Handicapping the QB Race

Handicapping the QB Race

Sonny Dykes breaks down each of the quarterbacks in the running to start on Aug. 31 against Northwestern, and isn't shy about making the tough decisions.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- In 2011, Sonny Dykes's Louisiana Tech squad started then-17-year old Nick Isham for the first seven games of the season. The now-Arizona signal caller completed 155 of 257 passes for 1,457 yards and eight touchdowns.

"Year two at Louisiana Tech, we started a 17-year old true freshman, the second-youngest guy in college football history," Dykes said at the Bay Area College Football Media Day at the Hotel Nikko on Monday morning. "I have a track record of doing it."

While neither Zach Kline nor Jared Goff are that young, whether it's either of those two, or redshirt junior Austin Hinder who takes the opening snap on Aug. 31 against Northwestern, not a single candidate for the starting quarterback job will have taken a live college snap before. With the current roster returning the second-fewest starts in the country, youth will be everywhere, but nowhere more apparent than behind center.

"You're always going to do what's best for your team, you think," said Dykes, who ideally would like to have a starting quarterback named before the 12th practice of the fall, but won't wait that long if a leader emerges early. "I don't know if it's going to be a guy who's a lot better than the other two from Day One, I don't know if it's going to be two guys separating themselves from the third guy. I don't know if there's not going to be much separation. I just don't know. There's got to be a level of flexibility with how you deal with this and how you treat it. We'd like to have something done certainly by practice 10, 12, as you start to enter the third week of practice. If it's obvious in the third practice, we'll do it in the third practice. If it's not obvious after practice 12, we'll reassess everything and figure out what we need to do from there."

Dykes isn't beyond making a switch during the season, if that's what's needed. That's exactly what he did with Isham, when, due to injury, Dykes replaced the true freshman with Colby Cameron, who went on start all 11 games in 2012, completing 69.3% of his passes for 3,679 yards.

Starting a true freshman like Goff – who enrolled early in the spring – is "not a concern for us," Dykes said.

What makes the decision easier – or harder, depending on the day, mood, astrological signs and tides – is the fact that all three contenders bring different skill sets and different drawbacks to the table.

"I think Austin Hinder is a little stronger, bigger, perceived to be a bit of a better runner," Dykes said. "Certainly, when you look at his high school tape, he did a good job running, and obviously hasn't done that in a while. That's something that we need to let him do. We let him do a little in the spring --- run a little bit -- and that's something that we'll probably let him do more in camp, just to see how good of a runner he actually is."

Dykes then turned his thoughts to the redshirt freshman, Kline.

"Zach Kline is the big-armed guy that can make the throws, that's got to learn to rein himself in a little bit, try not to force balls into small windows," Dykes said. "He has to improve his touch and midrange accuracy -- all that kind of stuff -- but he can certainly make the throws, and has some mental toughness, that we like, and has leadership abilities."

As for Goff: "Jared Goff has been the surprise. He has a confidence about him. His maturity and ability to have confidence and believe in himself, he picks things up incredibly quickly, like he did in spring."

Starting Goff could potentially mean the transfer of other quarterbacks on the roster, but Dykes has to look beyond that fact.

"You can't worry about that. You've got to do what's best for your football team. Certainly, you do worry about that. That's certainly always a possibility," Dykes said. "The great thing about all these guys is that they all understand the value of a Cal education, and how special it is, the opportunities they have as a result of playing football at Cal. I think they're at the school for the right reasons, and we'll see how it plays out.

"You look at them all, and there's different strengths and weaknesses. The big thing we've got to do is to see which one can lead us to wins."

Winning guides Dykes's every thought. Every decision will be made with an eye toward which choice will result in wins.

"Whoever we think's the best will be the guy who starts," he said. "I think the defining characteristic for winning the job would be who do we think gives us the best chance to win. What is that? I don't know. Sometimes, it's Tim Tebow, a guy who breaks seven tackles, and other times, it's a guy who goes in and manages the game and doesn't turn the ball over – A.J. McCarron type of thing. So, it just depends. It depends on what we think gives us the best shot to put a good product out there on display."

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