By Geoff Lepper, IJ reporter
BERKELEY - Conventional wisdom holds that an athlete can't win a major golf championship during the first of its four rounds, but they can lose it on the first day by carding an 87 or some other miserably bad score.
If you apply that analogy to the battle over who will succeed Aaron Rodgers as Cal's quarterback, then former Terra Linda High star Joe Ayoob posted a nice, safe, 1-under-par 71 with his performances in this month's practices, which concluded yesterday with the annual Spring Game scrimmage at Memorial Stadium.
Ayoob, who transferred to Cal from City College of San Francisco over winter break, doesn't top the leaderboard at the moment; Bears coach Jeff Tedford said if his team was playing a game today, redshirt freshman Nate Longshore, who went 5-for-6 and had three touchdowns in the Spring Game, would take the field with the starting unit.
But Tedford also said that "there is no front-runner" for Rodgers' old job and that "we're going to come into fall camp and it's going to be a competition." That means that Ayoob has plenty of time to eventually claim the championship trophy - which in this case would be taking the first snap from center in Cal's 2005 opener, against Sacramento State on Sept. 3.
"I felt I progressed fairly well (during the spring)," said Ayoob, who completed seven of nine passes yesterday for 192 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown bomb on his first snap of the day. "There's still more to do, but it's a good start. I made the right plays, made the right reads, didn't make too many mental mistakes, and by doing that, I hope I showed the coaches I can lead this team."
Tedford, who just three weeks ago described Ayoob as being "paralyzed" by the Bears' intricate offensive schemes," was pleased with the 20-year-old's development.
"Joe did OK. If you were here on the first day of spring (practice) and had a chance to be here every day, you'd probably see a marked improvement," Tedford said. "He looked very comfortable today, did a nice job of getting the signals from the sideline, running the offense, (managing) the 25-second clock and threw the ball pretty well. He's just getting more comfortable every day. His first couple of scrimmages, he looked very nervous."
Part of that was dealing with the sheer volume of material a Tedford quarterback is expected to assimilate.
"There was so much information thrown in the first couple of weeks, it was almost too much to handle at once," Ayoob said. "And then, after a while, everything kind of started to make sense and fit together."
Ayoob, who said his comfort level with the offense had risen from 35 percent to 65 over the course of spring practice, looked at home in the pocket yesterday, beginning with his very first throw. Spotting sophomore Noah Smith wide-open on a streak pattern down the left sideline, Ayoob hit him in stride some 40 yards downfield. Smith waltzed in from there.
"You get that first play out of the way, and it's a 70-yard touchdown, it kind of relaxes you a little bit," Ayoob said. "So, yeah, it helped a lot."
Ayoob also hooked up with tight end Eric Beegun for a 49-yard catch-and-run down the middle, and deftly stepped up in the pocket before zinging a 25-yard pass to Sam DeSa.
Of course, with the third-string defense facing the first-string offense most of the day, such fireworks were in abundance.
Sophomore Marshawn Lynch, the heir apparent to running back J.J. Arrington, slipped out of an ankle tackle behind the line of scrimmage and burst for a 46-yard touchdown on the offense's first drive, part of his seven-carry, 101-yard day. Marcus O'Keith bulled over the goal line three times. Smith caught another scoring pass and blocked a punt. Walk-on LaReylle Cunningham grabbed a pair of TD catches.
All of those things bode well for Cal, but if the Bears are to match last year's No. 4 national ranking - the school's highest in more than half a century - they know they're going to need a big push from their starting quarterback, whoever it turns out to be.
"They're both great guys, they both stand out," Noah Smith said of Ayoob and Longshore. "It's going to be a great fall camp, to see who comes out on top."