Cal head coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin preview the spring QB competition

The last time Cal had a quarterback competition, it was in the spring of 2013, when Jared Goff and Zach Kline dueled to become the Bears' next starter. This time around, Cal has four contestants who will be vying for the spot.

The last time that California held a quarterback competition, it started in spring ball, and took until the middle of August, 2013, before Jared Goff was named over Zach Kline, who recently returned to Berkeley to complete his degree after one year at Butte Community College, and another as a backup at Indiana State. 

READ MORE: Dykes Talks Recruiting Home Stretch, Positional Battles More than 12,000 passing yards later, and, this time around, head coach Sonny Dykes has four contenders for the spot: 2015 backup Chase Forrest, QB-turned-safety-turned-QB Luke Rubenzer, freshman Ross Bowers and early enrollee Max Gilliam out of Thousand Oaks (Calif.).

"We think that certainly all four of them will be playing for it," Dykes said in his post-season wrap up teleconference on Wednesday. "You just don't ever know who's going to get hot, who's going to play well, and who's going to stay healthy and who's not, and who's going to pick things up and all that. It's an unknown."

There are two primary unknowns in the equation: Can Rubenzer re-adjust back from being a safety for a year, and become a complete quarterback (not just a runner), and what to make of Gilliam.

"I think all four of them are potentially capable of doing it, with Max being the biggest unknown, just because we haven't had a chance to see him yet, other than playing high school football," Dykes said. "We'll toss the ball out, see where it goes, and hopefully, what'll happen is two of them will stand out, or three of them will stand out, and then we'll give them more reps and we'll work out way down. We'll divvy up the reps according to who deserves them, and how it plays out. If one guy takes the lead, we'll invest more reps in him. All that stuff really depends on the play of the quarterbacks. We really don't have any idea on how it's going to play out. It's going to depend on who gets hot, who plays well, and, hopefully, at the end of spring football, one of them's going to be so good that that's our starter."

That, though, may not be the end of things. The starter will be the starter headed into fall camp, but, Dykes said, the competition will open back up.

"That's always the way it is for us," Dykes said. "Whoever's playing the best is going to be the guy." The fact that now, Cal has three quarterbacks with experience in the system, and one incoming quarterback who has played in a very similar system, differentiates this competition from the one between Kline and Goff, which also included Austin Hinder. All three of those quarterbacks were strictly pro-style, and had not played in an offense as similar to the Bear Raid as Gilliam has.

"The experience that Chase has, and the experience that Luke has, and the experience that Ross has, is going to allow those guys to play at a higher level than I think Jared played at, certainly, that first spring, or any of the other quarterbacks that competed for the job that spring," Dykes said.

This bunch will also have four of five offensive line starters returning (sans senior Jordan Rigsbee), plus three running backs (Vic EnwereKhalfani Muhammad and Tre Watson) who each recorded at least 87 carries last season.

"Returning experience, that helps, with returning receivers, returning running backs, they know what to do," Dykes said. "It just helps everybody operate at a higher level, and so we expect it to be a lot cleaner than it was in the first go-around, easier to make a decision, but it'll be a good competition. Those guys are all good players, and they're all going to compete hard. They're all ultra-competitive guys. That's what makes them good football players -- their desire and willingness to compete. From that standpoint, we'll see, but we do expect it to certainly be a cleaner competition than it was that first spring."

Being Flexible

Goff, of course, was a pro-style quarterback in a spread system. In the past, offensive coordinator Tony Franklin has had dual-threat quarterbacks excel in his system.

"I had a kid -- Dwight Dasher -- who rushed for 1,200 yards, maybe a little bit more," Franklin says of his Middle Tennessee State QB from 2009, who ran for 1,154 yards. "He threw for 2,700-2,800. I mean, I'm fine with that. Omar Haugabook, when I was at Troy, I think the first year I had him, he ran for 350 or 400, something like that, and the second year it was 650 to 700. I love having running quarterbacks. It's fun. It's a lot easier to call plays on third-and-mediums. It's exciting. Every quarterback makes an offense different."

At Louisiana Tech in 2012, quarterback Colby Cameron rushed 61 times for 177 net yards while passing 522 times. In 2011, Nick Isham split time with Cameron, rushing 49 times to 257 passing attempts, while Cameron rushed 43 times to 215 passing attempts."The Louisiana Tech offense looked kind of like we did this year, because we ran the ball a little better this year," Franklin says. "It's similar because Jared and Colby, neither one of them were great runners. They could avoid the rush and they could make a play every now and then, but you didn't design runs for either one of them. But, I've had other offenses with those guys that are good runners, where I'm going to run the quarterback. Dwight, at Middle, I may have called 7-10 runs a game for him, but then, he would scramble 7-10 runs a game, so a lot of his plays, his good run plays, came from your progression changing from 1-2-3-4-5 to 1-3-run, where a guy can make plays if they feel the blitz and they go. It's just a different style of offense, and it's fun. I'll be excited if that's what happens, but at the same time, if you end up with a pure passer who can do things, and is not a pure runner, then that's that."

