BY Gerald Nicdao
I’m not going to call this a controversy. To me it’s almost set in stone. Almost. But what redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Riley did for the Cal football team against Air Force was almost perfect. How close to perfect was he? Riley had nine drives where he took snaps from under center. Of those nine drives, the Bears scored six touchdowns. Riley attempted 19 passes on the day. He only missed on three of them and one of those misses was on a Hail Mary attempt that hit wideout Lavelle Hawkins on the shoulder. Riley finished the day with 269 yards passing and three touchdowns. He was on fire. He was having fun. And he definitely at least has put his name into the hat regarding who coach Jeff Tedford calls on next season to be his signal caller. “He definitely put himself, if he’s not the front-runner, in the mix,” senior wideout Robert Jordan said. “He’s the man right now. He’s the MVP. It’s going to be a bright future for the Bears.”
For Riley, leading Monday’s come-from-behind win may have had an air of redemption. After all, he was the quarterback who was taking the snaps in Cal’s first loss of the year. He was that guy who did not throw the ball away in the waning seconds of the Bears' loss to Oregon State that prevented Cal from securing the No. 1 spot in the country. But Monday, Riley got his revenge. Nothing will be able to get that loss against the Beavers back, but he took a huge step toward proving that he belongs as the quarterback of team that was ranked as high as No. 2 in the country this year.
“I just kept my head up after the Oregon State game,” Riley said. “The team had trust in me. Everyone was backing me up when I went in and they said to do your thing.” Sure, Riley did have some advantages over starter Nate Longshore. Riley was able to play with the usual wide receiver rotation as DeSean Jackson and Jordan were both suspended in the first quarter. Longshore did have an efficient outing, throwing only three incompletions—one of them a drop that would have given the Bears a first down in the red zone. But what Riley did was show some moxie. Seven of his passes went for over 15 yards, including three that went over 30. He hooked up with Jordan for a 31-yarder and 52-yard completion and threw a 40-yard bomb to Jackson in the end zone. On that 31-yard completion to Jordan, Riley threaded the ball in between three Air Force defenders to find his receiver. There was no way that Riley was going to come out of the game. Tedford wanted to give Riley at least one series on Monday. But after watching Riley perform, there was no chance that Tedford was going to replace him. “We said at the end of the first quarter we were going to play Kevin a little bit,” Tedford said. “We felt he had the hot hand and had a pretty good feel, so we left him in.”
Even Riley couldn’t pin all the success on himself. After the game, while he was receiving his MVP award, his teammates were cheering him on—hootin’ and hollerin’, as they say here in Texas. But it was those same teammates that Riley pinpointed as the reason for his great performance. “The team played well and that’s the reason why I played well,” Riley said. “I had all the time in the world to throw. The receivers were open and they made all the catches. It was a whole team effort.” And that’s the type of guy that you want to lead your football team. It isn't just that he said the right things, but that his teammates were around him, supporting him. There’s no controversy, at least not yet. Let’s just call it a friendly competition between Riley and Longshore. But Riley, after this performance today, has got to have the inside track for that starting spot next year. If he can do what he did against Air Force in spring ball and in fall camp, then we all know who should be the starter next year. Is there any doubt in your mind?