and touchdown passes totaling 19 and 24.
Riley's career completion percentage is 52.7, his efficiency rating 126.83. Nothing to apologize for, but short of exceptional. Likewise Nate Longshore, Rodgers' heir and Riley's predecessor. Longshore had good days and nice career numbers (a 59.6 completion percentage, 51 touchdowns against 31 interceptions, a 131.84 rating) but wasn't always the guy the Bears needed him to be.
Riley and Longshore share similar scouting reports: solid when things go well but occasionally flustered when forced to make quick decisions under adverse conditions — a big pass rush, playing from behind, a tough road game. Example: Since Rodgers left (and we'll throw out 2005, when Longshore was injured in the season's first game and backup Joe Ayoob filled in as best he could), Cal is 6-12 on the road (4-9 in Pac-10 games).
Rodgers was 8-5 on the road (5-3 in Pac-10 games).
Granted, a quarterback is dependent upon his supporting cast. Rodgers' top receiving target was Geoff McArthur, who holds Cal records for career catches and receiving yards. He also had the luxury of a 2,000-yard rusher, J.J. Arrington, in 2004.
Riley has mercurial tailback Jahvid Best at his disposal, which is a good thing. But Verran Tucker, this year's most prolific receiver, is on pace for a mere 511 yards — assuming he fully recovers from his calf injury and assuming Cal plays in a bowl game. Absent either of those assumptions, the Bears could go a second consecutive season without a 500-yard receiver.
Riley, of course, has the rest of this season and all of next season to perpetuate Tedford's reputation as a quarterback guru and offensive brainiac. Saturday would be as good a time as any to get that party started.
But it's a high bar. Should he fall short, and should the team fall with him, Tedford could be looking at the first big-picture crisis of his Cal career — the good old days be hanged.
Contact Gary Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.