As offensive coordinator at Kentucky in 2000, Franklin had the Hefty Lefty Jared Lorenzen rush 76 times to 559 passing attempts.

Both Gilliam and Rubenzer -- who, togther, weigh just a shade more than Lorenzen did with the Wildcats -- are runners. Forrest and Bowers are drop-back passers, by trade. So, could we see the offense change?

"It'll depend on who wins the job," Dykes said. "I think that's one of the things we've always done pretty well, is figure out what our quarterback can do, and adjust the offense accordingly. We've got some things that are base things that we do, and if we've got more of a running quarterback, obviously, the offense will change to feature more quarterback runs and more play-action passes and that type of thing, and more run-pass combinations than maybe you have if you've got a pure pocket guy. We have our base offense, we'll let them all play, and we'll see who performs well. If somebody takes the reins, we'll adjust the offense to their skill set."

Chase Forrest During the summer of 2013, Forrest and now-UCLA starter Josh Rosen attended a camp in Berkeley, and they both threw on the same day in front of Franklin. What did the Cal offensive coordinator think?

"They each were there, and obviously, Josh is a great player, and has a tremendous upside and will be a no-brainer NFL guy one day, but when you watch those guys throw side-by-side, if you changed their names, you wouldn't notice much difference," Franklin says. "That was part of the intrigue that we had with him, and we loved the Mater Dei deal. I love people that win, and know how to win. I think the history of Mater Dei with quarterbacks has been really good, and Chase just had this good, calm demeanor about him, where you thought, 'This kid's probably got something in there that might be pretty special.' We're tickled to deal with him. He's better than we thought he was going to be."

The Bears thought he'd always be good enough to be a good, solid backup, but over the course of the last two years, he's become something more.

"Now, we think he's good enough to start and win games," Franklin says.

So, why didn't more teams pick up on Forrest during the recruiting process?

His first full season at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, he split reps with then-senior Ryan McMahon. In that 2012-13 season, he played in 13 games, and attempted just 150 passes. Now, he completed 100 of them, and threw 16 touchdowns to three interceptions for a 122 QB rating, but the Monarchs tallied 500 rushing attempts to 315 passing attempts during that campaign.

In the 2013-14 season, Forrest passed a bit more, and in 14 games as the starter, he went 133-for-234 for 2,001 yards and 14 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, as Mater Dei passed 245 times and rushed 462.

"The biggest thing he had to get better with was being able to be comfortable in the pocket, being able to find throwing lanes, to avoid the rush without running, to avoid the rush without bringing his feet together, and to keep his eyes downfield," Franklin says. "He's improved dramatically at that, so I think that he has a chance to be really good. I think this year helped him a lot with his confidence, and knowing that he's good enough to play, good enough to win this job, and he can be a really good player.

"The biggest thing with Chase is all of the reps he got the previous year on our Sunday scrimmages, and all the reps he got in the spring and the summer, and then the reps that he got during the season in practice, when we would go team stuff against the defense, whether it be skelly or 11-on-11 stuff. He's made dramatic improvement. He's always had a good arm. He's always had a really good, natural, soft touch, throwing the ball."

Franklin says he would have liked to have gotten Forrest into the Armed Forces Bowl, after he saw action in just three games, and attempted just 18 passes over the first three weeks of the season, but the game was too close.

"I mean, yeah, I'd love to have, but 16 points in the fourth quarter is two scores, and as you've seen many times over the history of football, you can be up two touchdowns with two minutes to go, and lose a game," Franklin says. "I've won games being down two scores with less than two minutes to go, so you just can't do it. When the game is still on the line, you've got to leave your best guys in there. If it had been three scores with eight minutes to go, the game was in hand, we would have definitely played him, but it just didn't get to that until we kicked that field goal."

Luke Rubenzer Rubenzer moved to safety at the start of last spring, it was, in reality, never a permanent move. It was done, in part, because Franklin didn't want to keep his prize horse in the stable at any point during the 2015 season, after experimenting with some rotation between Goff and Rubenzer during the 2014 campaign.

"When Luke and I first had the conversation about him going to defense, that was always in the back of our mind," Franklin says. "The thought was, go play, go play defense. That was Luke's deal: 'I want to play, I want to help you win, and I'm not going to help you win at quarterback.' I told Luke that we weren't going to do the thing we did the year before, that Jared was going to get all the reps. He had a choice to redshirt, and to sit a year, and you've been around Luke -- that's just not his deal. He wants to play football."

And play, he did. Rubenzer put on about 10 pounds as he bulked up for his role as a safety, and recorded 43 tackles and two interceptions in 12 games.

"When we discussed him going to defense, I told him, 'Look, if you get over there, and you decide you want to come back, I want you back. Heck, you're a good player,'" Franklin says. "I was certain we could win with him when he was a freshman here."

During the run-up to the Armed Forces Bowl, Rubenzer got even more work at quarterback than he did during the season -- when he worked through fundamentals, but did not get regular practice reps.

