What to watch for: Cal's Blue and Gold Game
As the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm. In the case of California, new head coach Sonny Dykes is hoping the early start to spring football means he'll catch a starting quarterback.
The Golden Bears are the first of the Pac-12 programs to conduct spring practices and, in keeping a hectic schedule over the past month, will be the first to finish as the annual Blue and Gold Game takes place in Memorial Stadium Saturday at 4 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks. The story lines are numerous over in Berkeley with a new coach taking over and implementing new systems on both sides of the ball. Combined with the fact that the team went 3-9 and is searching for a quarterback after a few years of inconsistent play, there's no shortage of questions heading into the game.
It's unlikely all questions will be answered with so many for the coaching staff to figure out, but after weeks of practice, maybe the spring game helps propel a few players into a starting role before fall camp rolls around. Here are a few things to watch as Cal gets put through the paces and the first step in the "Bear Raid" wraps up:
[Related: Spring football TV schedule]
- Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback
The battle has narrowed to just three signal-callers as Dykes tries to find just the right player to lead the team in his first year out west. The pass-happy system inherits a deep and talented corps of receivers, but it is who is getting them the ball that has most folks' attention. Redshirt sophomore Austin Hinder is the most experienced of the bunch, but considering nobody competing for the starting job has ever taken a collegiate snap, that's not saying much. Zach Kline is considered by many to be the favorite to win the job based on his strong arm and reputation as one of the top quarterbacks on the West Coast coming out of high school. The dark horse, Jared Goff, enrolled early after having a terrific senior year as an Elite 11 quarterback, and should not be counted out. The overall offensive system is simple to learn but hard to master, so it remains to be seen if the answer at quarterback will be found on Saturday.
- New look on defense
Coordinator Andy Buh faces a rebuilding experience similar to the one he had at Stanford. In switching to a 4-3 alignment on defense, several players are going to play out of position and things may not be quite how they were during the season. Linebackers will put a hand in the ground and ends will slide inside to tackle. How they get acclimated to their new roles remains a question, so reps will be key right up until the first game.
[Related: What to watch for during spring football]
- Who steps up
Every year there's a surprise story coming out of the spring game as a player emerges. Often times it is a fresh face on offense with some big plays. Typically the defense is ahead of the offense, so if a skill position player can bust off a big play and leave an impression, a number of people will remember the name for the season. Don't overlook an offensive lineman having a bust-out performance either, whether it be Matt Cochran, Alejandro Crosthwaite or another big body.