Even though it dates back to 1886 with 645 wins and five national titles, California’s illustrious football program has never produced a Heisman Trophy Award winner.
There’s a real possibility that could change by the end of next December.
In another column I wrote on Thursday, I mentioned Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff as a “name to watch” for the 2015 season; that could prove to be a tremendous understatement if he can continue his momentum from 2014.
As a sophomore, Goff completed 62.1 percent of his passes – a number that he’ll need to improve on if he wants to reach the next level – for 3,973 yards, 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also finished with a 77.4 Total QBR (12th overall), and his 316 completions were the 5th-most in the FBS.
Though Cal won five games and missed out on the postseason for the third straight season, the Golden Bears were a massive upgrade from the product they put on the field in 2013 – and much had to do with Goff and the passing game.
Two years ago, Cal went 1-11 and ended with the No. 92-ranked team Passer Efficiency Rating (119.8) and the No. 97 scoring offense (23.0 points per game). It was also vastly overmatched in most games during Sonny Dykes’ first season as head coach, getting outscored by an average of 22.9 points.
But this past season, there was a noticeable change in the right direction. California’s Passer Efficiency Rating jumped to No. 24 (145.8); the offense gelled and had much more success finding the end zone, scoring an 11th-best 38.3 points per contest (No. 2 in the Pac-12 behind Oregon), and its point margin went from -275 in 2013 to -18 – a 257-point improvement in a matter of a few months.
It wasn’t a fluke, either. Some of Goff’s best performances came against quality opponents; he led the way to 45 points at Arizona, 34 against UCLA, 41 vs. Oregon, 30 at USC, and 35 vs. BYU. That doesn’t include the 60-spot in a one-point win on the road at Washington State in which Goff threw three fourth-quarter touchdowns for a last-minute comeback.
It’s a testament to Dykes’ ability to develop a fast, high-scoring offense via the Air Raid in a competitive field. It also means that like last season, Pac-12 defenses are going to be in a ton of trouble this coming fall – that is, if Dykes’ Year 3 is anything like the one he assembled with Louisiana Tech in 2012 when the Bulldogs won nine games for the first time since 1997 and owned the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense (51.5) and total offense (577.9 yards per game).
Still, playing the quarterback position where wins and losses are the headliner on your resume, Goff won’t have a chance to top this talented group of early candidates if his defense doesn’t undergo a complete top-to-bottom renovation from its 2014 version.
For California to appear in a bowl game this past season, Goff and the offense would have needed to score more than its near-40-point average – the defense conceded 39.8 on a week-to-week basis (No. 123 in FBS) and an incredible 44.1 in Pac-12 play.
Those numbers cannot be replicated in 2015 if Goff wants to become more than a dark horse Heisman candidate, yet alone get the Golden Bears back to the postseason.
But if Dykes can turn around his defense the same way he did to his offense from 2013-14, then you can all but guarantee that Goff’s name will be in the running for a spot in New York as one of the Heisman finalists come mid-December.