"He got some reps. We did some scrimmage stuff [before the bowl], and he did all of our fundamental stuff all season long," Franklin says. "Then, he got some reps in the little scrimmage deals. Each of those guys got 8-10 plays per scrimmage, so he got plays in, and he was obviously a little bit rusty, but he still, almost every time, he did what he did when he first got here -- every time he had the ball in his hands, they usually go down and score. It looks different when he does it, because he's a different style of quarterback."

Why is Franklin so bullish on Rubenzer? History. 

At Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro, Rubenzer set a national high school record for career completion percentage (496-for-689, 71.9%) and Arizona state career records for career passing yards (9,645) and touchdown passes (132) while throwing only 13 picks.

"He was the most accurate passer in the history of high school football when he graduated," Franklin says. "I think Jake Browning beat his accuracy record the next year for a career, but Luke is incredibly accurate, and he's a really competitive kid, and he's a good runner. He's not an average runner; he's a good runner. He can make plays with his feet. He's got a natural ability to run the ball and make people miss, make plays in space, to avoid the rush, to be that dynamic guy that you kind of get excited when he gets pressured, because he's probably going to make them miss."

Rubenzer's time on the other side of the ball, Franklin thinks, can only help him.

"He's had some good games, he's had two picks, he had a game where he had 16 tackles, I mean, the kid played well and helped us win ballgames," Franklin says. "He accomplished his goal, and I think it'll do nothing but make him better. I think it makes him a better quarterback, going through that."

Franklin cites Ryan Tannehill's career at Texas A&M as evidence. During Tannehill's first two years in College Station, he attempted a grand total of nine passes. During those years, though, he amassed a total of 101 receptions for 1,453 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. When he moved to quarterback as a junior, he compiled a 62.6% completion rate (479-for-765), 5,382 passing yards and 42 touchdowns to 21 interceptions.

"When we played them the first year that we were at La Tech, and we played A&M, he was playing wide receiver, and when you're that good a player, it helps to go play other stuff," Franklin says. "I think, with Luke, it's the same thing."

Ross Bowers

"I think Ross'll surprise you," says Franklin. "I think he's got a little bit of moxie about him to where he'll be a decent runner, kind of like Jared. Jared would make plays when nobody thought he could make a play running. He'd feel pressure, pull the ball down, pick up 12 yards and out-run two D-linemen that he shouldn't outrun. I think Ross'll be similar to that, but he does have a good, live arm, and he's got a really good skill set, and he's a tough kid. That's the one thing about all those kids -- they're all tough kids." Bowers's full front flip in the Washington state title game notwithstanding, Bowers is not a runner. He's very much a pocket passer, but for the first half of the season, it didn't look like he'd make much headway. It took, Franklin says, a stern talking-to, in order to get the most out of the freshman, who enrolled early a year ago.

"The biggest thing for him was learning how to work, because he didn't work very hard when he came in, to be a good player," Franklin says. "I think it's the mental thing of going, 'Well, I'm not going to play,' and it took him about halfway through the season before he figured out, 'If I don't work, I'll never play a snap,' because that was relayed to him in a very stern way."

Bowers flipped, yet again, at least in the metaphorical sense, and took to his scout team duties with gusto, something that Franklin thinks has helped the young signal-caller grow as both a quarterback and as a person, and could one day help him if and when he takes the reins of the offense.

"The big thing for him was being the scout team quarterback all year, and going down, and when you're the scout team quarterback, you have to take over some leadership, and so I think that's really a good year spent, when you do that, if you take advantage of it, and I think he did," says Franklin. "He flipped in the middle of the season, worked hard, got better and I think he's right in the picture. I'll be surprised if he's not in the mix for that thing. The good thing is, I can see any of those first three guys winning the job, and then, Max, if he ends up being special, great, but the other three guys, I know, and I've seen, and I can see any one of those three guys winning the job and being happy with whichever one it was."

Max Gilliam In his first year as a starter for the Lancers in 2014, the dual-threat Gilliam combined for 3,545 yards of total offense and was responsible for 41 touchdowns, leading Thousand Oaks to a 7-4 overall record and a spot in the Northern Division Southern Section playoffs.

That season, Gilliam went 211-of-305 (69.2%) passing for 2,920 yards with 29 touchdown and eight interceptions for a 120.4 quarterback rating, while adding 625 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns on the ground on 158 carries.

In 2015, Gilliam led the Lancers to an 11-3 record, completing 217 of 294 passes (73.8%) for 3,413 yards, 40 touchdowns and just five interceptions, with a QB rating of 144.5.

Gilliam rushed 146 times for 666 yards, with two 100+ yard games, and 10 touchdowns, as Thousand Oaks reached the Southern Section Northern Division title game against Camarillo (Calif.), losing to the Scorpions 55-27.

"High school guys come in, and I don't believe anything until I see them," Franklin says. "I haven't seen him against college competition. Max is a good-looking kid, and he runs well, and he's got a good, live arm and all that. I don't know, and I've got no clue, until he shows up, and gets out there with good competition and live bullets. It would be incredibly difficult to make any judgement from watching his high school film. We signed him, he's a good athlete and he's got good size and he runs well, but I've seen too many of those deals where it takes them a year or two or three. it just depends. I don't know. I could coach him a week, and I won't know, then."

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